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John Judis on Obama's rejection of Community Organizing.

In the New Republic, John Judis has an insightful analysis of Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer and his rejection of organizing (tip to Instapundit).

In truth, however, if you examine carefully how Obama conducted himself as an organizer and how he has conducted himself as a politician, if you consider what he said about organizing to his fellow organizers, and if you look at the reasons he gave friends and colleagues for abandoning organizing, then a very different picture emerges: that of a disillusioned activist who fashioned his political identity not as an extension of community organizing but as a wholesale rejection of it. Indeed, the most important thing to know about Barack Obama's time as a community organizer in Chicago may not be what he gained from the experience--but rather why, in late 1987, he decided to quit. . . .

Obama attempted to put these principles into practice in South Chicago. Kellman and Kruglik's initial objective was to revive the region's manufacturing base--and preserve what remained of its steel industry--by working with unions and church groups to pressure companies and the city; but those hopes were quickly dashed. Indeed, during his three years in South Chicago, Obama was constantly having to scale back his objectives as one project after another faltered. First, he got community members to demand a job center that would provide job referrals, but there were few jobs to distribute. Then, he tried to create what he called a "second-level consumer economy" in Roseland consisting of shops, restaurants, and theaters. This, too, went nowhere. At that point, Kellman advised Obama to move elsewhere. "Stay here, and you are bound to fail," he told him.

But Obama remained. Next, he 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; but, after an initial burst of activity, the city failed to keep its promise. (As of last year, some residences still had not been cleared of asbestos.) In waging these campaigns, Obama's organization added staff, gained adherents, and won church support, including from the congregation of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But it failed to stem the area's overall decline. "Ain't nothing gonna change, Mr. Obama," says one resident quoted in Dreams from My Father who grows disillusioned with the Developing Communities Project. "We just gonna concentrate on saving our money so we can move outta here as fast as we can."

Publicly, however, Obama did not appear discouraged. He continued to train other organizers for the Gamaliel Foundation.

Later, after becoming a student at Harvard, Obama spoke at a conference about organizing, rejecting many of Alinsky's central ideas:

He had a litany of criticisms of Alinsky-style organizing that he wanted to put forward. He objected to community organizers' dismissal of charismatic leadership and of movements. Instead of making the point directly, he recalled a friend telling him of an IAF trainer who complained that "movements are rotten with charismatic leaders." Obama said his friend had responded, "That's nonsense. We want a movement. I would love to have Martin Luther King here right now." Obama argued that charismatic leaders and movements bring "long-term vision," and that community organizers cannot be effective without such vision.

Obama also criticized community organizers' "suspicion of politics." "The problem we face now in terms of organizing is that politics is a major arena of power," Obama said. "That's where your major dialogue, discussion, is taking place. To marginalize yourself from that process is a damaging thing, and one that needs to be rethought."

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.

I've been thinking a lot about some of these issues. After Michelle Obama's speech where she said that, when she met him, Barack was talking about "The world as it should be," not settling for "The world as it is." Some have pointed to the source of these phrases: Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. But Alinsky insisted that people focus on the world as it is. In essence, Barack reversed Alinsky's teaching by focusing on the world as it should be: the vision thing.

Left to his own devices, Barack Obama is an extremely thoughtful guy, who often reworks and synthesizes the influences he absorbs. If one looks at Obama's current education proposals, he has jettisoned most of the left-wing Bill Ayers-style ideas that the Annenberg Challenge pushed in the mid-1990s when Obama was its chair — probably because they didn't work.

The most radical of Obama's current education ideas is his proposal for mandatory universal service by school children. While many in the left-wing democracy education movement favor universal service, Ayers seems to embrace this idea less than most. Ayers is more iconoclastic (and idiosyncratic) than someone like Obama. Ayers does emphasize bringing the community into the schools and vice versa, but (from what I've read) a massive federal community service requirement is not really his style.

And — as radical as mandatory community service issue is — it is favored by many on the political right as well as in the political center. It is both radical and politically mainstream. Even John McCain has in the past at least entertained the idea of mandatory national service. I have been unable to determine so far how much experience Barack Obama has actually had with mandatory service, so I don't know whether his support for mandatory service results from experience or a lack of experience.

One area where Obama has had lots of experience but where his trademark thoughtfulness has failed him is private-public housing projects. His best friends and supporters built and managed public-private projects that failed miserably. One of the projects was one Obama worked on as a lawyer (Rezko was involved). Yet that project and one other run by one of his closest friends and advisors, Valerie Jarrett, deteriorated literally just hundreds of yards from his office on the west wall of the University of Chicago Law School. He could look out his window and see these projects as they declined. Yet he is proposing a lot more of the same.

Yet Obama's support for public-private housing projects is an exception. Usually, Obama learns from the failures of his reform proposals. Generally, he is a pragmatic idealist.

