Chicago politics has moved into the White House...
"Don't think we're not keeping score, brother." That's what President Barack Obama said to Rep. Peter DeFazio in a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus last week, according to the Associated Press.
A few weeks ago, Mr. DeFazio voted against the administration's stimulus bill. The comment from Mr. Obama was a presidential rebuke and part of a new, hard-nosed push by the White House to pressure Congress to adopt the president's budget. He has mobilized outside groups and enlisted forces still in place from the Obama campaign.
Senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and her chief of staff, Michael Strautmanis, are in regular contact with MoveOn.Org, Americans United for Change and other liberal interest groups. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina has collaborated with Americans United for Change on strategy and even ad copy. Ms. Jarrett invited leaders of the liberal interest groups to a White House social event with the president and first lady to kick off the lobbying campaign.
Its targets were initially Republicans, as team Obama ran ads depicting the GOP as the "party of no." But now the fire is being trained on Democrats worried about runaway spending.
Americans United is going after Democrats who are skeptical of Mr. Obama's plans to double the national debt in five years and nearly triple it in 10. The White House is taking aim at lawmakers in 12 states, including Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. MoveOn.Org is running ads aimed at 10 moderate Senate and House Democrats. And robocalls are urging voters in key districts to pressure their congressman to get in line.
Team Obama is also ginning up the Democratic National Committee. A special group at the DNC has been created called "Organizing for America." It is headed by Mr. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, and is lobbying for the administration's spending proposals.
Organizing for America's first effort has not been terribly effective. It emailed 13 million Obama election workers, recruited 1,200 neighborhood canvassers, and, after a couple of weeks and more email pleas to the Obama list, produced 642,000 signatures. Having less than 5% of your own activists sign a petition is unimpressive and perhaps evidence that adding $9.3 trillion to the deficit alarms even some of Mr. Obama's most fervent supporters.
Every White House is faced with finding ways to nudge Congress without antagonizing it. But this overt campaign could infuriate members who won't appreciate being targeted by a president of their own party. They could react by becoming recalcitrant. Should that happen, team Obama will have to recalculate its efforts, especially as the public sours on big spending plans.
In March, a Gallup Poll found that positive impressions of the Obama budget dropped five points. Only 39% now harbor supportive views of it. A CNN/Opinion Research Poll in mid-March found that support for the stimulus bill Mr. Obama signed into law shifted 11-points against the bill in five weeks, with 66% of Americans opposed to a second stimulus bill.
Support continues to decline for the proposition that a big boost in government spending will lead America to prosperity. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll early last month found that 61% of Americans were concerned that "the federal government will spend too much money" (up 12 points from December), and only 29% were concerned "it will spend too little money to try to boost the economy."
This growing skepticism will not be assuaged by White House Budget Director Peter Orszag's bewildering response when asked by a reporter last week about increasing federal debt. He said, "I don't know what spiraling debt you're referring to."
Members of Congress should also worry about how Mr. Obama is "keeping score." He is steeped in the ways of Chicago politics and has not forgotten his training in the methods once used by Saul Alinsky, the radical Chicago community organizer.
Alinsky's 1971 book, "Rules for Radicals," is a favorite of the Obamas. Michele Obama quoted it at the Democratic Convention. One Alinsky tactic is to "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." That's what the White House did in targeting Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santelli and Jim Cramer. (The president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, went so far as to lash all three from the White House press podium.) It may also explain Mr. Obama's comments to Mr. DeFazio.
After all, Alinsky's first rule of "power tactics" is "power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have." Team Obama wants to remind its adversaries it has plenty of power, and it does. The question is whether the White House will wield it responsibly. The jury is still out, but certain clues are beginning to emerge. "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother," even if said with a wink and a smile, isn't quite the "new politics" we were told to expect.
Karl Rove Says Barack Obama Has Moved Chicago Politics to the White House - WSJ.com