Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 8, 2008
POLITICS: The Organizer-Based Community

obamablackboard.jpg

One of the major themes in the reaction on the Left to the Republican convention - and we have seen this directly from the Obama campaign as well as from left-leaning bloggers - is to scream bloody murder at Mayor Giuliani and Governor Palin for mocking Sen. Obama's experience as a "community organizer," mainly for the three years between his college graduation and his entry into law school, although Obama's subsequent career as a "civil rights lawyer" was largely a continuation of the same work, which really constitutes the entirety of his experience outside elected political office.

Now, when you launch a line of criticism in politics and the other side starts shrieking at you for having done it, one or more of three things is usually true:

1. You have done something genuinely outrageous, or at least something the other side genuinely views as outrageous.

2. You have hit a nerve and the other side is trying to delegitimize your argument rather than respond to it.

3. The other side misunderstands what you are talking about.

The Obama camp's furious response (see the end of this post for full quotes from fundraising emails by Obama's campaign) to the criticism levelled at Obama's time as a community organizer strikes me as a prime example of #2, although there's an element of #3 here as well. I suppose I understand why to some on the Left it feels like #1, but at the end of the day that's an argument that fails the John Edwards test. Sen. Obama has brought this line of criticism on himself, and if his career reminds people a little too forcefully of people the average voter despises, well, maybe that's something the Democrats should have considered before nominating him for President.

I. What The Heck Is A "Community Organizer" Anyway?

The first point to make here is that Obama's defenders (and even some sympathetic voices on the Right) are, deliberately or otherwise, obscuring the meaning of the term "community organizer" by making it sound like this is precisely the same thing as the de Toquevillian/Burkean "little platoons" ideal of private institutions that exist alongside of the State - churches, volunteer associations, private charities.

None of that has anything to do with Obama's work experience, training or philosophy. If you go around in your own community and ask the guy who runs the soup kitchen, the woman who runs the battered women's shelter, the local priests, Protestant ministers and rabbis, the people who run the local Republican and Democratic party offices, the Knights of Columbus, Lion's Club, the Kiwanis, the Salvation Army... odds are that none of them describe their occupation as "community organizer." It's effectively a term of art, which apparently traces itself to a left-wing Chicago activist and theorist named Saul Alinsky, who memorialized his principles in the 1972 book "Rules for Radicals," which as you can guess from the title is not a book of rules for mainstream, bipartisan moderates. I had never heard the term before Obama, but I'd certainly heard of people who describe themselves in similar terms. They almost invariably operate in large cities with what are already large and intrusive governments - think of the PIRGs of the world (Obama was trained by NYPIRG, which, as Megan McArdle has explained from personal experience, is basically a Ponzi scheme). In essence, Naderites, not mainstream Democrats. In Obama's own words: "I used to be a PIRG guy. You guys trained me well."

But it gets worse: for those of us from places like New York, the term also evokes self-appointed "community leaders" like Al Sharpton who basically agitate not only for left-wing economic policies but also, among other things, against enforcement of the law against violent criminals. This association, as you can guess, is not a good one for most Americans. As it happens, though, it's one that dovetails with Obama's political alliance with Bill Ayers.

The common thread here in what the term quite reasonably evokes, and the critical way in which it differs from traditional private charity, is that the critical role of the "community organizer" is to lobby for taxpayer money or otherwise invoke the power of government. Go and read, for example, this review by John Judis at The New Republic of Obama's career as a "community organizer.". A sample of Obama's work:

[H]e began to focus on providing social services for Altgeld Gardens. "We didn't yet have the power to change state welfare policy, or create local jobs, or bring substantially more money into the schools," he wrote. "But what we could do was begin to improve basic services at Altgeld--get the toilets fixed, the heaters working, the windows repaired." Obama helped the residents wage a successful campaign to get the Chicago Housing Authority to promise to remove asbestos from the units...

(More here). "Community organizers" like Obama do not organize private charity and spend their own bread; they exist to agitate for the transfer of taxpayer funds and the private property of others through the machinery of the state. They are, in function, identical to lobbyists, differing only in the special interests for which they lobby and the method and amount of their compensation.