People should not confuse Obama's personality with his political orientation: by personality, Obama is the most reasonable, thoughtful, moderate person on either national ticket. He is definitely NOT an ideologue. Yet by political orientation, Obama is the most liberal or progressive candidate to be a party nominee for president in at least a half century — probably ever. That explains why he is in essence a radical incrementalist.

wolfefan (mail):
Hi Jim -

Thanks for a thoughtful post. Is Obama proposing "more of the same" in terms of the old-style high-rise type projects, or is it more of a mixed use, scattered site kind of thing? Although I don't have the time at work to check it out right now, my sense is that there are newer models that are showing some success.
9.5.2008 10:33pm
The General:

And — as radical as mandatory community service issue is — it is favored by many on the political right as well as in the political center


I find that highly unlikely. People like volunteer work. They don't want a government bureaucrat telling them where to volunteer or where to volunteer their children. And believe me, church volunteer work will not be permitted under these proposals, but a bunch of left-wing non-profits and "community organizers" will get a big boost of free forced child labor. No thanks.
9.5.2008 10:37pm
randal (mail):
Jim, I've been trying to come up with any interpretation of

21. So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

under which is it a negative attack on McCain. Am I missing something, or did you just do really badly on the LSAT? :)


Also, as an aside, the definition of "sarcasm" is:

American Heritage Dictionary - Cite This Source - Share This sar·casm (sär'kāz'əm) Pronunciation Key
n.
1. A cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound.
2. A form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule.
3. The use of sarcasm. See Synonyms at wit.

Your proposed definition is nowhere to be found. ("Sarcastic" is defined in terms of this definition.)

So I think when you say that Palin was notably "cutting" and "witty", you are saying exactly what everyone else is saying: her speech, especially her attacks, were highly sarcastic.
9.5.2008 10:44pm
Obvious (mail):
Jim, you say, "One area where Obama has had lots of experience but over which his trademark thoughtfulness has failed him is private-public housing projects. His best friends and supporters built and managed public-private projects that failed miserably."

But that depends entirely on what "fail miserably" means. If it means Obama's friends and associates were not successful in getting their hands on lots of taxpayer money, I suspect it didn't fail miserably at all.
9.5.2008 10:44pm
James Lindgren (mail):
randal,

I quoted all statements that were critical of the other party. I excluded all statements that were complimentary. The implication of the statement quoted is that it would be news to John McCain b/c McCain rejects Barack Obama's assertion.

If he were not being critical of McCain, why mention him at all in that statement? Unless McCain is incorrectly implying otherwise, it would make no sense to mention McCain.
9.5.2008 10:55pm
taney71:
Can someone explain why Democrats keep on nominating liberals for the presidency when the country is center-right?
9.5.2008 10:57pm
Pendulum (mail):
I find that highly unlikely. People like volunteer work. They don't want a government bureaucrat telling them where to volunteer or where to volunteer their children.

I disagree. People like the concept of volunteer work. People also like the concept of forcing These Kids Today(tm) to "give something back to the community" rather than playing video games, and "teaching these young ruffians the value of service to a cause greater than yourself." They may even like the idea of their kid doing so. They may not like the reality of the program when it operates upon their kid, but that realization comes much, much later.
9.5.2008 10:58pm
randal (mail):
Is Obama proposing "more of the same" in terms of the old-style high-rise type projects, or is it more of a mixed use, scattered site kind of thing? Although I don't have the time at work to check it out right now, my sense is that there are newer models that are showing some success.

In Seattle, we put some form of pressure on developers generally to build some percentage of low-income housing into every project. It seems to work fairly well. The market incentives (greedy algorithm, for you tech folks) are against any individual developer doing this.

---
For non-techies, the a greedy algorithm is any problem-solving method in which each decision made is the locally optimal decision. These are usually relatively easy algorithms to produce, and the hope is that a bunch of locally-optimal decisions result in a globally-optimal outcome, or at least close.

This reminds me a lot of the "theory of markets". The problem is, while greedy algoritms are often great or at least good, in some cases they fail miserably. The Wikipedia article above cites problems where the greedy algorithm produces the uniquely worst possible solution.

I interpret that to mean there are cases where it makes sense for government to augment the market's "greedy algorithm" with pressures that tend to result in a more globally optimal outcome.
9.5.2008 11:01pm
Pendulum (mail):
Yet by political orientation, Obama is the most liberal or progressive candidate to be a party nominee for president in at least a half century — probably ever.

I don't know much about Jimmy Carter, but I don't think it likely that he'd have Chicago economists on his economic advisory team, an understanding of market economics, or that he had an extensive record of collaborating with Republicans on legislation. Obama does.

It might be more apt to say that Obama is one of the few sincerely ideological politicians to be nominated for president in the last half century, meaning that he has a clear set of core beliefs that motivate him to seek the office.
9.5.2008 11:04pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Most of the projects that his friends built were renovations of existing buildings or medium or low-rise buildings. You are focusing on the size of building, not its funding.

The Boston Globe explains the problem.

Hypo: Give a developer $5 million to build (or renovate) a building. After the building is done, he takes a huge profit and leaves the building in its own corporation (an "island"). He does not leave enough money in the corporation to keep up the building in good repair (or he takes excessive fees for management).

So in a few years, the building runs down, the corporation goes under and the building is sold to the state or recapitalized with another grant for renovations, and we start the cycle again.

The developers get rich (Rezko, Jarrett), the buildings fall apart, the people live in slum buildings, and givernment money pays for it all.

Terrible system. Yet Obama is proposing to siphon off money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to fund a lot more of these projects.
9.5.2008 11:05pm
Angus:
James, "My opponent thinks differently than I do." That's negative?
9.5.2008 11:06pm
wolfefan (mail):
Hi Jim and all -

Say Jim, did you add on to this post after it was up? I don't remember that bolded part being there when I made my initial post. and it doesn't seem to fit the rest of the post.

