Charlie Pierce pays a visit to campaign central:
The headquarters is on the third floor. To visit, guests have to surrender their driver’s licenses in exchange for a visitor’s tag at the front desk. The days of the storefront walk-in headquarters are as dead as the Whigs, and Steve was not even allowed to tell me how many local headquarters the campaign has around the country. Within the broad rooms is a very strange combination of a high-end frat house and a local Best Buy outlet. Over the field-organizing tables hang the state flags of the various regions of the country that the people beneath them are working. (The middle of the area has a very strong Big 10 feel.) Beneath the flags, young people — over 90 percent of whom are salaried to one extent or another — worked every possible mode of communication technology brought down from the mount by Messrs. Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg. LCD screens were hung every place somebody hadn’t hung a handmade sign cheering on the president, his wife, the country, or people who’d been aces at their jobs in one way or another the previous week. The room buzzed with a cacophony of beeps, bells, and amplified punditspeak. Actual human speech even was buried in there somewhere. It was like watching the Keebler elves working in a nuclear missile silo.
This is the way campaigns are these days. This is the way politics are these days. The Obama campaign pioneered many of the new techniques in 2008, when they were able to bring a one-term senator to the presidency all the way to the White House at least in part by using the new technologies to create new kinds of communities — real and virtual — that they could activate when they most needed them. There is something insulated about it, but it is not the kind of insulation whereby something is sealed away from the world. Instead, it is more like the insulation that you find on electric wires, the kind of thing that makes sure the current stays strong and properly directed, but which also makes sure that the electricity does not erupt in ways that cannot be controlled.
That’s the most conspicuous element of the president’s re-election headquarters: the overwhelming impression of a place that serves two primary functions — to marshal power and to control it tightly. This is not a place that either engenders improvisation or anger or emotion, or seeks in anyway to turn them loose. That’s for the streets outside. If that energy can be channelled in ways the campaign can employ to what it perceives to be its policy goals — in other words, if it’s time for Joe Biden to go give another speech somewhere — so much the better.
Everything is garrisoned today. Everything is insulated the way that electric wires are insulated so that the power doesn’t go anywhere it’s not supposed to go. The country’s political process is encased in technology so as to make it as safe and regular as it can be, so that the people within it can feel comfortable in what they’re doing. It is not a contrivance. If it were, practically anyone would do it, and the Republican presidential primary field — to say nothing of the candidate it produced — is proof enough that that’s not the case. It is, for lack of a better world, a kind of manufactured evolution, politics learning the techniques of distancing itself from the people politics purports to serve in the same way that those people have learned to distance themselves from each other, primarily through the insulating effect of new technology. We have grown accustomed to guns on the street, First Amendment zones, elections as televised design contests or exercises in competing virtual realities. The Obama headquarters is neither a symptom of this, nor is it the cause. It is simply a creature of the country it seeks once again to lead. We live garrisoned lives, so why should our politics be any different? Any energy that cannot be filtered through the buzz of the headquarters is left downstairs, on the outside, behind the toddler gate that stretches across the hallway or, better yet, out on the sidewalk, where walk the men with guns.