Tue, 20 Jan 2009 16:00:09 +0000 – By Dana R. FisherAssociate Professor, Department of Sociology, Columbia University
Today, Barak Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Riding the wave of a campaign that followed the model of a populist movement, the Obama presidency has the potential to draw significant strength from his supporters. Mobilizing people to get involved in the Obama campaign was a huge endeavor, but keeping these people engaged in politics is an even bigger task. As so much research has shown, once movements have achieved their goals, such as the election of a candidate, activists have the tendency to fizzle out.
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Because the campaign employed new technologies that gave supporters what they considered a direct line to the candidate--things like e-mail and text messages--there will also be challenges associated with Obama's transition from the leader of this movement to president of the United States. Starting today, Obama supporters will be watching as the new president moves forward with his campaign promises.
In recent weeks, the president-elect has taken an increasingly somber tone as he discusses how his administration will begin to address the challenges facing the nation.
In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and a deficit exceeding a trillion dollars, there is no question that moving forward on all of his campaign promises right now would be political suicide.
At the same time, dropping too many of the promises that mobilized Americans to donate their time and money to his campaign could turn off his supporters and potentially deactivate them forever. The new President also has the challenge of thinking beyond the movement that got him elected.
With his ambitious policy agenda, which includes passing the largest economic recovery plan in history, Obama must broaden his support to engage Americans and policy-makers across the aisle if he is going to accomplish his goals.
We have only to look back to the most recent president to see how fickle the American public can be: during his time in office, George W. Bush had both the highest and lowest approval ratings of any American President.
For Barack Obama, the clock begins ticking today.
There's no question that Obama the candidate and his campaign has changed politics in America forever. The question that remains, however, is how Obama the president will fare. And now, the hard work begins...
Dana R. Fisher is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. Her research focuses on political decision-making, grassroots activism and civic participation. Her second book, Activism, Inc. (Stanford University Press 2006), analyzed the grassroots tactics of the Republican and Democratic Parties in the 2004 presidential election. For more information, click here.