Now, the First Amendment protects our right to petition the government for redress of grievances; lobbying for the interests of laborers, tenants, the homeless, etc. is not bad in and of itself any more than is lobbying for the interests of large corporations, small businesses, farmers, trade associations, or ideological interest groups. Everybody deserves a voice. (Leaving aside for now Obama's bashing of lobbyists, of which I assume we will hear far less after he picked a running mate whose son is a Washington lobbyist).

But of course, if a lobbyist for big corporations is unsuccessful in bettering the lot of his client, he'll get fired. "Community organizers," being self-appointed, are not accountable to their clients; they can't be fired by the community or in any way judged on what they accomplish. As Judis notes, even Obama himself once was willing to admit that his days as a community organizer had accomplished nothing of any substance, his community no better off than it was before. A Mayor would have been fired for that, but there was nobody who could fire Obama.

The additional and related problem with Obama's brand of "organizing" (which he continued in law practice representing clients like the far-left group ACORN, see here and here), and why it ought to concern voters, is what it stands for ideologically: advocacy of the unvarnished Great Society liberalism that has been proven a failure and rejected repeatedly by the voters for the last 30 years, at times backed by Marxist or quasi-Marxist theories about 'institutional power dynamics' in lieu of a decent respect for free markets and individual enterprise. This sort of organized beggary is not, and has never been, a path out of poverty for any significant number of people. It's entirely proper to bring up that background, even if, as was done by Mayor Giuliani and Governor (and former Mayor) Palin, the chief point is to drive home the underlying reason why organizers never face real consequences for living politically in the 1970s - because Obama never had what a Mayor would have: constituents able to say "get real."

II. The Dog Whistlers

sharpton_obama2.jpgThe half-sympathetic claim from some liberals is that by evoking images of troublemakers like Sharpton, whose National Action Network convention Obama addressed in 2007, the GOP is blowing a racial "dog whistle," i.e., using terms that will make voters think in racial terms. It is, as I have noted, probably true that for a significant number of Americans who are familiar with the operation of dysfunctional cities with a lot of "community leaders" and "community organizers," the association that comes to mind is a negative one, and one that may well remind them of some particularly odious left-wing activist who is, like Sharpton, black. That's unfortunate, regardless of the boy-who-cries-wolf nature of the charges of racism made by Obama and his supporters throughout this campaign; it would be better if racial lines of thinking simply never came up in elections.

But I would make four points here.

First, as I said before, apply the John Edwards test here and you'll see that complaints about the negative connotation of Obama's prior occupation are being deployed here as a sword to bat down legitimate arguments rather than simply a shield against unfair ones. Both parties frequently use terms with negative associations, whether tying John Edwards to "trial lawyers" or Mike Dukakis to the ACLU, or Dick Cheney or Mitt Romney to fat-cat CEOs. Obama's got baggage like everyone else, and it's unrealistic to expect Republicans to unilaterally refuse to press those vulnerabilities just because some voters may take it the wrong way.

Second, the Democrats devoted a large chunk of time at their own convention to playing up Obama's time as a community organizer to a nationally televised audience. Given how little there is to work with on his resume, maybe this is understandable. But really, if they believed then that "community organizer" was a racial dog whistle, they should have thought twice before blowing it at the top of their lungs for the better part of a week.

Third, of course, Obama largely brought scrutiny of this phase of his career on himself by demeaningly making out Sarah Palin as if all she had ever done was be Mayor of Wasilla. This was done, you may recall, not by Obama's surrogates but by the candidate himself. He should have expected some push-back on his own early career and how it compares unfavorably with her experience as Mayor.

And fourth, well, Barack Obama is not responsible for the fact that PIRG/ACORN-style "community organizers" strike a lot of Americans as not all that different from what Al Sharpton does, and he's not responsible either for the racial makeup of many big-city political machines in 21st century America (recognizing that the unappealing features of such machines are not actually race-specific but long predate the time when African-Americans were permitted to have any role in government or politics whatsoever). But it is true that Obama has spent virtually his entire career around urban political machines and left-wing community organizers, and has really never done anything to improve the image or break the power of either in communities that desperately need a fresh start from corrupt machine politics and Great Society policies. If that lack of moral courage on Obama's part means he starts to accumulate the negative baggage, racial and otherwise, of decades of failed urban policy and left-wing ideology, that is once again a built-in feature of the candidate and not one that Republicans somehow invented. And if you recall the primaries, well, it's not as if we didn't warn you against this guy.

