The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. And this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn't happen, in the first year of Obama's administration. The people who voted for him weren't organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests--banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex--sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting.
Micah Sifry's terrific piece in TechPresident (where I contribute occasionally) neatly sums up one the year's greatest political frustrations on the left - the utter failure of the super-connected Obama campaign to use that grassroots power in the cause of the very issues the President ran on.
When I talk to groups about social media trends, Obama '08 is a key data point - yet as the year went on, I started to add a crucial caveat to my presentations: that political campaigns don't generally translate to governance.
I remember asking Micah late last year when Obama should begin using his vast network of online and grassroots supporters to start pushing for public healthcare and other issues. This was during the campaign, actually; Micah was probably right in answering "not yet," since Obama still had to defeat McCain and the Republicans.
But it's a tragedy that he didn't switch instantly from campaign mode to policy mode after winning election - especially on public healthcare. I'm firmly convinced we wouldn't have this pale, anemic Senate insurance regulation mish-mash tarted up as "historic reform" if the President and his team hadn't made the decision to stop campaigning and organizing.
In the end, "Obama the Organizer" remains largely a myth, at best a one-off tactical feature of his successful political campaign. And that's too bad for all of us.