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Business, Government - Written by on Sunday, August 9, 2009 15:03 - 14 Comments

Don Tapscott
Obama’s Organizing for America troops prepare for battle

As I’ve written many times before, President Barack Obama is making deft use of the web and the youth-powered social movement that got him elected to help him advance his agenda.  I also said his biggest battle would be healthcare. With members of Congress back in their constituencies during August, the battleground for health care reform shifts from the backrooms in Washington to communities across America.  Earlier this week Obama sent an email to the membership of Organizing for America, the organization that grew out of the 13 million volunteers who had signed up with Obama’s campaign team during last year’s election.

“Throughout August, members of Congress are back home, where the hands they shake and the voices they hear will not belong to lobbyists, but to people like you,” Obama wrote.

“Home is where we’re strongest. We didn’t win last year’s election together at a committee hearing in D.C. We won it on the doorsteps and the phone lines, at the softball games and the town meetings, and in every part of this great country where people gather to talk about what matters most. And if you’re willing to step up once again, that’s exactly where we’re going to win this historic campaign for the guaranteed, affordable health insurance that every American deserves.”

Healthcare reform, writes Obama, is the issue “our movement was built for.”There is no possible compromise on health care and the myth of Obama as a “post-partisan” president is exactly that — a myth.   The health care industry generates billions of dollars in profits and many people are seething that these profits might be curtailed.  This issue can never be negotiated in Washington back rooms as there are huge interests vested in the status quo — such as the big insurance companies, health maintenance organizations and pharmaceutical giants.  Like many social changes, for this one there will be winners and losers and an historic battle will determine the outcome.

As Obama noted in his message to supporters, “In politics, there’s a rule that says when you ask people to get involved, always tell them it’ll be easy. Well, let’s be honest here: Passing comprehensive health insurance reform will not be easy. Every President since Harry Truman has talked about it, and the most powerful and experienced lobbyists in Washington stand in the way.”  But this time Obama has what those presidents lacked:  the Internet and a powerful social movement that potentially can shift the relationship of forces in America away from the traditional entrenched interests towards the needs of the population.

One of the principles of the New Media Group in the Obama presidential campaign was that “online activity exists to support offline activity.”  The goal of the online media specialists was to motivate and energize volunteers to be active in their communities.  This principle is being carried into the battle around healthcare:

Obama’s email says:  “That’s why Organizing for America is putting together thousands of events this month where you can reach out to neighbors, show your support, and make certain your members of Congress know that you’re counting on them to act.” He says:  “These canvasses, town halls, and gatherings only make a difference if you turn up to knock on doors, share your views, and show your support.”

He asks his supporters:  Can you commit to join at least one event in your community this month?

The battle will be fierce.  Already, opponents to health care reform are starting to sabotage the first of thousands of these town-hall meetings.  Protesters are being bussed in to disrupt information sessions and help spread myths that Obama’s plans are socialist or fascist or both.  The protesters are fueled by the rhetoric on Fox News and use the same sleazy tactics as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth used against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.

“So yes, fixing this crisis will not be easy,” concludes Obama  “Our opponents will attack us every day for daring to try. It will require time, and hard work, and there will be days when we don’t know if we have anything more to give. But there comes a moment when we all have to choose between doing what’s easy, and doing what’s right.  This is one of those times.”


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Dwayne Phillips
Aug 10, 2009 7:51

I am surprised and disappointed to see Wikinomics take sides in partisan politics.

Rui Grilo
Aug 10, 2009 10:28

Great post! I particularly like the insight of how “online activity exists to support offline activity”. Either online or offline, what matters is human interaction and how we make sense of and act upon our world. Online media expands what is possible to do to a new dimension.

Aug 10, 2009 12:05

Dwayne, I too am disappointed to see Don promoting political observations. There are, perhaps, a few keen observations to be made from a wikinomics perspective, but this line is far, far over the line:

Already, opponents to health care reform are starting to sabotage the first of thousands of these town-hall meetings.

Come on, Don! Sabotage? Sleazy tactics? Don’t believe everything you read in the media and please, don’t continue to tarnish your influence with these divisive ramblings.