III. The Pontius Pilate Fan Club

H/T

One of the more enduring features of the political Left, at least as far back as the days of "Make Love, Not War," is the effort to generate political slogans in the form of bumper stickers, often ones that condense the largest possible number of factual errors and logical fallacies into the fewest number of words. In the annals of ludicrous bumper stickers, however, few are quite as idiotic as the one currently being retailed in numerous quarters on the Left, from Kos to Donna Brazile to Open Left to really a who's who of lefty bloggers:

Jesus was a Community Organizer, and Pontius Pilate was a Governor.

This is mind-bending in its stupidity on any number of levels. For the pure cruel sport of it, let us actually take this bumper sticker seriously enough to count the ways:

1. Every time Obama is compared to John McCain's running mate instead of to McCain himself, that's a win for the GOP. Every. Single. Time. It just emphasizes that he should be running, at most, for Vice President.

2. Every State has a Governor. Most Americans have a general idea of what they do, and will not be persuaded by a bumper sticker to associate them with Pontius Pilate. I am not overly fond of my Governor, David Paterson, but I do not associate him with Pilate.

3. Pilate is best known to history as the man who decided that a crucial life and death decision was above his pay grade to make. Not really the image Obama wants to conjure up.

4. The hubris never stops - as my older brother put it, "just what the Obama campaign needs: more comparisons to Jesus." Most Americans have a pretty good idea what Jesus was about and are not easily persuaded to adjust that idea to make Him more like Barack Obama.

5. In point of fact, very little in the life of Jesus involved invoking state power to do anything - indeed, Our Lord was rather insistent that His Kingdom was not of this world, and tended to say things like "render unto God what is God's and unto Ceasar what is Caesar's." That's not to say that the teachings of Jesus are irrelevant to public policy and politics - volumes have been written on that subject - but simply that Jesus Himself was not at all in Obama's line of work, as anyone vaguely familiar with Christianity would know.

6. Pilate was not a Governor at all in the American sense; he was a colonial administrator. He wasn't elected by or accountable to the Jews the way Gov. Palin was elected by, and remains accountable to, the people of Alaska, among whom she more popular than any other Governor in the natoon.

To sum up: a slogan that is snotty, strategically and tactically self-defeating, illogical, and rests on mischaracterizations of Christian Scripture, basic civics, and the career of their own Presidential nominee....well played, indeed.

PS - Here are the Obama campaign fundraising emails I referenced, which at least have the virtue of pressing the one consistent theme of the Obama campaign: "give us money."
---------

Why would the Republicans spend a whole night of their convention attacking ordinary people?

With the nation watching, the Republicans mocked, dismissed, and
actually laughed out loud at Americans who engage in community service
and organizing.

Our convention was different. We gave the stage to everyday Americans
who hunger for change and stepped up to make phone calls, knock on
doors, and raise money in small amounts in their communities.

You may have missed it, but we also showed the country a video with
the faces and voices of those organizers, volunteers, and donors from
every corner of the country.

Watch the video and make a donation of $5 or more now to show that in
this election, ordinary people will make their voices heard:

https://donate.barackobama.com/changevideo1

What you didn't hear from the Republicans at their convention is a
single new idea about how to make the healthcare system work, get our
economy moving for the middle class, or improve education.

Just attacks -- on me, and on you.

But what the McCain attack squad doesn't understand is that people
like you -- who devote part of their busy lives to organizing and
building their communities -- have the power to change this country.

With your help, that's exactly what we're going to do.

Thank you,

Barack

Donate: https://donate.barackobama.com/changevideo1


-----Original Message-----
From: David Plouffe
Subject: What you just saw

Dear ____ --

I wasn't planning on sending you something tonight. But if you saw
what I saw from the Republican convention, you know that it demands a
response.

I saw John McCain's attack squad of negative, cynical politicians.
They lied about Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and they attacked you for
being a part of this campaign.

But worst of all -- and this deserves to be noted -- they insulted the
very idea that ordinary people have a role to play in our political
process.

