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Bill McKibben
Tom Dispatch / op-Ed
Published: Tuesday 11 October 2011
Four years ago at this time, the early adopters among us were just starting to get used to the regular flow of email from the Obama campaign.

Obama’s Failing Emails

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For connoisseurs, Barack Obama’s fundraising emails for the 2012 election campaign seem just a tad forlorn -- slightly limp reminders of the last time ‘round.

Four years ago at this time, the early adopters among us were just starting to get used to the regular flow of email from the Obama campaign. The missives were actually exciting to get, because they seemed less like appeals for money than a chance to join a movement.

Sometimes they came with inspirational videos from Camp Obama, especially the volunteer training sessions staged by organizing guru Marshall Ganz. Here’s a favorite of mine, where a woman invokes Bobby Kennedy and Cesar Chavez and says that, as the weekend went on, she “felt her heart softening,” her cynicism “melting,” her determination building. I remember that feeling, and I remember clicking time and again to send another $50 off to fund that people-powered mission. (And I recall knocking on a lot of New Hampshire doors, too, with my 14-year-old daughter.)

It’s no wonder, then, that I’m still on the email list. But I haven’t been clicking through this time. Not even when Barack Obama himself asked me to “donate $75 or more today to be automatically entered for a chance to join me for dinner.” Not even when campaign manager Jim Messina pointed out that, though “the president has very little time to spend on anything related to the campaign… this is how he chooses to spend it -- having real, substantive conversations with people like you” over the dinner you might just win. (And if you do win, you’ll be put on a plane to “Washington, or Chicago, or wherever he might be that day.”)

Not even when deputy campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon offered to let me “take ownership of this campaign” by donating to it and, as an “added bonus,” possibly find myself “across the table from the president.” Not even when Michelle lowered the entry price from $75 to $25 and offered this bit of reassurance: “Just relax. Barack wants this dinner to be fun, and he really loves getting to know supporters like you.” Not even when, hours before an end-of-September fundraising “deadline,” Barack himself dropped the asking price to three dollars. God, have a little self-respect man!  Three dollars?

Here’s the thing I’m starting to think Obama never understood: yes, for most of us the 2008 campaign was partly about him, but it was more about the campaign itself -- about the sudden feeling of power that gripped a web-enabled populace, who felt themselves able to really, truly hope. Hope that maybe they’d found a candidate who would escape the tried-and-true money corruption of Washington.

None of us gave $50 hoping for a favor. Quite the opposite. You gave $50 hoping that, for the first time in a long while in American politics, no one would get a favor. And the candidate, it must be said, led us on. His rhetorical flights were dazzling -- to environmentalists like me, he promised to “free this nation from the tyranny of oil once and for all,” and pledged that his administration would mark the moment when “the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Once in office, it was inevitable that he’d disappoint us to some degree.  In fact, we knew the disappointment would come and braced ourselves for it. After all, our movement was up against the staggering power of vested corporate and financial interests. It’s hard to beat big money. Still, we didn’t mind thinking: Yes, we can. We’ll work hard. We’ve got your back. Let’s go!

What we completely missed was that Obama didn’t want us at his back -- that the minute the campaign was over he would cut us adrift, jettison the movement that had brought him to power. Instead of using all those millions of people to force through ambitious health-care proposals or serious climate legislation or [fill in the blank yourself here], he governed as the opposite of a movement candidate.

He clearly had not the slightest interest in keeping that network activated and engaged. Though we had brought him to the party, it was as if he didn’t really want to dance with us. Instead -- however painful the image may be -- he wanted to dance with Larry Summers. (Fundraising idea: I’d pay $75 to be assured I never had to have dinner with Summers.)

As the months of his administration rolled into years, he only seemed to grow less interested in movements of any sort. Before long, people like Tom Donahue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were topping the list of the most frequent visitors to the White House.  And that was before this winter when -- after they’d been the biggest contributors to GOP congressional candidates -- Obama went on bended knee to Chamber headquarters, apologizing that he hadn’t brought a fruitcake along as a gift. (What is it with this guy and food?  At any rate, he soon gave them a far better present, hiring former Chamber insider Bill Daley as his chief of staff.)