Rory O'grady
Aug 10, 2009 12:48

Dear Mr Phillips,
In essence I guess you are right as an institution such as Wikinomics should remain A-political in order to retain the pertinence of the formidable intelligence it shares.
However I believe that Mr Tapscott is just highlighting, with a practical example, the rise of direct democracy via interactive media – in the US.
In this case the fact that real citizens now have (or will have) the power to transcend the technically undemocratic Lobbyist that play an important role in the American reform system. I’m sure that this article (or any other articles Mr Tapscott wrote) would feature with the same level of support the Republican effort if the act of democracy was on their agenda, and not just the word…

Don Tapscott
Aug 10, 2009 15:18

Rory O’grady puts it well. The times they are a-changin. For the first time in history the population has access to a potent many-to-many communications tool known as Web 2.0. The most skilled users of this tool are members of the Net Generation who strongly reject the status quo. Witness which candidate they overwhelmingly supported last November. On the issue of health care, they want to see what has long been promised: a government of the people, by the people, for the people. They won’t be easily denied.

Dwayne Phillips
Aug 10, 2009 15:50

Mr. O’Grady and Mr. Tapscott – thank you both for taking the time to comment on my comment.

Mr. O’Grady – I don’t mind highlighting the rise of direct democracy via interactive media. I agree that is happening. I mind quoting one side of the political discussion without the other side here in Wikinomics. I consider Wikinomics an excellent source of Web 2.0 and related information – not a political blog.

Mr. Tapscott – I agree with much of what you say. I agree with the things that are factual. I am delighted to read opinion on Web 2.0 and other technical and cultural aspects of it. It is just that I am disappointed to read political opinion in Wikinomics.

With great respect,
Dwayne Phillips

Sarah Klinger
Aug 10, 2009 22:27

Serious question, Mr. Tapscott:

How is “Already, opponents to health care reform are starting to sabotage the first of thousands of these town-hall meetings. Protesters are being bussed in to disrupt information sessions and help spread myths that Obama’s plans are socialist or fascist or both.” different than community organizing under Obama?

and does “For the first time in history the population has access to a potent many-to-many communications tool known as Web 2.0. The most skilled users of this tool are members of the Net Generation who strongly reject the status quo. Witness which candidate they overwhelmingly supported last November. On the issue of health care, they want to see what has long been promised: a government of the people, by the people, for the people. They won’t be easily denied” not apply to Americans that oppose Obama? Shouldn’t Wikinomics apply to conservatives as well as liberals?

Aug 11, 2009 17:24

I totally agree with Sarah and Dwayne – I think that it is disingenuous to praise Obama for using the Web to mobilize his base while disparaging the conservatives who are doing the same thing.

The pro-Obama directives are just as top-down and well-funded and “fueled by rhetoric” as their conservative counterparts. To pretend that all of the money is on the side of the status quo is flat-out wrong – in fact, “Of the $52 million spent so far, CMAG calculates that the largest share — $23 million — has come from groups advertising broadly in favor of overhauling the health-care system, without necessarily positioning for or against the plans being advanced by Obama and congressional Democrats.”


I have no problem with politically slanted posts – just politically slanted posts that pretend like they aren’t.

Obamas Gesundheitsreform: Das Internet muss es richten — CARTA
Aug 12, 2009 8:25

[...] [...]

Rory O'grady
Aug 12, 2009 10:50

Dear Mr. Phillips, In turn thank you for your comment.
From what I have read in the last few months on this site it is clear that references to the Democratic efforts outnumber by far those to the Republican efforts both in quantity and praise.
But is this really a partisan approach from Wikinomics?

Even if Mr. Tapscott could have used a more impartial line, the point is that Americans are now given access to Decisional Democracy – A concept that I believe is inherent to the Wikinomics Dialectic. Therefore it is not a Partisan approach, but more of a “best initiative wins our support” approach. Mr. Obama (may it be for good or bad) is the first American leader to have implemented a governmental open network based on transparency, mass collaboration and supported real freedom of political expression, especially fro the opposition.
And this does not deny the fact that there has also been extremely commendable initiatives on the Republican side, yet not implemented on this kind of scale. However it is a fact that Republican Cells (a minority) have been trying to disrupt democratic efforts to reform the healthcare system. Democrats also disrupt Republican anti Healthcare reform gatherings but not with this level of intelligence.