You know that despite what John McCain and his attack squad say,
everyday people have the power to build something extraordinary when
we come together. Make a donation of $5 or more right now to remind
them:

https://donate.barackobama.com/changevideo1

Both Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin specifically mocked Barack's
experience as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago more
than two decades ago, where he worked with people who had lost jobs
and been left behind when the local steel plants closed.

Let's clarify something for them right now.

Community organizing is how ordinary people respond to out-of-touch
politicians and their failed policies.

And it's no surprise that, after eight years of George Bush, millions
of people have found that by coming together in their local
communities they can change the course of history. That promise is
what our campaign has been about from the beginning.

Throughout our history, ordinary people have made good on America's
promise by organizing for change from the bottom up. Community
organizing is the foundation of the civil rights movement, the women's
suffrage movement, labor rights, and the 40-hour workweek. And it's
happening today in church basements and community centers and living
rooms across America.

Meanwhile, we still haven't gotten a single idea during the entire
Republican convention about the economy and how to lift a middle class
so harmed by the Bush-McCain policies.

It's now clear that John McCain's campaign has decided that desperate
lies and personal attacks -- on Barack Obama and on you -- are the
only way they can earn a third term for the Bush policies that McCain
has supported more than 90 percent of the time.

But you can send a crystal clear message.

Enough is enough. Make your voice heard loud and clear by making a $5
donation right now:

https://donate.barackobama.com/changevideo1

Thank you for joining more than 2 million ordinary Americans who
refuse to be silenced.

David

David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Donate: https://donate.barackobama.com/changevideo1

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:31 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (43) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Those dang community organizers are totally useless. But then again Martin Luther King was a community organizer.

Posted by: javaman at September 8, 2008 10:09 AM

This was a bad move by the Obama camp from the beginning. If your most glaring weakness is lack of experience, why tout a role that has ZERO accountability? What worthwhile experience can one gain in a position without being accountable?

BTW - wasn't it about 10 days ago that we heard many people saying McCain handed the election to Obama?

Posted by: Chris Graham at September 8, 2008 10:15 AM

People who volunteer in their community are not "community organizers" as Obama used the term. They don't get paid. It's not their full-time job. They volunteer their free time because they have specific activities or goals they want to help achieve for their organization.

Obama is talking about a job from which he paid the bills. This sounds really odd to most Americans. We know people who get hired to head up certain charities, but we don't call them "community organizers". And we understand that they have accountability for how they run those charities.

Posted by: stan at September 8, 2008 10:54 AM

People who volunteer in their community are not "community organizers" as Obama used the term. They don't get paid. It's not their full-time job. They volunteer their free time because they have specific activities or goals they want to help achieve for their organization.

Obama is talking about a job from which he paid the bills. This sounds really odd to most Americans. We know people who get hired to head up certain charities, but we don't call them "community organizers". And we understand that they have accountability for how they run those charities.

Posted by: stan at September 8, 2008 10:55 AM

The outrage is because of dog whistle politics. You guys act as if racism doesn't exist, or is so small that it is not pervasive in society. I actually thought McCain was above this kind of stuff, but his ambition is getting the better of him. "Community organizer" was repeated because they are trying to call him "uppity", and a representative in Congress even did so. There was justifiable outrage from those of us trained to hear the racism code words. As a white guy, I get to hear down here the racists translate such code words privately to other white people, so I know what I'm talking about.

Posted by: AstrosFan at September 8, 2008 10:56 AM

Accountable...by the way, anyone who cares about the community thinks that as an organizer there is no responsibility. You take people's problems and own them, and anyone that says differently clearly has never been active in a community.

Posted by: AstrosFan at September 8, 2008 11:03 AM

"Uppity" was indefensible. But "community organizer"? I have never once thought about race in connection with that term. The connection has not even occurred to me. So, if referring to Obama's time as a community organizer was an attempt by the GOP to sway the voters with racism, it didn't work on me.

And "oddly", the term was introduced into the 2008 election by Obama, not McCain.

Posted by: per14 at September 8, 2008 11:08 AM
anyone who cares about the community thinks that as an organizer there is no responsibility. You take people's problems and own them, and anyone that says differently clearly has never been active in a community.

In other words, if you yourself are satisfied with the job you are doing, you're accountable.

