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The Obama War Machine

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 28, 2008

It was the second day of summer and the noon-day sun was shining in its liquid brilliance. Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts, evinced all of the energy, urgency and rapturous beauty of a Saturday morning in June. Young kids were moving into the Harvard University dorms to begin summer school, street-side musicians were pouring their hearts out as tourists looked agape at the John Harvard Statue in the Harvard Yard. I was on my way to Harvard's Widener Library to check on some books that I needed to answer some inquires the editor of my new book requested.

Amidst this bustle, about 100 years from Harvard Square, I saw a crowd consisting of young people and old ladies, black, whites and Hispanics clustered together seeking the attention of the many passers-by as they sold their cakes and cookies to raise money for the Obama campaign. As I looked on in amazement, one of the signs that advertised the event read "Hungry for Change: Bake Sale" and encapsulated a big O at the bottom right hand corner that alerted all and sundry that this was a cake sale to raise money the Obama campaign.

Cake sales in the United States are associated usually with the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides who try to raise a few pennies to conduct their organizational business. Here, however, was a Cake Sale that was paid for my Political Action, an arm of the MoveOn organization that was using every trick in the book (I suspect it can be called any innovation) in the book to get across its message and to raise as much money as possible for their favored candidate.

Less we be deceived, this was not an isolated event that was confined to Cambridge alone. Such Cake sales were taking place all over the country, led by Political Action Group. Although the ad disclaimed association with any political campaign, it tapped into the ingenuity and enthusiasm of people all over the country, many of whom had never voted in their lives, to ensure an Obama victory in November. Anyone who wishes to understand why Obama gave up 84.1 million dollars of public financing only have to look at these grass roots endeavors to understand why Obama will be the next president of the United States.

Many folks, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, two of the most powerful newspapers in the United States, chided Obama mildly for not participating in the Federal matching program that was intended to keep a cap on spending in this year's Presidential election.

However, Obama was clear. He was not prepared to be handicapped in an election in which the Republicans were about to throw the kitchen sink and everything else at him to ensure that they won the election.

On Wednesday last at a Florida fundraiser he wanted to administer a reality check on his supporters. He said: "We know what kind of campaign they [the Republicans] are going to run. They're going to try to make you afraid. They're going to try to make you afraid of me. 'He's young and inexperienced and he got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?'" to loud applause. He wanted to tell the country that whatever they thought, he was still the underdog and was going into the national election with many disadvantages.

Obama's decision took many of his supporters and the official press by surprise. They all seemed so shocked. They really mistook his smoothness and sophistication for a lack of political will and determination. They forgot, to their peril, that Obama comes out of Chicago, one of the roughest political capitals of America. It is the home of the late Richard Daly and a political machine that was not unafraid to manufacture some extra votes to ensure that the late John F. Kennedy became the president of the United States. It is alleged that Daly enabled deceased Chicago residents to "vote early and often" to ensure JFK's election.

So that although Obama supporters are willing to run some cake sales to ensure his elections his advisers are neither boy scouts or girl guides. They are fierce political operators who do not intend to be "swift boated" as John Kerry was in 2000 and which, it is argued, doomed his candidacy. The Obama camp intends to respond as soon as they are attacked by the Republicans and with a deadly force that Kerry campaign lacked. When the torpedo ads are launched; the Obama camp wants to be ready to respond with nuclear weapons. Needless to say, it will take millions of dollars to deal with the arsenal of dirty tricks that the Republicans have in their arsenal.

Whether we like it or not, the Obama campaign knows that it is the big league and is playing to win. David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager and David Axelrod (note the "axe" in the name), Obama's chief strategist, are Chicagoans who know how to smile, take a blow (like the Rev. Wright scenario) and then return the compliments with deadly force. They were cultivated in an arena of hard knuckles politics.

One is beginning to see the contours of Obama's strategy. Less than three weeks after the Democratic nominations Obama has sent staff members to the fifty states, "an usual move by the standards of modern presidential campaigns so often fought in just a contained group of contested territories." The idea is to keep John McCain busy. He must take none of the states–whether blue or red–for granted. He must know that he is a fight that Obama intends to take to him.

Already, Obama has raised over 250 million dollars. The goal is to raise another $300 million for the election. Even as we speak, the Obama team is sending resources to Virginia, a state the Democrats have not won since 1964. In fact, the Obama campaign wants to put states such as Georgia and Montana in play so that McCain will have to expend resources to ensure that he holds on to them in November. With McCain accepting public financing that restricts him to a budget of 84.1 million there will be a lot of fireworks over the next four months.

All of this activity makes us hungry for an Obama victory in November. To do so, one must recognize that we are not playing dolly house or a game of chance. This is the real thing and Obama is for real. He has transformed politics in America to the point that anyone who thinks about running for the Oval Office would really have to look and see how he did it. As Eli Pariser, executive director of, the pioneering Internet fund-raiser pioneer, that organized the cake sales across the country, observed: "They will continue to give as long as Obama doesn't treat them as an A.T.M., but as partners in the movement [for change]."

Looking at it, "Hunger for Chance Bake Sale" may not be as innocuous as it looks or sounds. A new day may be a 'comin'. The latest Newsweek poll shows Obama holding a 15 point lead over McCain. Such a large lead will not hold up but Obama needs all the help he can get to beat McCain in November.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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