Now, his popularity tanking, Obama and his advisors talk about “tacking left” for the election. A nice thought, but maybe just a little late.

Increasingly, it seems to me, those of us who were ready to move with him four years ago are deciding to leave normal channels and find new forms of action. Here's an example: by year's end the president has said he will make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The nation's top climate scientists sent the administration a letter indicating that such a development would be disastrous for the climate.  NASA's James Hansen, the government's top climate researcher, said heavily tapping tar-sands oil, a particularly “dirty” form of fossil fuel, would mean “game over for the climate.” Ten of the president's fellow recent Nobel Peace Prize laureates pointed out in a letter that blocking the prospective pipeline would offer him a real leadership moment, a “tremendous opportunity to begin transition away from our dependence on oil, coal, and gas.”

But every indication from this administration suggests that it is prepared to grant the necessary permission for a project that has the enthusiastic backing of the Chamber of Commerce, and in which the Koch Brothers have a “direct and substantial interest.”  And not just backing.  To use the words of a recent New York Times story, they are willing to "flout the intent of federal law" to get it done.  Check this out as well: the State Department, at the recommendation of Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada, hired a second company to carry out the environmental review.  That company already considered itself a "major client" of TransCanada.  This is simply corrupt, potentially the biggest scandal of the Obama years.  And here's the thing: it's a crime still in progress.  Watching the president do nothing to stop it is endlessly depressing.

For many of us, it’s been an overdue wake-up call, a sharp reminder of just who the president was really listening to. In mid-summer, several leaders of the environmental movement, myself included, put out a call for nonviolent civil disobedience at the White House over the upcoming Keystone pipeline decision. And more people -- 1,253 in total -- showed up to be arrested than at anytime in the last 40 years. (One reason Obama’s emails stink this time around: the guy who used to write many of them, Elijah Zarlin, not only isn’t working for the campaign any more, but got hauled off in a paddy wagon.)

Bare months have past and already that arrest record is being threatened, thank heavens, by the forces of #OccupyWallStreet, a movement that includes plenty more of the kind of people who rallied so enthusiastically behind Obama back in 2008. 

Obama had mojo when he knew it wasn’t about him, that it was about change. But when you promise change, you have to deliver. His last best opportunity may come with that Keystone Pipeline decision, which he can make entirely by himself, without our inane Congress being able to get in the way. So on November 6th, exactly one year before the election, we’re planning to circle the White House with people. And the signs we’ll be carrying will simply be quotes from his last campaign -- all that stuff about the tyranny of big oil and the healing of the planet.

Our message will be simple: If you didn’t mean it, you shouldn’t have said it. If you did, here’s the chance to prove it.  Nix the pipeline.

We don’t want dinner. We want action.

See Tom Engelhardt's response here.

Author pic
ABOUT Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009.

Boo hoo...Mr.

Boo hoo...Mr. bought into the silly hype about Obama in 2008 & now you're "depressed" about it in 2011. Well guess what, that's why a lot of us voted for Hillary Clinton in the first place!

McKibben's just a faux-scientist & frustrated member of the news media that should be used to losing by now. He routinely backs efforts that have no chance of ever yielding any real results, since he usually doesn't know what he's doing or trying to talk about.

News flash: For a lot of different reasons, America has refused to get off of its addiction to oil, so we'll need that new pipeline from Canada built until we do just that. Either take real, substantive action towards ending the USA's reliance on oil or get the heck out of the way of the pipeline. I don't like this situation any more than anyone else out there, but whining about it like McKibben usually does is just a foolish waste of time.

No president keeps his

No president keeps his promises. Congress has to go along. If you vote for a third party, you'll lose your vote, or worse still, one of the Reb. cryptonazis will get elected. Think!!!

President's job-creation

President's job-creation panel includes job-cutting executives
On the president's team of business and labor advisors are the heads of several companies that have reduced workforces while posting record profits.

