Obama uses a different frame of reference. “As somebody who had been a community organizer,” Obama recalls, “I was convinced that if you invited people to get engaged, if you weren’t trying to campaign like you were selling soap but instead said, ‘This is your campaign, you own it, and you can run with it,’ that people would respond and we could build a new electoral map.” The chum stores, the e-mail obsession and the way Obama organizations sprang up organically in almost every congressional district in the country meant that by the time Obama’s field organizers arrived in a state, all they had to do was fire up an engine that had already been designed and built locally. “We had to rely on the grass roots, and we had clarity on that from the beginning,” says Plouffe.
By contrast, the Clinton campaign, which started out with superior resources and the mantle of inevitability, was a top-down operation in which decision-making rested with a small coterie of longtime aides. Her state organizers often got mixed signals from the headquarters near Washington. Decisions from Hillaryland often came too late for her field organization to execute. Obama’s bottom-up philosophy also helps explain why he was able to sweep the organization-heavy caucus states, which were so crucial to building up his insurmountable lead in pledged delegates. What was not appreciated by many at the time: while Clinton spent heavily in every state she contested, Obama’s approach saved money. Says Dean-campaign veteran Trippi: “His volunteers were organizing his caucus victories for free.”
This reminds me of what I was taught when I was serving as an armor crewman 11th ACR in the Fulda gap, and we were preparing for the onslaught of Soviet armor to come cruising through. We were told to always let the scouts through, because Soviet Doctrine was to have scouts advance forward over phase lines on the map, and when they stopped radioing back phase lines, Soviet superiors knew they had made contact. Thus, you allowed them to get through the lines and eliminate them behind the lines, so the enemy has an inaccurate assessment.
Another story we were told was that the Soviets did not often have two way radios in all of their vehicles. Command had two-way, line units would only have one way. The notion was that decision-making authority was centralized at the top for them, while our troops had much greater latitude to make decisions at the lowest level- the military version of subsidiarity, something everyone discusses in public international law classes in college (presuming you take them). This was also, if I remember correctly (it has been years since I read the texts), the reason for the delayed response from German armor at Normandy because Rommel was actually out of theatre celebrating his anniversary or some other event (Update- it was his wife’s birthday).
Again, not sure how much of the above is accurate, although someone more familiar with REFORGER and Soviet doctrine could probably validate or invalidate my ramblings, for all I know I was fed nonsense by my platoon sergeant, but if accurate, it does seem analogous to the top-down formulation of the Clinton campaign. Trust, decision making authority, and organizational skills were dispersed in the Obama campaign and organic, rather than centralized and forced down on local offices from on high.