After leaving here I was reading slate, which has an article by Thomas Geohagen on community organizing, in which he says Obama does not appear to have the temperment of a community organizer. Here's the link -

http://www.slate.com/id/2199473/

Geohagen wrote an article back in the 1980's that had one of my favorite titles of all time- The Angst of an Aging Activist: My God, I'm 40 years old and Reagan is President.
9.5.2008 11:08pm
Smiles all around.:
Wow. I'd almost given up on the VC. This was thoughtful and enlightening. Thank you.
9.5.2008 11:09pm
wolfefan (mail):
We cross-posted, Jim. Thanks for your response to my question about the development. I will check the Globe article out. In the meantime, is Obama specifically proposing the same type of financing? Couldn't there be some safeguards to assure that the corporation has the necessary funding to adequately maintain the building, and a healthy cash flow to keep the maintenance fund at an appropriate level? This seems like a problem of execution, not of conception.
9.5.2008 11:11pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Do you remember Jimmy Carter? He ran as a relatively conservative Democrat, in the "new Democrat" tradition, as did Clinton before him.

One shouldn't confuse "weak" with "liberal." Carter was mostly the former.

IMO, McGovern was the second most liberal nominee.
9.5.2008 11:11pm
Pendulum (mail):
Do you remember Jimmy Carter?

No. The earliest American politics thing I experienced was GHB v. Clinton, and I was a youngun then.
9.5.2008 11:17pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
If he were not being critical of McCain, why mention him at all in that statement? Unless McCain is incorrectly implying otherwise, it would make no sense to mention McCain.

Uhh, Jim. I am pretty sure that you knew that wasn't his point. Obama said that he and McCain (ie "we all") put country first. McCain had clearly stated that Obama put his political ambition ahead of his country (a clearly negative attack). So Obama responds, "No, not true, both you and I John McCain both 'put country first,'" And you termed that a "negative attack." You are obviously smarter than that (thus, I would disagree with "randal" that you failed the LSAT). So, I think "randal" got the better of you. I think you know that. And I think you reacted by avoiding the issue, and attacking a straw-man.

It would be a good thing if you just admit that you are for the McCain/Palin ticket. We all have our biases. You seem to want everyone to believe, however, that you are impartial. I don't know why that is.
9.5.2008 11:17pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Do you remember Jimmy Carter? He ran as a relatively conservative Democrat, in the "new Democrat" tradition, as did Clinton before him.

Again, no. The "new Democrats" emerged after the Dukakis defeat in 1988. Fact. I wouldn't disagree that Carter ran as a relatively "moderate" Democrat in 76. But there was NO, none, zero, "new Democrat tradition" in 1976. Just didn't exist.
9.5.2008 11:29pm
Smokey:
randal:
I think when you say that Palin was notably "cutting" and "witty", you are saying exactly what everyone else is saying: her speech, especially her attacks, were highly sarcastic.
But 0 gets a free pass by sarcastically referring to Gov. Palin's home town as "Wasilly" instead of Wasalla? Tell us why that is, chief.
9.5.2008 11:29pm
randal (mail):
Hypo: Give a developer $5 million to build (or renovate) a building. After the building is done, he takes a huge profit and leaves the building in its own corporation (an "island"). He does not leave enough money in the corporation to keep up the building in good repair (or he takes excessive fees for management).

I don't understand this hypothetical. Would anyone really be so stupid as to give all the money to the developer up-front and expect them to do the management as well? Seems like the solution is easy - give the developer enough money to do the development and nothing more, and come up with another plan to manage the property. If there's no plausible plan for successfully managing the property after it's developed, better to figure that out before paying the developer at all, yeah? I can't imagine anyone (with $5million to play with) being that short-sighted...
9.5.2008 11:30pm
nice strategy (mail):
Obama definitely choose a tough nut to crack on the South Side. I have to believe his mild Cosby like reminders about the importance of personal responsibility were also the product of this experience, which I will assume is being fairly reported by the Judis piece.

Social action won't affect change without a tipping point, a critical mass of new attitudes _and_ institutions, and in retrospect, it is utterly unsurprising that the South Side didn't rise out of poverty and dysfunction. Obama learned what young idealists that go into teaching or social work learn, and he's better for it. That his instinct was to civic engagement, to respect people with a wildly different set of experiences than himself, to keep an open mind, and to serving the public good, reflect well on his character and judgment. There is no one best paradigm for change, as Obama learned, hence, he isn't ideological by nature. Perhaps McCain isn't either, for different reasons, but in both cases it is a refreshing change from the blind dogma of Bush &Cheney.

Obama has progressive values without adherence to a "liberal" policy set. I don't agree with Jim's conclusion, however nicely packaged in something other than contempt. Obama is no radical. Yet, this more detailed look at community organizing isn't flattering, even in context, and, much to my chagrin, is probably the most effective critical political post on VC in some time. Made Bernstein look like the hack he is, you have.
9.5.2008 11:32pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Wolfefan,

I usually post and revise in the first few minutes after posting. Things look a bit differently on the page than in the entry window. And some html signals (such as bolding) often don't format properly (it screws up automatic paragraphs), so I usually post and then repost a couple minutes later adding some formatting. I usually make a few small wording changes as well. In other words, the first version appearing on VC is usually the penultimate draft, a couple minutes prior to the final draft.

