Organizing for Action Wants Your Newtown Anniversary Party to Be a Success

The Obama campaign’s political arm is turning Saturday’s one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre into a fundraising opportunity. Is nothing above politics for the president?

David Goldman/AP,David Goldman

The families of the Sandy Hook victims and Newtown residents have been clear about how they would like the one-year anniversary of the massacre to be observed. “The community is choosing to remember and honor those who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook tragedy in ways that are quiet, personal and respectful—centered on themes of kindness, love and service to others,” said Newtown’s first selectman in a statement.

The White House has announced that the president and first lady will observe a moment of silence Saturday at the White House in memory of the victims. That seems entirely appropriate and in keeping with the wishes of those most affected.

But in fairly stark contrast to the president, the political arm of the Obama campaign, Organizing for Action, has turned the occasion into a political recruitment and fundraising opportunity. Two weeks before the anniversary, OFA sent a mass emailing to supporters asking them to host home parties and events on the date of the massacre. “If you’d like to host a Newtown anniversary event, all you have to do is sign up here to get started,” read the email. “And we’ll be in touch soon with more information.”

The email directed supporters to a Newtown Anniversary page at the OFA site. To proceed, OFA requires supporters to register with their name, email, mailing address, and phone number. Or they can register through a Facebook account. If they do, they receive this notice:

“Organizing for Action will receive the following: your public profile, friend list, email address, news feed, birthday, current city, photos and likes and your friends’ birthdays, current cities, photos and likes.”

That is straight Internet marketing. It happens every day in today’s commercial and social media world. But to use the “hook” of the Newtown massacre to drive marketing is somewhere between distasteful and indecent.

If supporters register and commit to hosting an event for OFA, they promise to send the “tools and information to make your event on December 14 a success.” A success? What makes a “successful” anniversary of a mass murder? Apparently it’s not quiet remembrance, time with the family, perhaps prayer—whatever it is that makes us each of us think about those children and what is important in life. No, “success” will be measured by how useful it is at growing OFA.

Is this an isolated event for OFA and the Obama political machine? Hardly. For them, every moment seems to be political—and an opportunity for recruitment, mobilization, and fundraising.

Thanksgiving? The holidays? Many of us think of them as a time to put aside work and focus on family and friends. Not OFA. Those quality moments shared with family members you see only a couple of times a year? That’s a good marketing opportunity.

“As you spend time with loved ones this holiday season, be sure to talk with them about what health care reform can mean for them,” urged another OFA email and social media campaign. “OFA has some tips to help get the ball rolling,” the writers helpfully explain. “Start early, integrate the talk into family time, be persistent.”

Who are these creepy people who want to tell us what to talk about with our families? Can you imagine if the Bush campaign had sent out emails suggesting that we talk about the war on terror with loved ones and included talking points?

Does anyone believe Barack and Michelle Obama would appreciate some political organization telling them what to talk about with their children and extended family over dinner? They are highly intelligent, well-grounded parents with strong values. They are more than capable of deciding, when, where, and how to talk about any issue with their family and friends without unsolicited guidance from a political marketing group.

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But somehow the Obama political organization doesn’t believe that we deserve the same respect. We’re just Facebook accounts waiting to be harvested in the pursuit of some cause to be announced.

It’s possible Obama has little idea what OFA is doing. Presidents are busy people. They spend their days running the country and dealing with the world, not managing a political organization. But like it or not, these organizations are acting in the president’s name. OFA existed to elect Obama. It succeeded. Now it is trying to grow a vast organization, though Obama will never be on the ballot again. That’s hard to do, and inevitably the tendency is to keep testing the limits.

The president should look closely at OFA and ask some tough questions. Is this really in my best interest? Do I want to be the “Newtown anniversary event” president? Do I want to be the “here’s the talking points for grandma” president?

Maybe he does. If so, that’s regrettable and will cheapen his legacy. Like great athletes who have to accept that the magic moments of effortless grace are easier found in seasons past, sometimes trying too hard makes it more difficult to be remembered at your peak. The OFA massacre marketing mentality is, at best, tawdry and only makes it easier for critics to say nothing is above politics for Obama.

And that can’t be true, can it?