That's an interesting definition....BTW, if "community organizer" is a "dog whistle," why did the Democrats make such a big deal of it at their own convention? Are they really that stupid?

Posted by: Crank at September 8, 2008 11:10 AM

"anyone who cares about the community thinks that as an organizer there is no responsibility. You take people's problems and own them, and anyone that says differently clearly has never been active in a community."

Astrosfan – this says nothing about accountability. However, there are no repercussions for failure to deliver, thus no real accountability.

Posted by: Chris Graham at September 8, 2008 11:28 AM

"anyone who cares about the community thinks that as an organizer there is no responsibility. You take people's problems and own them, and anyone that says differently clearly has never been active in a community."

Astrosfan – this says nothing about accountability. There are no repercussions for failure to deliver, thus no real accountability.

Posted by: Chris Graham at September 8, 2008 11:29 AM

Funny, you would think that the Republicans would love community organizers, since it means A) eliminating government when you do it yourself, and B) puts power in the local (city and state) hands. Isn't that what the GOP always says it wants?

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 8, 2008 11:32 AM

Read the post, Daryl. Other than organizing boycotts, basically everything Obama's type of organizer does invokes the power of government.

Posted by: Crank at September 8, 2008 11:37 AM

It's simple: He's thin-skinned and they used that. And it's working with flying colors.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at September 8, 2008 11:45 AM

"As a white guy, I get to hear down here the racists translate such code words privately to other white people, so I know what I'm talking about."

And let me be the first to thank you for your whiteness, geographic location, and innate understanding of racists. You clearly know what you are talking about.

Posted by: Dave at September 8, 2008 12:28 PM

Heh. Don't forget how he's "trained to hear the racism code words" too.

So, y'know, you better not disagree with him, 'cause then you're just being racially racist. And stuff.

Posted by: mikeski at September 8, 2008 2:20 PM

Great post Crank. While the Obamaphiles will never turn from their Chosen One, plenty of people in the middle are looking deeper into what makes up this Messiah. I really think the Dems should have nominated Hillary and used Obama as the VP. If everything had worked for them, it would have set them up for 8+ years.

Posted by: Chef Derp at September 8, 2008 3:38 PM

Oh, I think it's now extremely obvious that Clinton-Obama was their stronger ticket. But it's too late for that now.

Posted by: Crank at September 8, 2008 3:45 PM

per14,
Get your ears checked.
Even Crank conjured up thoughts of Al Sharpton at the use of the term "community organizer".
BINGO, Crank. You have the perfect hearing of a Republican.

Posted by: Berto at September 8, 2008 4:51 PM

This is the hill the Dems have chosen to die on? Community organizing? Not abortion, not taxes, not the war in Iraq but community organizing? Is Obama that wrapped-up in his own mythology that he can't minimize a job he has held, or is it that it is easier to get the American public to agree that community organizers are worthwhile rather than agree with the default Dem position on abortion, taxes or the war?

Posted by: Joe at September 8, 2008 5:57 PM

It's all about him. It's always all about him.

Posted by: Crank at September 8, 2008 5:59 PM

From Crank - It's all about him. It's always all about him.

Which is about as far from the true Messiah as one could actually get.

Posted by: Chris Graham at September 8, 2008 6:13 PM

crank - I think the strongest ticket will all Dems involved would be Warner-Strickland. Mark Warner picking up VA with Gov. Strickland swinging Ohio would make the ticket pretty tough to beat in such a toxic environment for the GOP to run in with Bush fatigue high. I was disheartened when Warner announced he would not seek the nomination. Something has always bothered me that Bayh, Vilsack and Warner all dropped out early paving the way for every potential Dem candidate to make Hillary look "moderate".

Posted by: Chef Derp at September 8, 2008 8:16 PM

"Something has always bothered me that Bayh, Vilsack and Warner all dropped out early paving the way for every potential Dem candidate to make Hillary look "moderate"."


Considering the way the GOP closes together behind one candidate, even when they don't like him ("McCain is a maverick to 'we love mcCain we've always loved McCain") what bothers you about the Democrats closing ranks. Or do you just not like being the only ones who do?

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 8, 2008 8:22 PM

Closing ranks is really not a Democratic strong suit. To the extent that it may still cost them this election. Whatever the other strengths and weaknesses of the two parties, Republicans are much more victory-oriented.

