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Obama touts stimulus plan via e-mails

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KAI RYSSDAL: Just because you’re getting e-mail from the president of the United States, it doesn’t mean you’re on his secret Blackberry access list or anything.

Millions of e-mails from the president were sent out to supporters all across the country yesterday. Probably to the exact same mailing list that he used to drum up contributions during the campaign. This time President Obama’s asking supporters to get together and talk about the economic stimulus bill that’s working its way through Congress.

As Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports, it’s the latest attempt to turn an online political campaign that went viral into a policy movement.

STEVE HENN: Democrats are hoping to convert Obama’s online lists into a permanent force for change.

Elaine Young is a marketing professor at Champlain College.

Elaine Young: Nobody’s done it before.

Democrats asked online supporters to host house parties this weekend as part of the drive to pass the stimulus plan. Young’s following this effort but she’s skeptical.

YOUNG: In houses around the country people are sitting around their dinner table talking about economic recovery. Like, “I just got my pink slip today” is their conversation. So I’m not sure that this is actually the right way to leverage that. It’s one thing to do it around a campaign. The question is how you take that same energy and put it into moving policy.

Amit Malhotra: We need a better understanding of exactly what the outcome of these meetings is going to be.

Amit Malhotra has hosted these parties in the past. But when he got the e-mail yesterday, he decided to take a pass.

Malhotra: If it’s just to bring people together and snap some photos and upload them to the website. . . .

It won’t cut it, at least for Malhotra. But in Iowa City, Karen Nichols is on board. She expects 30 guests at her home, and she’s planning to write her Republican senator, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, to get behind the stimulus bill.

Karen Nichols: Some people have already done so in our group.

Officials at the Democratic National Committee won’t say just yet exactly what they’ll ask supporters to do next. But Elaine Young is guessing they’ll ask folks to call their elected representatives. And already, thousands of people have signed up to take part.

In Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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