Less often I add some new text. This time I added the last two paragraphs. I added them in part b/c I thought the prior last sentence sounded more negative than my actual views or intention. The new last paragraph is something I've been meaning to do a separate post about for at least a month.

After the post has been up for a while, perhaps 10 minutes, I consider the post "final" and then note all changes with brackets or with a specific "Update," except for (1) obvious typos and (2) very occasionally very slight wording changes (but only if someone has not yet attacked my prior wording).
9.5.2008 11:38pm
therut:
The guy who told Obama he was going to save his money so he could move is smarter that 95% of all liberals. The government could save billions of dollars giving these people 20,000 per family and moving them to a rural are. Heck why do you think the hispanics are all here. A man and a woman can work 40 hours a week and make 42,000 and have excellent paid health insurance( at evil Tysons). Do you know how people live on 40,000 a year in the country. Very well. They own land and a home. They do not need .gov housing. I really do not get why all the wringing of hands over something that could be made better by moving. Go west young man go west.
9.5.2008 11:40pm
randal (mail):
But 0 gets a free pass by sarcastically referring to Gov. Palin's home town as "Wasilly" instead of Wasalla?

ROFL, I found this video and it is really funny to watch.

For one thing, this was in an Anderson Cooper interview, not his Convention Speech, so let's not be misleading. "O" has no history of being sarcastic at all so I think the analysis has to go to it being an honest mistake - which isn't a lot better. If it's intentional, he's really good at passing it off. I was watching this air I guess it was Monday evening, I didn't notice it at all.

So yeah, he gets a pass because: it's an impromptu cable news interview not a prepared speech, most likely a mistake, undercuts him more than her either way, 99% of viewers (my estimate) missed it entirely, and it's not part of a sarcastic pattern. (Remember, McCain is also sarcastic when it comes to demeaning "O" - e.g. "The Obama Energy Plan: Tires", "Barack Hilton", etc.)

It's hysterical in any case, I suggest you all look here (near the end).
9.5.2008 11:47pm
Bill N:
Great post. "Radical incrementalism" has an important place in twentieth century liberalism, and Obama might be an heir to that tradition. During the New Deal, the chief strategists behind the Social Security Act, led by Wilbur Cohen, whose career was built on social welfare policy, considered themselves radical incrementalists. Many were students of John R. Commons at Wisconsin, who advocated creating a European style social democratic welfare state one small step at a time. First, pick the weakest, most vulnerable members of society (in this case, the elderly) and build a program for them. Then, start working up to those whose familes were harmed by the death or disability of a breadwinner (SSI death and disability benefits, ca. 1950), then work to provide health care for the most needy (Medicare and Medicaid). Over time, the social safety would be sewn, and the United States would come to resemble European socialist systems. These men did not see themselves as revolutionaries, and rarely (with the exception of LBJ) had an advocate in the White House)--Truman pushed too far with health care in the Fair Deal and it went nowhere--but they succeeded in accomplishing quite a bit in 30 years. Incremetalists can have a tremendous effect, over time.
9.5.2008 11:49pm
Brian Mac:
Am I the only one who'd kill to read a thoughtful analysis of Sunstein's influence on Obama, and what it means for US policy and politics? I happily admit to being biased- I'm no fan of behavioral law and economics - but this seems to me, at least, to be a pretty important aspect of the campaign that is being overlooked.
9.5.2008 11:56pm
James Lindgren (mail):
I am -- and was -- aware that the term "new Democrat" was not in use in 1976. What I was saying is that Carter was in that tradition.

As I said before, I compiled every statement in both speeches that mentioned the other side and then excluded the compliments of the other side. That left attacks, strongly negative comments, and weakly negative comments such as the one you are complaining about. Further, the justification for the implicit criticism did not enter into whether to include anything. And, of course, the reason for including ALL of the negative comments and quoting them is so you can make up your own minds.
9.5.2008 11:56pm
longtimelurker:
It's my sense that the Boston Globe article about Obama and public/affordable housing in Chicago (which has been linked to and referred to at least a few times on this blog) tends to simplify the issues regarding the development of public-private subsidized housing. In general, low-rise mixed income housing has been praised as much more favorable than the high-rise housing projects it has (mostly) replaced. The benefits, of course, are in part due to the resulting deconcentration of intense poverty and segregation in the inner city. However, there have been some thoughtful critiques of the model - I think a good read for your average VC commenter would be Robert Ellickson's "The Mediocrity of Government Subsidies to Mixed-Income Housing Projects." So, before you read that Globe article and get all huffy about Obama's "failed" housing policies, it might be good to get a broader perspective.
9.5.2008 11:57pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
If Obama is a sincere, principled, practical liberal who is learning as he goes, shouldn't we let him go farther on that journey before we put him in charge of anything? If "okay, the Alinsky/standard radical model doesn't work" is as far as he's gotten, well and good. Even I as a conservative might foresee a good future for such a one. But that's not really a journey that has gone anywhere yet.

