The Empowerment Campaign and its Dividends

There is one image from these last few days in Colorado that is going to stick with me, and it is perhaps an unlikely one. Gabe Cohen, a 33-year-old white guy in a Patagonia jacket, knocks on the screen door of a ranch house belonging to middle-aged black voter. “Hi there,” he says. “I’m with the president’s campaign.” The voter smiles. That’s it. What struck me right then was the power in the word “president,” and the power of what it meant, in that racially mixed neighborhood on the outskirts of Denver, for that word to mean not “them,” but “us.” And that, for a fleeting moment at least, the “us” here was a kind of community encompassing both a white Jewish kid and an older black man. It is an aspirational “us” that, as we saw last night, drove Latinos, and young people, and women, and African-Americans to the polls in tremendous waves. Credit to the Obama campaign’s base-vote architects and swing-state gurus, people you never heard of, like Mike Blake and Buffy Wicks, Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird, Rachel Haltom-Irwin and Jon Carson. You don’t need to know their names. But these are the people who in 2008, implementing a vision from David Plouffe and Jim Messina and Barack Obama himself, figured out a new way to campaign. It would be additive, rather than divisive, and even if it were not wholly positive (anyone with a TV or an internet connection knows it hasn’t been), it has been, to the last, about empowerment. Finding a man like Antonio Esquibel and giving him the tools to register hundreds of his neighbors. Putting a college junior in charge of something meaningful. Telling the man who answered Gabe Cohen’s knock that someone with a different background knew his name and was keeping track of his vote.

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