Posted by: Jerry at September 8, 2008 9:38 PM

Crank, after reading many of your citations (I skipped the ones in which you cited yourself; nice touch though), I conclude that this is the most misleading and dishonest post of yours that I've read. If you used the same standards and criteria for your baseball posts, you would assert that the 2008 Metropolitans are greater than the '27 Yankees.

Jerry is your older brother?

Posted by: Magrooder at September 8, 2008 9:56 PM

I'd refute your argument, Magrooder, but you didn't make one.

Of course I cite my own posts. It's a lot easier and more concise than rewriting the whole argument all over again. The blog is an ongoing conversation.

Posted by: The Crank at September 8, 2008 10:12 PM

My view of the Obama camp's reaction can be sumed up by going across the street from Shea Stadium and collecting three words left over from the US Open:

Game. Set. Match.

The win goes to Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin.

Posted by: joated at September 8, 2008 10:47 PM

". . . indeed, Our Lord was rather insistent that His Kingdom was not of this world . . . ."

I not only do I appreciate the due respect to Jesus Christ, but you also highlight the absurdity of comparing a candidate for the presidency to God Almighty.

Posted by: Cannon at September 8, 2008 10:51 PM

Magrooder - yes, Crank is my brother. But we aren't really in lock-step politicially, which is why I post more on the baseball threads. I'm a Democrat, but more of a Clinton Democrat, so I'm currently rather on the fence about the current election.

Posted by: Jerry at September 8, 2008 11:37 PM

Oh, I think it's now extremely obvious that Clinton-Obama was their stronger ticket.

Interesting claim, since you spent the first 6 months of 2008 attacking Obama -- with an increasingly specious set of assertions and concerns as the weeks went on -- and all-but ignoring Hillary, if not implicitly supporting her in the Dem primaries.

(Likely because, as I always suspected and stated, you feared Obama in the general election, even though you always defended yourself that it was all about who was better suited to lead.)

This post, plus that curious comment are actually quite consistent with your (well-founded) fears of Obama.

Crank's worst nightmare ----> A successful, competent, popular Democratic president.

For the hundredth time, let me say one of the top 10 reasons I can't wait for this election to end is my desire to see a return of the real Baseball Crank, free from the rank partisanship and borderline insanity that apparently dogs him every election cycle.

Posted by: Mike at September 9, 2008 7:01 AM

PKB, Mike.

Posted by: dave at September 9, 2008 9:08 AM

@daryl rosenblatt

I felt that howard dean or whomever was pulling the strings in the DNC did an amazing job of asking each moderate Dem to peel out so that Hillary would get the showcase display in the primary season of being a moderate. This was not closing ranks for a nominee, this was orchestrating a primary season to help craft a peculiar "reality". This was a brilliant move.

Closing ranks once someone is the nominee is a normal and smart thing. Kiss and make friends for the good of the party, right? This is what the Dems are trying to do right now. I guess the Dems took for granted married, middle aged women would just come back to the fold after a primary season of sexist media coverage and a shunning for the VP slot.

I still think Obama will win; he's just a very weak top line candidate. I also think he'll prove to the US how ill suited he is for the commander in chief job.

Posted by: Chef Derp at September 9, 2008 9:34 AM

Mike, I'm writing that with the benefit of hindsight. I definitely went back and forth for a long time on which was their stronger candidate (we had many lengthy internal arguments at RedState about this), especially the more we learned about Obama. While I wrote stuff in the primaries about several of the D candidates, I certainly plead guilty to focusing more on whoever was on top at the time. Nature of the beast with political commentary.

Of course, regardless of who was the stronger ticket in the abstract, by the middle of the primaries, it became impossible for Hillary to be the top of the ticket because of the racial division that would have brought about in the Democratic base.

Anyway, I certainly always found the prospect of an Obama presidency much more frightening on policy grounds. He's the most thoroughly left-wing national candidate since Henry Wallace, and his inexperience and the cultic fervor of his followers only exacerbates those tendencies. That's the real driver of my concerns here - I've never found him as personally distasteful as Hillary.

Posted by: Crank at September 9, 2008 9:39 AM

Cultic ferver of Obama's followers? The Republican Party is not stranger to cultish candidates. See, e.g., George W. Bush, Sara Palin and Ronnie Reagan. Unfortunately, that's politics today.

