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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama Needs More Citizen Activism

Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau’s post “Leading from Below” at The Daily Beast makes a couple of important points worth sharing:

Much has been written over the last few weeks about the limits of presidential power. Some smart observers have pointed out that these limits are not new; that historically they have had less to do with the personalities of our leaders than the structure of our democracy…But how boring is that? The more exciting story to tell is how Lyndon Johnson charmed and strong-armed his way to massive legislative victories. Much less interesting is the fact that most of those victories occurred while his party held record majorities in Congress. By the end of his second term, following the loss of 47 House seats and three Senate seats, one aide joked that Johnson couldn’t even get a Mother’s Day resolution passed.
Today, a minority of senators can kill bipartisan legislation that is supported by a majority of their colleagues. And they frequently do. In the House, the speaker alone can kill bipartisan legislation that is supported by a majority of his colleagues. And he frequently does. Following some of this country’s worst mass shootings, a Republican senator and a Democratic senator with A ratings from the National Rifle Association authored a gun safety bill requiring criminal background checks that was supported by 90 percent of the American people. If I were a reporter, I’d be more interested in what was wrong with the Congress that refused to pass that bill than the man at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue who relentlessly campaigned for it at more than a dozen events around the country.

Favreau is equally-persuasive about what needs to be done to correct the problem:

…Since the day he announced his run for the presidency, Obama has held a deep and abiding conviction about how change really happens. Yes, it requires leaders who can inspire, and compromise, and build relationships on both sides of the aisle. But it also requires us. It requires an engaged, active citizenry, willing to pressure and push our leaders in the right direction, not just on Election Day, but every day, through emails and phone calls and office visits and town-hall meetings.
I can’t be sure, but you know what I bet will stay with Sen. Kelly Ayotte more than any charm offensive or political threat from Obama? The statement she heard from the 27-year-old daughter of the Sandy Hook Elementary principal who was killed in the Newtown massacre: “You had mentioned that the burden to owners of gun stores that these expanded background checks would cause. I’m just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the hall of her elementary school isn’t as important as that.”

The progressive blogosphere has often urged the president to stand firm against compromising core Democratic values and criticized him when they feel he has caved in to the right. But FDR’s challenge, “Make me do it,” should be more rigorously applied to members of the Senate and House, as well as the president, by energetic progressive activists.

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