President Obama was in Palo Alto, California on Wednesday at the headquarters of social media giant Facebook to get in a few more digs at Republicans while trying to reconnect with a key constituency he will need to get re-elected – the youth of America. His visit highlighted the vital importance of social media and hinted at another revolution in using such technology for political gain.
It was the second of three town halls the president is holding this week to highlight his deficit reduction plan. His primary methods of attack involve playing the class warfare card and drawing unflattering and false distinctions between his nebulous, non-specific outline and Rep. Paul Ryan’s detailed alternative proposals. But perhaps most significantly, the town hall showed that Obama has hit the ground running in his bid for a second term, and the 2012 campaign has begun in deadly earnest.
As with his speech at George Washington University last week, the Facebook town hall was just a prop to hurl extremely partisan and misleading barbs at his GOP opponents, demagoguing the deficit issue by portraying Republicans as heartless politicians who want to cut the deficit “on the backs of people who are poor, or people who are powerless, or don’t have lobbyists, or don’t have clout.” He joked with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that he was perfectly willing to pay higher taxes. “I’m cool with that,” deadpanned Zuckerberg as the friendly, partisan audience laughed and applauded.
Demonizing “the rich” with the most outrageous rhetoric he has used to date, Obama portrayed the wealthy as selfish, mean-spirited, miserly, and cruel:
Their [the rich’s] basic view is that no matter how successful I am, no matter how much I’ve taken from this country…their notion is despite the fact that I’ve benefited from all these investments…that somehow I have no obligation to people who are less fortunate than me, and I have no obligation to future generations.
This is the kind of populist demagoguery we can expect in the campaign. President Obama will seek to compare the “radical” and “shortsighted” Republican plan with what he calls his “balanced” approach to deficit cutting. In the Obama universe, only the rich and the defense department will suffer pain while he increases spending for radical environmentalism, education, transportation, and other pet programs he euphemistically refers to as “investments.”
Obama can get away with this because his so-called deficit reduction plan is ethereal and unspecific, and the numbers he uses are basically pulled out of thin air. The president foresees $1 trillion in revenue from taxing the wealthy, which may or may not be realistic if tax rates return to Clinton-era levels. But he also wishes to cut $2 trillion in unspecified spending over the next 12 years, including another $400 billion from defense on top of the $400 billion already announced by Secretary Gates that will be trimmed from future outlays. That leaves $1.6 trillion in spending cuts for which the president has no specifics, no ideas, and no plans.
The last trillion dollars the president is proposing in savings will accrue as a result of reduced debt financing. If interest rates stay at or near 0% where they are now, that might be realistic. But few analysts believe that as the economy begins to heat up, the Federal Reserve can maintain interest rates at such historically low levels. It is much more probable that the part of the budget dedicated to servicing our debt will outstrip Medicaid spending by 2018, and then climb even higher – from $196 billion in 2010 to $928 billion by 2021.
The surreal nature of these numbers allows the president the luxury of telling his constituencies – students, minorities, unions, and blue collar workers – that the GOP wants to take away their government goodies while he, Obama, will not only protect their benefits, but actually increase “investments” for them. It is rank hypocrisy and dishonesty, but realistically, who is going to call him out on it? The GOP is already losing the narrative battle as the president pounds away with no effective counter from Republicans.
This will become important as the campaign shifts into high gear. The president repeated his extraordinarily misleading explanation from his George Washington University speech last week of how we arrived at such a perilous fiscal state. He continues to blame it all on his predecessor, while eschewing responsibility for the trillions in additional debt that has accumulated as a result of his massive increases in spending. His mantra includes the dubious assertion that his trillions in spending headed off a global depression – a statement on par with his belief that his stimulus bill saved “millions of jobs.” It is not provable, but has become a convenient crutch that the president has used to deflect criticism of his spending increases.
There was one more theme that the president sought to highlight with his visit to Silicon Valley: his use of Facebook, MySpace, and other social media outlets in 2008 was only the beginning. No matter what one can say about the president’s policies, it must be acknowledged that he has built an organization that is still far ahead of the Republicans in the vital area of social and new media.
ABC News reports that Obama has 17.4 million followers on Twitter and 19.3 million fans on Facebook. “The White House averages 250,000 visits to its YouTube channel per month and its website received roughly 1.1 million unique visitors in January, according to ComScore,” says the network.
But the real breakthrough technology for 2012 will be mobile applications for smart phones and other personal technology devices. The administration launched new apps for the iPhone and Android platforms on Tuesday that will alert supporters if the president is making a speech. They report 400,000 downloads so far.
But how will such technology impact fundraising, volunteerism, and advocacy? The Christian Science Monitor gives an idea of how these mobile applications will work. An attendee at an Obama rally might check in using Facebook or Foursquare, taking a snapshot of a QR bar code – which downloads a program onto your smartphone. The program may or may not be visible as an app, but while you think you’re telling your friends where you are, the campaign has gotten ahold of your email address, Twitter and Facebook usernames, and more. Next time the campaign wishes to raise some cash, they text you or send a message with a request for a donation. It is in this way that the Obama campaign will maintain contact with millions of people, as well as “hypertargeting” specific demographic groups to get their message out.
As we have seen, that message will center upon attacks on Republicans, the “rich,” conservatives – any identified group that opposes the president. Demonizing his political opponents on the Internet is only a part of it. Obama’s fundraising apparatus is already in high gear, and many analysts fully expect the campaign to raise close to $1 billion before all is said and done. That money will buy a lot of ads depicting the GOP as unfeeling, uncaring, uber-rich robber barons who don’t want to pay their “fair share” of taxes.
It will be a tremendous challenge for the Republican nominee to counter this kind of dishonest campaigning. And with the president’s re-election campaign already well underway, the GOP has a lot of catching up to do.