The Power of Leadership

Interesting Politico article on MoveOn orienting its priorities to match Barack Obama’s. One assumes you’ll see much the same thing from many progressive groups over the next couple of months. But what’s interesting about the MoveOn case is that you can hardly chalk this up to some kind of backroom conspiracy — they’re writing about the results of a grassroots poll of membership:

What they chose: universal health care; economic recovery and job creation; building a green economy; stopping climate change; and end the war in Iraq.

What they didn’t: holding the Bush administration accountable; fighting for gay rights and LGBT equality; and reforming campaigns and elections.

MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser says that this happy alignment with Barack Obama’s agenda — and fortuitous absence of conflict with same — comes in part because “the people he’s listening to and the people we’re listening to are the same people.”

Writer Andie Collier calls it “fortuitous” but Pariser knows better — there’s no coincidence here. But I’d say it’s not even so much that Obama is listening to the same people as MoveOn members are listening to. Rather, MoveOn members are listening to Obama. He’s the most admired man in America and particularly among the MoveOn who supported him back in the primaries he’s very very admired. There are probably things Obama could do to alienate his base, but there’s also a great deal he can do to induce that base to align their ideas with him. Especially about something gentle like the question of priorities, he has an enormous ability to get people to see things his way.


And that’s not a unique Obama power. Often the press works with a model wherein voters have views on issues, and then politicians have views on issues, and then voters form opinions of politicians based on the alignment of those issue views. But the reverse process is almost certainly more common — voters know which politicians they like, and then take cues from those politicians.