Greedy Clerk, I think you under-interpret Obama's comment about McCain. I immediately took it with a subtext of "don't get high and mighty with me, McCain." It is an art to create sentences that can be hidden behind with maximum innocence while giving maximum offense. Democrats and Republicans are both pretty good at this dance. I suggest your own bias may affect your hearing.

It is impossible to measure sarcasm, insult, tone of voice in any objective way, and Mr. Lindgren was simply trying to give some rough measure that the Republican speeches are not dramatically worse in tone, though they are accused of it. The Democrats may, in fact, be meaner by some objective measure. This is more a defensive strategy than an offensive one - not an attempt to say "you guys are sure vicious" as an attempt to deflect the criticism that the Republicans are entering into some new deteriorated territory of political dialogue. Are you really determined to go forward with the idea that Palin is significantly worse in tone than Obama? We po' folk clinging to our guns and religion might disagree.
9.6.2008 12:04am
James Lindgren (mail):
nice strategy,

If even someone as talented and committed as Obama can't accomplish much as a community organizer, then it suggests the limits of community organizing in most contexts, not the limits of Obama.

BTW, my favorite Alinsky job action (as I heard the story) preobably took place in the 1950s.

Marshall Fields was open to whites and blacks for shopping, but there were no black clerks. Alinsky threatened Marshall Fields that, unless they hired black clerks, every Saturday Alinsky would bring busloads of African American into Fields, not to picket, but to shop! He would turn Fields into a black store every Saturday. Fields capitulated and hired black clerks.
9.6.2008 12:16am
randal (mail):
Are you really determined to go forward with the idea that Palin is significantly worse in tone than Obama?

Yes! I think this is patently obvious and easily won! My guess is that the derivative over time of the google hits for "palin shrill" will be quite positive for the next couple months, then go down quickly after the first Tuesday in November as Palin fades from view. :)

We po' folk clinging to our guns and religion might disagree.

I agree this was a gaffe, but in that it's universally seen as a gaffe, it doesn't have much weight in a comparison of overall tone.

I also fear that the Republicans are overusing this one Obama gaffe. I noticed this during the convention. It's really hard for the Republicans to take advantage of this gaffe while simultaneously pitching themselves as change agents who are pro-gun, pro-religion, with small-town values.

Plus, they have to explain it each time, as in "Remember when Obama said blah blah blah" - when they just quote it with no context, it fits in so well with their message that with no context, it doesn't sound like a quote from the other party, it sounds like the new Republican pitch.

Not to mention that it's simply getting old, and is a constant reminder that Obama has only made one gaffe this entire campaign.
9.6.2008 12:19am
nice strategy (mail):

If Obama is a sincere, principled, practical liberal who is learning as he goes, shouldn't we let him go farther on that journey before we put him in charge of anything? If "okay, the Alinsky/standard radical model doesn't work" is as far as he's gotten, well and good.


As I understand it, the brief phase of community organizing in Obama's career ended nearly 20 years ago.

No doubt that the modified grassroots (with charismatic fertilizer) tactics have worked well politically over the past 18 months overall. It's obviously well beyond "the standard radical model doesn't work."

The internet has brought a different dynamic to politics that has the potential to be empowering in a way that street politics never could. But that's probably more a factor of activating the previously contented middle class, a class that is way bigger and has way more internal and external efficacy than trying to activate a concentrated population of downtrodden.
9.6.2008 12:19am
James Lindgren (mail):
I've walked through some of those low-rise projects, including the Grove Parc one that the Globe focused on. They are slums. And the Boston Globe article explains why. And the closest one that's still standing (Grove Parc) is about 600-700 yards from the back of the Chicago Law School (the Rezko project that Obama worked on was closer, but it has already been torn down).
9.6.2008 12:22am
nice strategy (mail):

If even someone as talented and committed as Obama can't accomplish much as a community organizer, then it suggests the limits of community organizing in most contexts, not the limits of Obama.


Agreed. Thank you for putting the words in my mouth!
9.6.2008 12:24am
LTEC (mail) (www):
"Community Organizer" is not a phony-baloney job as some have alleged, but it is certainly a phony-baloney job description, and one that (as with the word "progressive") is deliberately obfuscatory. I have read advocates and critics discussing this job, including this post and the one it links to, but it is still very puzzling.

And what the hell is this Alinsky thing all about? Why can no one describe the "profane" Alinsky in straight-forward terms, such as: "Alinsky's goal was to slowly turn the United States into a Communist dictatorship; to this end he tried to convince various groups of poor people and labor unions to push for legislation in that direction; he did this by appealing to their self-interest -- whether valid or not -- instead of using charismatic leadership." (Maybe this is all wrong, but no one seems to say anything coherent about Alinsky so I haven't much to go on. And no, I am not going to read the guy if no one seems to have anything interesting to say about him.) Did Obama share the goals of Alinsky, or only the means? If the latter case, what were his goals? If I am right about Alinsky, then Obama's job consisted of organizing poor people (the "community") to fight for certain political causes favored by the people who were paying him (Kellman and Kruglik).