This is both outstanding, yet shocking news article from LA Times reporter Alana Semuels! It reveals the truth about how Greed and self interest as well as non-patriotic actions by Big business to destroy its own Country! "Nobody should expect this group to come up with innovative ways of investing in the American workforce and generating not only more jobs but higher wages," said Robert Reich, who was Labor secretary during the Clinton administration. "That's just not what these big companies do."
With traitors like this in our own land who cares about the enemies in foreign countries! The traitors list is made of the executives are members of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which Obama created in January by appointing 26 leaders of companies including American Express, Comcast and Intel. (A 27th member was added in June.) Meanwhile, when you add the Republicans /hypocrites that made pledges that their “only” plan is continuing its Class War against us to protect their Aristocracy of greedy Millionaires and Billionaires like the Grover Norquest, Russ Limbaugh, Rupert Murdock and Koch Brothers that provides them campaign funds to continue not paying their fair share to support their nation and continue the current political climate to oppose to anything that might cost companies money and deter them from adding to their payrolls. Is it any wonder AMERICANS are crystal clear that the middle class of America are frustrated by the lack of concern that exists for the people in this country who need jobs and hope to support themselves and families. Millions of unemployed people looking for work in this country are being ignored and slowly erased by mega-corporations, whose only concern is for their obscene profits far exceed anyone understanding! The beauty and treasured tradition of America allows people the freedom to unite and speak out to draw attention to these huge social injustices. It’s about time that Americans did and said, “We are mad as hell and we are not going take it any longer!” MAYBE, IT TIME TO CALL FOR A NATIONAL BOYCOTT ON THESE GUYS!! Are you listening?

Another way to look at this

Another way to look at this is that Obama expects the people who have cut jobs to figure out ways of creating them, since they're in a key position to do so. It's kind of like telling the kid who's just fed his brussels sprouts to the dog that he now has to eat them for dessert.

We can't say "ooh, you cut jobs, you're fired", but we can insist that those people learn how to look at what they do a different way. And perhaps that's what Obama intends—that they have to look at the lives they've impacted and clean up the their own mess.

It's no less than what I try to teach my kids—maybe it will work with execs, too.

On another front, did you know that the minimum wage in Australia is $18 per hour (aus)? Did you know that they've weathered the global recession better than most countries? Maybe we should ask why?

Possibly because they have universal health coverage so their companies don't have to cover insurance premiums and their banks are regulated so they don't get involved in the sort of schemes ours have done.

I agree, we can't have "business as usual" but I think putting the men who cut the jobs in charge of getting them back may be a step in the right direction.

For the first time, I

For the first time, I believe, here in Ontario we had less than 50 percent voter turnout. We are offered the same well-worn handful of corporate puppets time after time. It's not that we don't believe in democracy. It's that we don't believe this is democracy.Fascinating article!

"What we completely missed

"What we completely missed was that Obama didn’t want us at his back -- that the minute the campaign was over he would cut us adrift, jettison the movement that had brought him to power. Instead of using all those millions of people to force through ambitious health-care proposals or serious climate legislation or [fill in the blank yourself here], he governed as the opposite of a movement candidate."

From where I sat, Bill, it seemed that we jettisoned him. When he gave us channels to talk to him—websites, chats, online forums—few of us stayed in touch or got involved. We were like summer friends who promise to stay in touch, but never do. I've watched carefully this last three years as the appeal to stay with him, to remain united, fell on apathetic ears.

I think the truth is, most of us didn't want to be at his back. We wanted to go back to our comfy couches and watch him do it for us. Perhaps we thought we'd elected Albus Dumbledore to office and that Mr. Obama had a magic wand up his sleeve. I suspect very few people actually tried to stay in touch through channels we were given. Visited the website, offered ideas, encouragement, etc. Discussed issues with their peer groups. I did all of those things and was disappointed that so few people took Mr. Obama up on his encouragement to stay involved.

Instead, most of us sat down and watched as if the governance of this country were a spectator sport like football (though I suspect a lot of us expend far more energy on that) and Mr. Obama found himself quarterbacking a team of ghosts.

