Friday, September 05, 2008

Obama's Community Organizing Myth

More from the New Republic:

Before he was done, Obama had rejected the guiding principles of community organizing: the elevation of self-interest over moral vision; the disdain for charismatic leaders and their movements; and the suspicion of politics itself. But he did so in a way that seemed to elude the other participants. Two decades later, Green couldn't recall any disagreement over his more positive take on SON/SOC. Joravsky also didn't remember Obama's criticisms of organizing. Instead, he recalled thinking how "cool" and "well-spoken" Obama was.

Based purely on his organizing background, one would have expected Obama to become a bread-and-butter politician, a spokesman for his constituents' immediate needs. Instead, Obama became a politician of vision, not issues--one who appealed to voters' values rather than their immediate self-interest. As a state senator in Illinois, he was best known for his advocacy of government reform. Asked in September 1999 to explain why someone should vote for him for Congress against incumbent Bobby Rush, Obama told the Hyde Park Citizen that, unlike Rush, he had "a vision." And, as a Democratic presidential candidate, he has run on an abstract platform of "change" that appeals to many young and upscale voters, but has fallen flat among the white working-class voters whom Alinsky once courted.

When Obama came to South Chicago, he believed in community organizing; within two-and-a-half years--by the time he and Jerry Kellman went for their late October walk around Harvard's campus--he was clearly growing disillusioned. Now, having fashioned a political identity in near-total opposition to the core principles of his one-time profession, Obama's bid for the presidency may come down to this: Is he willing to rediscover--and put into practice--one of the main principles he followed as a twentysomething activist all those years ago?

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