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Where is the Democrats' oomph?

Mark Mardell | 21:24 UK time, Friday, 19 March 2010

Fairfax, Virginia. Is Obama the only Democrat with any oomph?

fairfax_226bbc.jpgPresident Obama has them whooping and hollering in what I imagine is his last rally before the big vote on what he calls "the patients' charter on steroids". We can't say for sure - as we don't know for sure - that the vote is on Sunday, or indeed what his weekend plans are. He's in the Patriot Centre, a huge hall, on the George Mason University campus. The White House pool reporter estimates there are 8,500 people here, although that sounds a bit over-the-top to me.

Obama is, once again, in fine and fiery form. He delivers much the same speech as he has been making all around the country, with a special few tweaks as the time draws near. He tells supporters this is not about politics and the chatter on cable TV and in Washington.

"What they like to talk about is the politics of the vote. What does this mean in November? What does it mean to the poll numbers? Is this more of an advantage for Democrats or Republicans? What's it going to mean for Obama? Will his presidency be crippled?"

The crowd roars "noooooo" and he continues "or will he be the comeback kid?" "Yeeeees."

Maybe somewhere in between, if he gets the vote to go his way. If it is Sunday, it probably means it is in the bag. There is, after all, no point in calling a vote you are going to lose. He tells the crowd:

"We've had historic votes before. We had a historic vote to put Social Security in place to make sure that our elderly did not live out their golden years in poverty. We had a historic vote in civil rights to make sure that everybody was equal under the law. As messy as this process is, as frustrating as this process is, as ugly as this process can be, when we have faced such decisions in our past, this nation, time and time again, has chosen to extend its promise to more of its people."

Obama ends by telling them:

"You've got to stand with me, just like you did three years ago, and make some phone calls and knock on some doors, talk to your parents, talk to your friends. Do not quit, do not give up, we keep on going. We are going to get this done. We are going to make history."

I've no idea what supporters of the bill have been telling their neighbours and family, but I haven't seen many of them on the streets.

I can't help thinking the Democrats haven't been trying or even thinking that hard about how to win this argument. The president seems sometimes like a one-man band, the only guy making a forceful, passionate case. Of course, at these rallies there are often people who've suffered under the current system (there weren't today) but where are the parades, where are the demos by those in favour of the bill?

When we were in Pennsylvania the other day, we were trying to find out what the pro-reform organisation was doing. Finally they told us about a demo outside Congressman Jason Altmire's office. When we told them to hang on, we were 40 miles away, they told us they didn't want the press there. It's a weird way of getting your message out.

Opponents of the bill will say it's because no-one wants it. Certainly, this watered-down mishmash of compromises doesn't inspire passion in those Democrats I have met. But the party doesn't seem to be that bothered.

Outside the meeting in Fairfax, hours before Obama arrived, people with blue badges reading "volunteer" were queueing up. At first they, too, told me they were not meant to talk to the press, but I was without TV camera or indeed notebook and went on chatting. They thought the bill was a good thing, were sure it would pass but there was no passion, nor attempt to persuade. It is so very different from the Tea Party people who, despite their well-known views on the mainstream media, are very ready to help and put their view across with great gusto.

I wasn't here during the presidential campaign but everyone tells me the Obama organisation was highly professional and highly motivated, driven by enthusiastic supporters. Now the party seems deflated, with no desire to motivate the people, or more to the point suggest they represent the people.

I can't explain this lack of oomph but it could be deadly. If there is such a thing as a will to win, is there a will to lose as well?


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