What were those causes? It had something to do with building a "regional community organization", whatever the hell that is. It's clear that fixing toilets and getting rid of asbestos were not ends, but rather short-term means toward some unstated ends. The whole point of Judis' article seems to be to contrast short-term means ("self-interest") which he does not talk about much, with "vision" that he talks about even less. The most bizarre part of the article is where he describes a meeting at which a bunch of these geniuses are shocked to discover that people can be "organized" to do things they (the geniuses) don't like!
9.6.2008 1:37am
Deputy Assistant Community Organizer:
Judis was anticipated by the Belmont Club a while ago:

I have a slightly different evaluation and it is explained below. Fundamentally, it begins with a heresy: despite his claims to the contrary, Barack Obama is not a “community organizer”. Alinsky’s Community Organizing model was above all a response within the Left to the Cult of Personality. Rules for Radicals is founded on the principle of “letting the people decide”, and while it does not dogmatically discount the influence of leadership it fundamentally rejects the idea that a “vanguard” intellectual elite can lead the “masses”. Those who don’t remember Alinsky’s famous rules can read them below and instantly grasp the spirit behind them. Nearly every one of them has been shredded by Barack Obama.
9.6.2008 1:41am
ChrisIowa (mail):

Not to mention that it's simply getting old, and is a constant reminder that Obama has only made one gaffe this entire campaign.


57 states? 10,000 deaths in the KS tornado?
9.6.2008 2:05am
Bandon:
Interesting discussion of the challenges facing community organizers, even if they are as smart as Obama. What struck me even more dramatically, though, is how the themes in this discussion do not seem to be the kind of thing that either McCain or Palin would even be interested in. As Jim said (and I agree), "Obama is the most reasonable, thoughtful, moderate person on either national ticket."

Both McCain and Palin seem more concerned about validating their own personal experiences than in engaging in a thoughtful analysis of ideas. They both also seem extremely impulsive and impatient as they try to re-shape the world in a way that makes them feel more comfortable. McCain doesn't incrementally adjust his views through thoughtful analysis of prior experience and new ideas, as has been described for Obama. Instead, McCain changes views from one strong simple opinion to an opposite one based mainly on his mood or political expediency. His return last night to more of the political maverick seen in 2000 reflects his need to re-establish the self-image he is most comfortable with now that his pandering to the right has locked in his party's nomination and sufficiently solidified the base.

My support for Obama reflects respect for his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, his decency, and his concern for helping others. I'm not bothered by his progressive tendencies, and one could even argue that anyone who is that smart and that thoughtful should have a progressive orientation.

In contrast, Jim seems to be ambivalent about Obama, respecting his reasonableness and thoughfulness but worrying about his liberal leanings. As I asked Jim in a separate post, I would love to know which ticket he has decided to support. It would help me understand the conflicting statements in his posts.
9.6.2008 2:09am
LTEC (mail) (www):
"nice strategy" clears everything up for me in his 11:19PM comment. Presumably Obama has the same goals as when he was "organizing", but has new, improved tactics -- tactics that have worked well in the last 18 months. So I assume Obama's goal is (and has always been) getting elected president.

At least, I hope that's what his goal is. And not some "progressive" "vision" of non-radical non-blind dogma.
9.6.2008 2:22am
Perseus (mail):
one could even argue that anyone who is that smart and that thoughtful should have a progressive orientation

Plenty have made such a foolish argument.
9.6.2008 2:59am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Wow, you just gave one of the best arguments I've ever seen for electing Obama. It's not the sort of argument that would win votes or sway elections but it is an extremely persuasive argument that Obama would make a great president.

The truth is that what makes a president excellent or awful is less about their ideological positions than about the quality of their judgement and the deciscion making structure they institute. Ironically, preciscely because so many people care about them, the big ideological issues tend to be the issues the president has the least power over. Practical political calculations and pressure from his own party prevent him from straying too far from the mainstream views of his party (note Obama and McCain both flip-floping to embrace aspects of their party's traditional platform) and the other party will often block these ideas from implementation. On the other hand on issues that don't have the same level of media attention nor attached ideological dogma the president has much more of a free hand. Thus it is preciscely in those areas where it's most important the president exercisce good judgement, be responsive to evidence and theory, and construct an administrative style that is conducive to good deciscion making.

I mean Bush is a perfect example of this effect. In both elections the left was screaming about his arch-conservatism and his horrific backwards views on sex education, religion, etc.. However, these views have lead to only relatively minor changes to the status quo while his major blunders occured in areas that hadn't even made the news beforehand, e.g., choice of FEMA director, pre-war planning, a management culture that discouraged brainstorming and criticism of ideas at the top.

As the myth of the rational voter points out our politicians keep the country running not because they listen to the people but despite it. Any issue emotional enough and visible enough to qualify as party-political or ideological is one where a politician's choices are highly constrained by the strong, yet uninformed and unconsidered, views of the public. It's only where the public doesn't really weigh in that a president can fully bring his judgment, intelligence and the expertise of his staff to bear.

----

In fact the problem is actually much worse than this. Whoever we elect president has to be either ignorant enough not to realize how bad the popular policies really are or dishonest enough to simply lie about them. If he even wants a shot at becoming president Obama could never say that affirmitive action is totally ineffective in producing results and ought to be banned nor could McCain say that laws against prostitution/drugs/etc.. do more harm than good and ought to be repealed. This is true no matter what kind of evidence they are presented with about the issue. Given the range of issues where some plausible, reasonable answer is complete political suicide any serious presidential contender must lie through their teeth.

