I think we can all agree that Barack Obama had a more successful campaign operation than a presidential one. Most presidents do. Bush '88 pummeled Dukakis; Clinton's '92 effort rewrote the campaign manual, as George W.’s did in 2004. Obama's campaign did it twice: in '08 and '12. But the genius of these campaigns was usually followed by the disappointment of administrations that often looked politically tone-deaf and impotent.
Every smart political operative will admit that campaigning is a lot easier than governing, so the failure of the past four presidents to live up immediately (or ever) to the promise of their electoral juggernauts is perhaps not surprising.
My guess (and hope) is that President Obama has been contemplating this pattern since his reelection. I have some advice for not repeating it.
Mr. President: Don't disband your campaign. In fact, fund it along the lines you funded it over the past two years. Raise lots of money to keep the data-mining, grass-roots and advertising going, not to ensure reelection, obviously, but rather the enactment of your agenda. There has been talk for years about a "permanent campaign" in this country, the notion that campaign techniques now infuse governing. But the "campaign" waged while governing is a pale imitation of the real thing. Similar to what the Allies did before World War II, the election campaign apparatus disarms and becomes a mere shadow power.
The idea of a permanent campaign appalls some people, and what I am suggesting will appall them more. I am talking about a massive expenditure of resources to enact the Obama agenda. The agenda now will be set by the media, or equally by the Republicans who oppose Obama completely. Interest groups are already spending millions of dollars to influence the national dialogue and legislation. If Obama relies solely on the resources afforded by the White House, we will soon read stories about their stalled agenda and wasted promise. That is the nature of divided government; the only thing it can do is stop things.
But if Obama makes his case, not just with Air Force One media tours, but with blitzkrieg advertising and supporter contact, he can do what he was able to do so well in the campaign: Control the agenda. It's called winning.