EDITORIAL: Obama’s perpetual campaign mode

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President Obama’s promise to usher in a “new kind of politics” is nothing new, and it hasn’t changed anything inside the Beltway. During his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama said, “We cannot wage a perpetual campaign,” and he made the same point when he criticized House Republicans at their Jan. 28 meeting in Baltimore, but that’s exactly what his White House team is doing. It’s not working.

“We must build a movement for change that can endure beyond a single election,” Mr. Obama admitted during a visit to the Democratic National Committee just before his inauguration. In January 2009, Mr. Obama’s political team was quietly planning, in the words of Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times, “an army of full-time organizers to press the new president’s agenda and lay the foundation for his reelection.” This plan appears to have taken some form in the Organizing for America post-campaign outfit. At times, OFA has effectively harnessed volunteer energy from the campaign for policy efforts such as the attempted government health care takeover. Just ask Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, whose office was contacted more than 7,000 times by OFA members.

It’s no coincidence that David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s closest adviser on the campaign trail, is now his closest adviser in the White House. David Plouffe, who managed Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign and has since been helping maintain volunteer networks, recently agreed in the aftermath of Sen. Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts to become an adviser to the president on legislative strategy and politics. Governing is different from running for office, though.

The Obama administration, which chose to keep the White House Office of Political Affairs that Sen. John McCain vowed to eliminate if he were elected president, has been unashamed about the use of polling. According to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, the White House commissions polls about the economy “not unlike news organizations.” Information from polling, advisers have admitted, was used to abandon the term “stimulus” in favor of “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.”

Sometimes it’s better if politicians use polls to help fine-tune a message rather than using them to determine what to do. According to a new Marist College survey, just 44 percent of voters approve of the job the president is doing, and independent voters view Mr. Obama negatively by a margin of 2-1. Americans clearly aren’t happy. Perhaps the White House should pay closer attention to what those polls say the president shouldn’t be doing. But that would undermine his whole agenda.

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