Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Community Organizing for Fun and Profit

During the Republican National Convention, McCain's supporters pointed out that while their VP candidate was getting executive experience as the mayor of a (small) city, the guy at the top of the Democrat's ticket was a community organizer. This line of attack left many democrats puzzled. How could Republicans imply that being a community organizer was something less than ennobling? I saw one person equate it with social work. Just today, Jacob Heilbrunn of the Huffington Post seemed to think that Obama's days as a community organizer somehow gives him inside knowledge on economics.*

Others have pointed out that Obama doesn't really want people to look too closely at what it meant to be a community organizer. The concept was created by leftist Saul Alinsky. The idea is for organizers to use self-interest to band the poor together into a movement which can be exploited to further a progressive agenda. The organizers themselves are to use the cause rather than individual charisma to recruit people.

Obama was not at all successful. He spent two years as an organizer. For the first year he tried to use jobs as an inducement to get people to join the movement. the problem was that there weren't any jobs. By the second year he was reduced to orginizing people in order to demand repairs to the housing projects. He wasn't very successful at this either. After two years he gave up and went back to college to become a lawyer with the intention of going into politics. He decided that Alinsky had gotten it wrong. What was needed was charismatic leaders.

Obama never gave up his ties from those days. ACORN engages in the same sort of community organization that Obama did. He has had a close relationship with them for years although he has tried to hide it recently. In the 1990s Obama did legal work and taught classes for them. More recently his campaign employed them. He has also steered a lot of money their way over the years.

All of this puts Obama way to the left of his image.

What saves Obama is that very few people actually understand what a community organizer is. When someone explains that he was working with hard-core unemployed they accept it. They don't realize that getting jobs for the unemployed wasn't a goal, it was just a first step. The McCain campaign has never bothered to explain exactly what Obama did. If they had then Obama's associations with ACORN, Ayers, etc. would be hurting him a lot more.

* The reasoning is that Obama saw poverty first-hand. Obama used the same line of reasoning himself earlier this year when he said that having been raised in a foreign country made him an expert on foreign affairs. In both cases, the argument seems to be that you can substitute empathy for experience. Using this reasoning, then Palin's assertion that you can see Russia from Alaska does count as foreign policy experience.

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