Where were our voices when healthcare was discussed? If we were at his back, why was the loudest outcry to his proposal of universal healthcare from those against it? Why was there not a backlash from Team Obama when we were told that over 50% of Americans DIDN'T want universal healthcare? We all knew it was a crock—how many of us let the president or anyone else know we knew it? Instead we fractured: some of us opining that the president tried to do too much, others that he hadn't done enough. Instead of applauding what he had accomplished and urging him to do more, his "team" focused on what he hadn't done. (We all know what that feels like, don't we—when someone never seems to see what we do right, but only what we do "wrong?")

I understand that perhaps part of this lies in the "liberal mindset" if there is such a thing. Perhaps we are not people who throw punches or shout angry slogans. Perhaps we are calm, courteous, thoughtful—rather like the man we elected. But here's the challenge—without losing those virtues of humility and compassion, we need to make ourselves heard. And instead of laying the blame on one man who disappointed us, perhaps we should lay the blame on ourselves for not letting him know we had his back ... or worse, not being there when he needed us.

I agree to a certain

I agree to a certain point:
'Mr. Obama found himself quarterbacking a team of ghosts.'

On the other hand I agree with Bill McKibben , perhaps we should not give up, but rather make clear that 'we don’t want dinner. We want action.'

MY voice was not absent nor

MY voice was not absent nor did I sit on my couch and wait.

HE let US down.

It is time to stop Obama-scuses! He PROMISED change. He delivered NOTHING. And don't blame me if the mainstream media didn't report what was really going on - we spoke - NO ONE listened!

He delivered nothing? My son

He delivered nothing? My son is still on my insurance because Obama did nothing? I'm getting money put back in my pocket at tax time because he did nothing? A team of qualified counselors is being built to deal with the problems of returning vets because he did nothing? We're leaving Iraq and will soon draw down in Afghanistan because he did nothing? Don't ask; don't tell was repealed because he did nothing? Ford and GM got back on their feet and repaid their debt because he did nothing? We didn't nosedive into a Depression because he did nothing?

Hyperbole feels good, I know, but it isn't accurate and it ultimately only polarizes the issues and effectively keeps us from solving them. We think we know what the problem is (it's that one man did NOTHING) when the problems are far more complex than we want to admit.

No, he didn't do everything I would have wished, but who could, under the circumstances? Maybe if he'd been white, the opposition wouldn't have taken everything he did so personally and made it a referendum on his presidency. And it's not just people disagreeing with this or that policy—it's personal and nasty and hateful.

I've heard so much complaining and very little "good, now give us more" coming out of people who supported Obama when he was all shiny and new and the opposition hadn't put any dents in him yet. Now it's all his fault.

You're free to turn your back on him. I'm not going to. We can't lay all our troubles all at his door. Our political system is broken. And our inability to recognize that is, in part, our own fault. We've chanted the litany that we live in the best country in the world with the best (whatever) in the world— the best government, the best healthcare the best, you name it. All that's done is made us unwilling to look outside our own experience for solutions. Other countries have tackled healthcare and warded off the recession, but we lack the political will to even ask how they did it. Many of our leaders and not a few of our citizens are convinced the best country in the world has nothing to learn from anyone else—in any area.

If you think it's all Obama's fault, just imagine someone else in his shoes over the past three years. How well might anyone else have dealt with a failing economy, rabid detractors, and media that turns everything into a total disaster 'cause disaster sells airtime.

Brilliant article. Backdown

Brilliant article.

Backdown Obummer has let us all down, and this is the perfect description of just how he did it.

Make no mistake - our lying, oath-breaking president has already made up his mind to approve this disastrous pipeline. Anyone who still believes in Obama is a delusional fool. It may be hard to admit we were wrong, but Wow! were we wrong!

It is now time for a REAL change. Do not vote for either a Republican OR for a Democrat - and don't listen when people tell you that no other candidate has ever won - they're the same one's who said - in 2007 - that no black man had ever won, either. There's always a first time!

Geez...the President of the

Geez...the President of the USA in 2013 will be either a useless GOPer or Obama...get a clue!

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