Posted by: steve at September 9, 2008 9:45 AM

Steve - Really?

Posted by: Crank at September 9, 2008 9:49 AM

Well, if Jim Geraghty says it's so, it must be.

Crank, earlier you wrote that republicans hate identity politics. What else have they offered in the last few months? Davis himself admits it.

Posted by: Zufall at September 9, 2008 10:09 AM

Yes, really. Republicans fell in love with GWB almost immediately and the diehards will love him forever despite his many, many failures. Reagan is now a Saint in Republican party circles, despite his many, many failures. For the diehards, it's not about issues, its about personality and "leadership," whatever that means. No flaw is too great for the cult of personality. Dems do it too, unfortunately.

Posted by: steve at September 9, 2008 11:14 AM

Judge Lynch was a community organizer, and FDR was a governor. Whatever.

There's lot of disingenous dishonesty in the Obama lashing out. He conveniently ignores the fact that Palin's line was merely a response to his refusal to refer to her as a governor but merely as the mayor of a small town, as if this were still 1996. All she did was point out in return where he was in 1996, not even the mayor of a small town.

Gently mocking a self-appointed community organizer isn't at all the same as disrepecting the concept of selfless community service. It's the big-shot self-importance that Obama's critics repeatedly go after, not the idea of service. This is a ripe target because it so perfectly fits in with his sheltered life. Go to college, graduate, turn 23, write autobiography, descend on community and announce, "Don't worry, folks. I'm from the Ivy League and I'm here to organize you!"

Just what people who have lived through depressions and wars and have raised families were waiting passively for all those decades.

Part 2: go to Harvard Law, write second volume of life memoirs.

The fact is, most people who have been involved in community service do not see in themselves the diva of the show, the one who has to bossily organize them into being effective. In fact, anyone who's ever tried to just go there and get the job done has bad memories of just such self-important persons.

"What are YOU going to do?" we finally ask in exasperation, after being directed for the tenth time to do what we're already doing.

"I'm supervising! That's the hardest task of all!"

And never forget that Obama himself ultimately found his job to be pointless, which is why he went back to school to get his JD.

Posted by: Patrick at September 9, 2008 12:38 PM

"Anyway, I certainly always found the prospect of an Obama presidency much more frightening on policy grounds. He's the most thoroughly left-wing national candidate since Henry Wallace, and his inexperience and the cultic fervor of his followers only exacerbates those tendencies."

Do you mean more left-wing than Hillary? In a previous post, you described the differences between their policies as "microscopic."

I have to say, Republicans do have a Reagan fetish. Sean Hannity plays Reagan quotes all the time, and even had a "What Would Reagan Do" segment.

In any event, whether a candidate has "cult" followers shouldn't be the focus. Candidates shouldn't be judged by their dumbest supporters.

Posted by: MVH at September 9, 2008 12:42 PM

BB Crank, you're spending a lot of time looking into something that is actually pretty simple. Most of this is just your basic talking points for pushing gullible voter buttons so they vote for candidate X or Y. The Reps are strategically mocking the Obama community service work to shift focus away from Palins perceived lack of experience back to Obama's perceived lack of experience. These kinds of strategies cannot be too complex, as most voters are idiots. I'm sure Palin's speech writer was not intending to make a serious point here, and your efforts at explaining or justifying this obvious political maneuver make you appear naive or disingenuous.

Posted by: Buddy Grant at September 9, 2008 1:08 PM

What Palin and her supporters are doing is the obvious: mask what her weak points are by lashing out at perceived attacks. Yes, she is strong with the GOP base, but as it has for several elections now, it's the swing voters who count: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia and Florida are the big ones, Minnesota and Colorado the smaller ones. A few more, but in the end, you win the first three you have a shot, a big one. And Palin is actually very extreme, meaning McCain was convinced that the far right would have stayed home, which I doubt.