So if Obama and McCain simply have to lie about their views on these party politics issues it's their other judgments that seem much more important!
9.6.2008 3:03am
shep barbash (mail):
Evidently many Americans remain unconvinced that Obama's ostensible thoughtfulness has led to wise actions and thus significant achievements. Indeed they fear that his ideology (world view?) may more often than not lead him to be rather thoughtless (his long association with Wright, his self-described 'bonehead' mistake with Resko, and so on). Frederick Kagan had a 'thoughtful' and well-reasoned piece a while back describing the flawed way in which Obama went about seeking advice on what to make of the Surge, and his consequent error in progosticating its failure. Jim's post notes the failure of his work on housing. Annenberg's own analysis of the $37 million effort (or was it more?) to improve Chicago's schools, co-chaired by Obama, concluded that it produced no achievement gains by students--another failure. (Obama's poor choice of educaton advisers--Jeanne Century and Linda Darling-Hammond--suggest he still is ignorant about the topic, but that is the subject for a separate post.) I intend this as a sincere and not rhetorical question: what are the two or three signal achievements we can point to as evidence of the fruits of his reasonableness, thoughtfulness and decency? Perhaps his first memoir? Perhaps (if reports are to be believed) his being a good family man? The best historical example of a radical incrementalist, of course, is Lincoln, whose 'deadly moderation' in his pursuit of policies to put slavery on the course to extinction was accurately understood as such by the Southern states, who promptly seceded and thereby made incrementalism impossible (although even then Lincoln was arguably incrementalist in his handling of Emancipation).
9.6.2008 3:05am
randal (mail):
57 states? 10,000 deaths in the KS tornado?

There's a difference between a misstatement and a gaffe.

No one believes Obama actually thinks there are 57 states. On the other hand, it would be difficult for Obama to claim he meant to say that people "prefer butter to guns, and cherish their religion" rather than "are bitter, and cling to their guns and religion". That's what makes it a gaffe - you learn something about the candidate. So "macaca" was a gaffe, and "potatoe" was a gaffe, and "100 years in Iraq" was a gaffe, but "Venesuela might shut of its oil discoveries" was not. (Although it made for a great Daily Show clip!)
9.6.2008 3:19am
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Pendulum: Obama taught part time in the U of C Law School; he never studied there. U of C is a big place. There is no evidence that Obama ever had much contact with U of C economists. He had one on his team for a while: Austen Goolsbee, who is a Democrat, and who had to be fired after telling Canadians that Obama didn't actually mean his anti-NAFTA rhetoric. Goolsbee is actually in the Business School's Department of Microeconomics, which is not the same as the College Department of Economics, where all the Nobel laureates are.
9.6.2008 4:34am
H2:
"There's a difference between a misstatement and a gaffe."

Ok, how about Obama trying to identify with the people by talking about his worries about the price of arugula at WholeFoods in a state that doesn't even have a WholeFoods?

I guess you would say that is a gaffe and a misstatement. I would say the statement contained 2 gaffes. Obama can't fathom that WholeFoods isn't everywhere and even if it were, not everyone shops there (prices are higher than most grocery stores).
9.6.2008 6:51am
H2:
Gaffe
What about Obama saying, in reference to his daughters,
"if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby"
9.6.2008 6:55am
BGates:
There's a difference between a misstatement and a gaffe...potatoe was a gaffe

How about an undivided Jerusalem under joint Israeli/Palestinian control? How about Iran is/isn't a threat? How about Hillary being "likeable...enough"? How about advocating raising tax rates under the hypothetical assumption that revenues will decrease as an issue of "fairness"? Saying we need to send translators (and their Star Trek universal translating devices) from Iraq to Afghanistan? Suggesting the UN Security Council take action against Russia? Announcing he's as close to Jeremiah Wright as to his own, typical-white-person grandmother?
9.6.2008 9:09am
Sam H (mail):
H2
Gaffe
What about Obama saying, in reference to his daughters,
"if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby"

gaffe: a social blunder; faux pas.

How can it be a gaffe when he is saying what he believes?
9.6.2008 9:37am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
I find that highly unlikely. People like volunteer work. They don't want a government bureaucrat telling them where to volunteer or where to volunteer their children.


It is true that people aren't in favor of being forced to volunteer, but a great many are in favor of using force to "volunteer" others. Then they are shocked, shocked when someone votes to volunteer them.
9.6.2008 9:59am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
There's a line of thought--radioactive--that crime follows Section 8 housing. Let that get loose and some of the programs which seem benign to those who haven't experienced them might find opposition.

