Recently, Karl Rove, the father of all lies and the uncle of all half-truths, accused Obama of waging a “permanent campaign.”* Setting aside obvious and continuing concerns about Rove’s habit of hypocrisy, there’s something to be said, actually, about waging a “perpetual campaign,” if it’s organized so as to reap the benefits thereof, while minimizing the detriments.
America is not normally a very political nation. It’s strange, but true. We’ve fallen from our tendency of robust political dialogue à la Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and instead treat politics as something not to be raised in polite conversation. This concept of manners tends to force politics to the periphery and, to a certain extent, radicalize it. Around campaigns, that changes: the awkward e-mails from relatives (“OBAMA’S A SOCIALIST NAZI MUSLIM”) tick upwards, but so do the casual and educational conversations around dinner tables nationwide. There’s nothing wrong with this aspect of the campaign, and indeed, it’s desirable.
To some extent, Obama’s response to distortions of the health care bill has been geared to that season, when the public was eager and ready to digest new information. The White House’s “Reality Check,” for one, the sitting President’s equivalent of “Fight the Smears,” suffers from low traffic, and even less discussion. Because information and truth are currently the enemies of the Republicans’ position on health care reform, Obama would be well-served to adapt campaign tactics for spreading ideas to his Presidency, to stimulate a productive discussion that could only help the Democrats.
Past events have proved that town halls are probably not the way to go. Planned-in-advance events provide Republican astroturfers a chance to rally the Glenn Beck-crazed masses. Commercial television buys are too expensive, and send the wrong message. 30-second spot ads, with Obama explaining the issues, and impromptu visits throughout the country, could, however, make a difference. The first at least gets information in the open, while the second provides an opportunity to engage real people, without agendas. Presidential visits have a way of spawning their own press coverage, too: any impromptu tour would surely make it to the nightly news.
There’s nothing wrong with “campaigning” in the sense of educating the populace, and creating an atmosphere in which the populace wants to be educated. A “permanent campaign” is only problematic when the campaign itself is problematic, as occurs, say, when you put Karl Rove in charge of it.
* = (Warning — reading the subtitle of Rove’s article,”turning critics into enemies isn’t presidential,” has been known to cause irony overdoses in laboratory animals).