I wish everyone would look at history--geez, does anyone read anymore? Not the contributors here, you have to be on your toes, but in general: Vice Presidential candidates help you sometimes in their home states. With JFK it was a bit more important, and who was going to beat LBJ in an election--nobody stole them better, not even W; Even then Texas was big. I don't think GHWB was worried much for Indiana with Quayle. Reagan picked GHWB because RR never worried the small stuff, but needed someone who did--does anyone think Bush I was needed by Reagan? Gore for Clinton? OK, so Lieberman might have pushed Palm Beach County for Gore, maybe (no kidding, my Aunt Bev really did accidentally vote for Buchanan--design counts). But really, VPs can become well known after they win, if they run after. Somehow, I don't think Alban Barkley seriously considered a run.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 9, 2008 2:11 PM

Crank,
I did not have time previously to explain my comment, so will do so now.

In characterizing “community organizing activity” as “organized beggary,” you make three major points:

1) italicizing for emphasis: “the critical role of the "community organizer" is to lobby for taxpayer money or otherwise invoke the power of government.”

2) “[t]hey are, in function, identical to lobbyists, differing only in the special interests for which they lobby and the method and amount of their compensation;” and

3) “But of course, if a lobbyist for big corporations is unsuccessful in bettering the lot of his client, he'll get fired. ‘Community organizers,’ being self-appointed, are not accountable to their clients; they can't be fired by the community or in any way judged on what they accomplish.”

The first point is self-evident – Obama worked an in impoverished community and seeking government assistance to improve the life of people living in such conditions is going after the only likely source of assistance. The second point is similarly self-evident and equally irrelevant. Yes, Obama is making an issue of what he sees as undue influence of lobbyists in Washington, but the fundamental differences between corporate lobbyists and people working in poor communities makes any attempt to equate the two nonsensical. Your third point is simply wrong. Community organizers are accountable to their clients, not in the sense of being fired, though it is possible to be fired by the organization for which the person works, just as Larry Lobbyist can be fired by big Lobbying Firm for being unsuccessful. As John Judis explains in the TNR piece you cite, Obama learned that working as a community organizer was not the most effective way to improve the lives of the poor. In learning this lesson, he learned the fundamental error of Alinsky’s theory and took that lesson into politics. If elected President, he will be in a much better position to help the poor.

The snarky comparisons to Al Sharpton, ac complete charlatan, and the side references to “communist” groups don’t add much. Obama is a liberal? You could knock the Crank over with a feather.

I assume you were not being ironic in making your “Dog Whisperer” points. Given how any and every question about Sarah Palin’s record as a public official is met by charges of sexism, elitism and any other label Steve Schmidt thinks of, I would think you might want to back off the Obama campaign for looking out for subtle racism. (By the way, I am thinking of running for mayor of my little town because I can get per diem for all the nights I spend in my house.)

The Pontius Pilate line was a joke, but I forgot that conservatives have no sense of humor.

In the end, irrespective of whether Obama’s motives for going to work as a community organizer were purely altruistic, the fact remains that he did spend two years trying to help poor people improve their lives. I’m sure he could have gotten a job on Wall Street or Michigan Avenue and he could have been more effective in his efforts to help these people, but to sneer at citizens who choose to spend some time of their lives doing something other than make money – as Rudy and Palin did – is offensive. These people make be wrong-headed, the ideas they pursue may be idiotic, but they are honestly trying to help others. (By the way, I admire Jenna Bush for how she has matured from being a spolied brat to working in an inner city school. She could have been like Chelsea clinton and cashed in on her family connections.)

Posted by: Magrooder at September 9, 2008 5:48 PM

I agree that community organizer is not the profession I'd most like to see listed on a future leader's resume. And my lack of appreciation for the position has nothing to do with race.

When I picture a 'community organizer' in my head I see an new comer to the urban scene who wants to hurry up and make things better without understanding how people's lives work -- the newcomer - at least in my mind - is usually white.

The large chunk of Obama's resume filled by this position is one of the reason's I voted for Hillary. At the time I said - being a community organizer is one thing, but being the kind of community organizer that takes money from crooked developers may be the lowest form of life on the urban scene.

**

With all that said, I am still voting for Obama because I am not sure the country can take four more years of incompetent GOP leadership-- and I've now developed a whole new appreciation for Community Organizers. Why? Because Obama's primary focus during that period was Voter Registration. And that's a pretty good focus to have when you're running for president.

Posted by: Patrick at September 9, 2008 10:47 PM
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