Barack Obama’s army is mobilized in bid to save his recovery plan
(TIMES ONLINE) At 4pm tomorrow Monica Coleman will open her home to about 30 friends and neighbours. They will eat some snacks, watch a video and help to demonstrate how – for all his problems – President Obama still has a powerful army behind him.
Her party in Raleigh, North Carolina, is one of more than 3,000 across America this weekend by the street-level activists who helped to propel Mr Obama to victory last year. “We’re here to watch his back,” Ms Coleman said. “Winning the election was only the beginning and now we must be his soldiers again.”
It is the first occasion since November that the President has deployed the massed ranks of his volunteers. His campaign machine, now calling itself Organising for America, issued the mobilisation call last week to a database of 13 million supporters.
An e-mail bearing Mr Obama’s name urged them to gather friends at “Economic Recovery House Meetings” this weekend and watch a video from Tim Kaine, the Democratic Party chairman, extolling the virtues of the near-trillion dollar stimulus Bill. “The economic crisis is growing more serious every day, and the time for action has come,” said the President. “Americans need to know how it will affect their lives – they need to know that help is on the way.”
Mr Obama needs some help too after a week in which some of the foundations of his Administration have been badly shaken. He admitted to having “screwed up” his ethical policies after two of his Cabinet nominees were forced to withdraw because of late payment of taxes. His plea for a new era of cross-party co-operation has largely fallen on deaf ears in Congress, with Republicans lining up to oppose the stimulus Bill. Worse still for one of the most gifted communicators of his generation, he has been criticised widely for failing to win the argument for higher spending.
Calls from constituents to congressmen are reported to be “100 to 1” against the Bill and polls show support for it – if not for the President – slipping alarmingly. This has emboldened demoralised Republicans and some conservative Democrats to show their claws again. The White House has abandoned talk of getting broad bipartisan support for the stimulus package. Instead, the Democratic leadership has been left scrambling for the minimum 60 senators needed for the Bill to proceed in a vote it had hoped would take place last night but may be delayed until later this weekend.
Mr Obama, who has spent much of the week negotiating with a centrist group of about a dozen senators about trimming back the spending plans, has begun to vent his frustration. As he announced a team of economic recovery advisers yesterday he referred to new figures showing that 600,000 jobs were lost last month, saying: “These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible to get bogged down in distraction and delay.”
Many of Mr Obama’s activists can cite their own experiences as they prepare to wade into battle for him once more this weekend. In Raleigh, Ms Coleman, 56, who lost her job with IBM in December, said: “This is for us and our futures. Change has to start in the community.”
Moya Hill, 33, who is hosting a house party tomorrow in Gahanna, Ohio, has just been made redundant from her sales firm. “We need to assure ourselves that we’re still on track. Congressmen need to know what we think and we’ll tell them. But it’s also important we keep the faith.”
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gary Carlson said that Obama activists would meet at his home for the first time since the election. “The President needs all the help he can get in overcoming Congress and the lobbyists. When people support something, politicians tend to pay attention – and this is a way of letting them know they have a voice.”
Even among loyal troops some admit to harbouring doubts. Albert Ngoytz, in Des Moines, Iowa said: “We worked so hard to beat Hillary but we don’t understand why all these Clintonian people got the top jobs. It’s good that he has admitted mistakes – but he can’t do it too often.” Asked how many chances he would give the President before disillusion set in, Mr Ngoytz, 47, replied. “Three. I’ll let him screw up three times.”