Monday, June 09, 2008

Uh, guys? So Not A Good Idea

So I sign up for happy peppy Obama land yesterday and carefully excuse myself from list-serv emails but I do sign myself up for a team which I won't name. Today I get an email which I won't reprint in any way but I'll allude the hell out of indicating that there are charges and countercharges of fraud and mismanagement against a team sent to a state to organize voters for the primary. Its impossible, as always, to figure out who done what to whom from this email but its also pretty clear that with the amount of volunteers and volunteer non cash subsidies flying that there was a lot of room for mismanagement and for bad faith. More... Essentially the Obama team had way more volunteers than they had actual cash and they used some very sensible and clever strategies to tap the non cash economy of points for credit cards that can be redeemed at hotels and for plane tickets and cars in order to assemble enough money and hotel rooms (because housing availability for volunteers was an issue. It sounds like the organizers were simply overwhelmed by the number of volunteers, that a number of volunteers were careless or even corrupt in their acceptance of certain kinds of in kind donations, and that the poor organizers are left holding the bag.

It would take a master accountant with a black belt in enron to figure out how to even begin accounting for "donations" as varied as "a loan of a few days in someone's house," "points towards hotel rooms," "free breakfast," "rental car days" etc... all redeemed or donated on someone's aunts-from-somewhere card or given by "someone's doctor." Once a disgruntled and perhaps dishonest or perhaps confused volunteer levels the charges a response has to be made but its pretty clear that no real accounting can be given. Its just way too complex for a volunteer force. Like a lot of you I watched Obama's amazing quiet post St. Crispen Day Speech and what struck me then was his praise for the staff for this one, odd, thing "that you covered for each other and when things went wrong you didn't point the finger of blame." But of course it wasn't odd at all. Such a huge undertaking of men and materiel, of man power, of novices, of excited people new to organizing and the ground game--inevitably more is going to go wrong than right. Obama was pointing to a central truth of successful organizing and maybe of a successful life--the real question is whether you keep getting up and doing it all over again even when something goes wrong. And, secondarily, how you treat the people around you even when they can plausibly be blamed for screwing up. Charmingly in that speech he says, modestly, that he was never certain that he was the right candidate to be the nominee and to lead a movement, but he knew he was in front of the right group of people to be that movement. (Or something). You can expect lots more of this as the campaign progresses but perhaps we can survive it. An organization as big and as loosely structured as Obama's can perhaps bull through it. But its no wonder that Clinton and her people shied away from what they must have imagined would be a Dean style implosion of volunteers with more enthusiasm than experience.
edited to remove some info that seems private.