Local liberals score with '50 Ways to Help Obama'

By Janet Simons

A hometown atmosphere permeated the mini auditorium at the LoDo Tattered Cover on Thursday, Sept. 17, as local boys Michael Huttner and Jason Salzman kept an eye on their children while greeting and schmoozing with some 250 high school chums, media pals, family members, fans, neighbors and allies in their struggle to move Denver — and the rest of the nation — just a few more notches to the left.

Jason Salzman, left, and Michael Huttner, right, pose with a life-size cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Huttner stepped to the dais and surveyed the crowd on the occasion of the first book-signing for “50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America,” a guide to political activism that drew the attention of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose jacket blurb calls it, “A practical handbook on how every American can do something for our country.”

Writing that endorsement apparently was one of Kennedy’s final acts. Huttner sent the book to the late senator via overnight delivery on Aug. 24. Kennedy died on Aug. 25.

The book also caught the eye of Fox News Channel business reporter Neil Cavuto, who interviewed Huttner, and of El Paso County resident Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator, blogger and author whose weekly syndicated column appears in a number of national newspapers and Web sites. Malkin is a regular guest on various nationally prominent right-leaning cable and radio programs.

Malkin blogged that Huttner was using the book to ask for help “from every last nutroot activist out there.” The Washington Post’s Short Stack blog took note of the conflict and invited Huttner and Salzman to take a stint as “guest bloggers” in response to Malkin’s posting.

The publicity surrounding the Huttner-Malkin kerfuffle briefly pushed “50 Ways You Can Help Obama” to the No. 28 position on the Amazon.com bestseller list, marking “a huge boost to our sales,” according to Huttner.

Meanwhile, as of this writing, Malkin’s “Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks and Cronies” had just dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Huttner, the founder and chief executive of the Denver-based ProgressNow online progressive movement, eyed the crowd and noted that he and his wife, Debbie, first met at the old Cherry Creek North Tattered Cover.

He explained that the book is divided into seven categories (Turn Obama’s Vision into Law, Become a Community Organizer, Volunteer in Your Community, Be the Change, Amplify Your Voice for Change, Harness the New Media and Act Now to Win Future Elections) each offering a solid, practical “to do” list for civic engagement, supplemented by pages of resources on “how to get involved to make America better.”

Huttner said “Be the Change,” for example, “is about amplifying your voice.”

Michael Huttner, foreground, signs a copy of “50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America” as co-author Jason Salzman signs for another eager reader.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“My mom taught me the value of persistence,” Huttner said. “And my father told me that, historically, the right has been better at using humor to make its case than the left.”

Huttner has taken that paternal hint in amplifying his own voice. For example, ProgressNow spent $500 to have a plane carry a banner reading “McCain is a Raiders fan” in view of Invesco Field during a Broncos game during last year’s presidential campaign.

Huttner suggested that someone with a smaller budget might want to spend $5 on poster board, make a sandwich board and wear his or her message.

Huttner and Salzman also have taken a light approach in promoting their book, the title and concept of which is based on Paul Simon’s 1975 tune “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” The evening’s festivities included a drawing for a life-size cardboard cutout of President Obama, and members of the audience beamed as they posed next to it for “presidential” photos.

“The most important thing is to do what Obama says,” said Salzman. “Sign up for Obama’s e-mail list. Create an account at www.my.barackobama.com and read the e-mails from President Obama’s organization so you know what needs to be done.

“Get in on the health care debate,” Salzman said. “If we splinter into factions, we lose his power.”

Things immediately became a good deal more raucous when local guitarist and singer George Peel came on stage to lead the crowd in a singalong of “‘50 Ways to Help Obama,’ (with apologies to Paul Simon; Lyrics by Anne Button and Jason Salzman).”

The Salzman-Button version concludes:

“She said why don’t just volunteer tonight
And I believe in the morning you’ll begin to see the light.
And then we leafleted, and I realized she probably was right.
There must be fifty ways to help Obama.
Fifty ways to help Obama.

“You just pick up the phone, Joan
Take back the flag, Mag
Just make a dent, Kent
And change the country.
Let’s steer the bus, Gus
It’s time to adjust much
Just turn off the TV, Lee
And change our country.

Get off the couch, slouch
Convince a blue dog, Claude
You don’t need your own show, Moe.
Just listen to me.
Ooh, it’s a new bus, Gus
We don’t need to combust much
Just go hug a tree, Lee
And change the country.

A question and answer period followed the singalong. The first question to emerge from the nearly unanimously friendly crowd was on how to defend ACORN in light of a video strongly suggesting that some of its volunteers had encouraged tax fraud.

“It’s too early to know what all that’s going to mean,” Huttner said. “It doesn’t look good, though, and this might be the time to focus on other get-out-the-vote groups, such as Rock the Vote.”

Most of the questions focused on how to respond to Obama’s Republican opposition, especially the strident opponents of the health care reform bill.

“Develop a 30-second elevator speech,” Huttner suggested. “Be ready to respond. Retake the symbols that the right has confiscated. Know what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say. Fly the flag.

“Just remember, it’s easier to scare people than to inform people.”