My point is that relating facts and impressions associated to a political party is not necessarily an act of out-right support for that party.

Ergo, if I may, I would like to suggest that people who share your view consider this point in order to allow Mr. Tapscott less pressure next time he considers relating governmental facts/views; (please feel free to disagree) and that Wkinomics editors make sure they adopt a more diplomatic/neutral approach/syntax when dealing with partisan politics.
As this comment board suggests, failure in doing so not only generates a Real Partisan Debate on the site but it also derives our attention from the initial subject: Technology used to overcome the Washington “Insider clubs”. In my mind a problem for all Americans, and especially for the rest of the planet that to often suffers the consequences of their “old boy games”. (As a top oil exec once described it to me)

Whit mutual respect and kind regards

Aug 12, 2009 11:14

I completely agree with you, Mr. O’grady on the point that it’s fine to draw lessons from government leaders that are in line with principles of Wikinomics (and Grown up Digital). However, be careful not to label the Republicans/conservatives as the evil-doers, as Mr. Tapscott did in the essay above.

It is plain (to me, anyway) that Mr. Obama is far from implementing a governmental network based on “transparency” and “mass collaboration.” Instead, he is QUICKLY trying to pass his massive restructuring of our healthcare BEFORE anyone has a chance to contemplate and digest the ramifications of his proposal. If Obama embraced the positive power of wikinomics to win the election, he is misusing them to govern the American people.

Bill Gillies
Aug 12, 2009 15:51

I think anyone who looks dispassionately at which part of the political spectrum typically shows Wikinomic tendencies, it would be progressives/liberals. One is reminded of Reagan saying in his inauguration address that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” When you begin with that assumption, then anything the government does (collectively, on behalf of all citizens) is the wrong choice.

Many look at the current US health care system and conclude it fails miserably when compared to other countries, by any metric chosen. Reformers want a more collective and inclusive response. They feel government has a role to play, since the marketplace has done such a poor job when compared to other countries. In the case of health care, collaboration will produce a superior product.

Aug 12, 2009 16:56


You are completely negating the power of market forces. Reagan was right when he said that about government. When government gets out of the way, the market produces superior products because competition enters the fray.

If government takes over health care, there will be rationing and a diminishing of services. With wikipedia, collaboration excels. Any government run health care produces rationing, long lines, and huge inefficiencies.

And you are completely wrong when it comes to the current US Health Care system, Bill. We produce the finest doctors and provide the highest quality care. There isn’t much broken here to fix.

The substance of this discussion is centered on Tapscott’s biases in the article above.

Aug 14, 2009 14:29


You need to read this article:

Some of the content:

The 20th century community organizer who used 21st century tools for his people-powered White House campaign now finds himself besieged by citizens airing their grievances at 19th century-inspired town hall style meetings.

Barack Obama’s top legislative goal hangs in the balance and his popularity is suffering as critics co-opt his tech-savvy organizing methods, tag him as a boogyman and disrupt local gatherings on his proposed health care overhaul.

Is the groundbreaking campaigner, whose White House political arm is aptly called Organizing for America, being outmaneuvered?

“That’s a fair summary of where things are at the moment,” said Sanford Horwitt, a biographer of Saul Alinsky, the father of community organizing.

“The other side has the anger and the intensity, and Obama’s side doesn’t,” Horwitt said. Harking back to the presidential campaign’s tactics and success, Horwitt said, “This really first-rate community organizing has not revealed itself in the first months he’s been in office, particularly when it comes to the health care issue.”

The White House and its allies claim the protests are simply a fake grass-roots movement – “astroturfing” – but a USA Today/Gallup Poll this week found that most Americans believe the protesters’ sentiments are genuine.

Now available in paperback!
Don Tapscott and Anthony D. William's latest collaboration, Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet. Learn more.

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