Hope, Change, Spam

They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned, to ever come together around a common purpose.”

Has it really been just two years since you heard these words, two years since Barack Obama appeared the night of the Iowa caucuses to address adoring supporters and an amazed nation?

“But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do.”

This was the night that many people who were merely intrigued by President Obama began to believe in him. This is probably also the night that many of you gave up your e-mail addresses to the now legendary machinery of “Obama for America.”

But now, two years later, as Obama faces the “real work of governing,” commentators are asking where Obama’s base went.  Could it be the base has been stunned and silenced by two years of unrelenting Obama spam?

From January to November 2008, the Obama campaign did most things well, and you didn’t mind hearing from the people running it. A video link showing Obama addressing 75,000 people in Portland, Ore., made you feel geared to a greater momentum. A text message announcing the vp choice and a backstage e-mail on election night, made you feel you were a part owner of history.

The Obama campaign had rightly been praised as a model of organization and innovation, of trust and respect for its participants. It used every medium intelligently and, more to the point, to ruthlessly practical ends. “I don’t care about online energy and enthusiasm just for the sake of online energy and enthusiasm,” said Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who oversaw My.BarackObama.com. “It’s about making money, making phone calls, embedding video or having video forwarded to friends.”

In the afterglow of victory the advertising industry — trying as always to connect small things to great — awarded the “Obama for America” campaign its shiniest prizes. (Somehow we think Obama wasn’t pulled from bed to hear the news from Cannes as he was for the news from Oslo.)

And post-election, those digitally connected to Obama wondered, “What now?” You could hardly have imagined you’d be in for a twice-weekly cyberdrubbing, often over trivial things.

Trouble began to appear almost immediately.

Only six days after the polls closed, you might have received this urgent e-mail: “The Democratic National Committee poured all of its resources into building our successful 50-state field program. … Will you make a donation of $250 or more now to help the DNC pay for these efforts? You’ll get a 2008 Victory T-shirt.”

As if the T-shirt weren’t tacky and depressing enough, you were asked on two occasions to contribute money “to make the inauguration a success” (or, please pay for parties you can’t get invited to).

For its loyalists, this was how the Obama Era began. And how it continued.

After months of tattooing the brains of his base with unimportant messages, is it any wonder that when Obama asks support for his “No. 1 domestic priority,” the base finds it hard to rise? Especially when Organizing for America (“Obama for America” rebranded) treats the healthcare debate in the most frivolous way.

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Read this from Natalie Foster, new media director, OFA, who invited people to participate in a healthcare reform “video challenge”: “This is your chance — you ingenious, insightful, funny people out there — to make a 30-second ad telling the story about why the status quo has got to go, or explaining how the Obama plan will ensure we get the secure, quality care we need without breaking the budget.”