If a company is planning on moving out, what kind of pressure can make them stay? I can't think of any that wouldn't make the company in question speed up the moving vans.
9.6.2008 11:07am
Eli Rabett (www):
There appears to be a basic misunderstanding of Alinsky who was closer to being a libertarian than a socialist. Judis explains Alinsky's principles:


These rules can be reduced, more or less, to a few central ideas. Alinsky believed that humans respond to their own self interest rather than conscience or morality. (People are "moved primarily by perceived immediate self-interests, " he argued, while morality is a "rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self-interest.") As a result, the job of an organizer is to discover what citizens think is in their self-interest and then help them fight for it. Alinsky also instructed that the organizer himself should not become a public leader, but should operate behind the scenes to encourage "natural" or "native" leaders among the people he is organizing. That is, the goal of an organizer is never to create a movement based on his own charisma. ("We're trying to build an organization with staying power, not a movement based on instant power and charisma," Ernesto Cortes Jr., a prominent Alinsky disciple, explained in 1988. ) Finally, Alinsky felt that organizers should draw a clear line between their work and the political world. An organization should forge "no permanent political ties," declared a guide put out by the Industrial Areas Foundation, which Alinsky created. When I asked former community organizer John Kretzmann--who teaches at Northwestern and writes about organizing--whether organizers saw all politicians as "whores," he replied, "Even if you found one that wasn't, it makes no sense to get close to them."
9.6.2008 11:19am
seadrive:
My association with social welfare agencies was limited, but there was plenty of what I saw that I didn't like. I'm talking about agencies doing pretty well accepted things like taking care of mentally ill people who might otherwise end up living under a bridge, or providing safe shelter for battered women.

Where I live, most of these agencies are funded year-to-year under grant programs. Most of the money comes from the state, but a lot is administered by the city. This kind of uncertain funding makes it difficult to get programs started, and even more difficult to sustain them. There are lots more promising starts than successful conclusions with such a system.

It's a fundamental problem of government. It doesn't work to let administrators dole out money based on their own judgment since they tend to judge in favor of their friends and relatives. And it doesn't work to dole it out based on elaborate rules and limitations because the resulting programs are unable to adapt to changing conditions and unforeseen events.

I should think Obama should get some credit for deciding that he could get more done in the state legislature.
9.6.2008 11:40am
MartyA:
There is another characteristic that explains Hussein's move from community organizer to Harvard student to the meaningless jobs (including US Senator) he's had since: he is lazy! And, once he got into the Chicago organization, he had financial support and really didn't have to sweat.
That's one of the things that the Annenberg files will show; that Hussein actually did very little for the Director's salary he was pulling down. It also amazes me that no one appears to be investigating the air of corruption that surrounds everyone with whom Hussein was associated while he was in Illinois.
9.6.2008 12:04pm
SG:
I should think Obama should get some credit for deciding that he could get more done in the state legislature.


Yes, if he actually got something done on the issues he cared about in the state legislature. Did he?
9.6.2008 12:07pm
MQuinn:
I recently made a comment on another post. The comment was impressively attacked by Dave N and Anon1111. Unfortunately, I was busy at work and couldn't respond, and now the comments are turned off. Dave N's and Anon1111's critiques of my comment were too impressive for me to simply ignore, so I have decided to respond on this thread (which is nominally related to the previous one). I apologize sincerely for this off topic post.

Dave N and Anon1111: you challenged my assertion that media bias is in the eye of the beholder. You challenged my ability to list as many conservative outlets as you can name liberal outlets. First, this methodology is flawed b/c there is no way to accurately label media outlets as "liberal" or "conservative," see here. Second, in the only comprehensive study of every syndicated columnist in almost every newspaper that publishes daily, it was shown that conservative views are given exposure 60% of the time, here.

Third, I disagree with their assertion that CNN is liberal; CNN or its affiliate Headline is the home of Lou Dobbs, Nancy Grace, and Glenn freakin' Beck! Also, for the life of me, I can't ascertain Wolf's nor Cooper's perspective. Fourth, I will meet your challenge (actually, it was originally my challenge) of listing as many conservative media sources as you listed liberal (note: I am not mentioning blogs, such as PowerLine or Kos):
WSJ
NY Post
Daily Oklahoman
Washington Times
Manchester (NH) Union Leader
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Orange County Register
Los Angeles Times
Chicago Tribune
The Gazette
Idaho Press-Tribune
American Spectator
American
Commentary Magazine
FrontPage Magazine
Insight
National Review
New America
Policy Review
Spectator
Weekly Standard
World Magazine
American Enterprise
- Note: both Annon1111 and Dave N can probably name more liberal sources, and then I can respond w/ more conservative sources. I think this shows something important: media bias is in the eye of the beholder because both viewpoints are well represented.
9.6.2008 12:25pm
RW Rogers (mail):
MQuinn: The Los Angeles Times? Are you sure about that?
9.6.2008 12:36pm
David Warner:
Randal:

You are aware that "shrill" is in the same category of words as "uppity", right?

I believe Republicans are energetically applying Alinsky's Rule #4 on this one.
9.6.2008 1:09pm
MartyA:
MQuinn-
The test of extreme bias in the ultra-liberal, neo-communist media that I like to use is where in a story, if at all, they mention the political party affiliation of an evil-doer.
In most of the commie MSM, for example, they will use the word "Republican" in the headline if a Republican is involved. If it is a democrat doing evil, the word "democrat' will be buried or may not appear.
I especially liked the stories last week about Kwame Kilpatrick, Mayor of Detroit. Most stories that I read did not mention the word "democrat" and NO story that I read mentioned the fact that Kwame's mother is a democrat Congresswoman and Chairperson of the Black Congressional Caucus. For bias, think about whether your favorite outlet would mention the evil-doer's Congressional mother if the evil-doer were a Republican.
Other tests involve shootings, both defensive and offensive. The lefty media has orders to not cover stories about citizens who successfully defend themselves against bad guys with guns. Another test, of course, is whether a criminal who is an illegal alien is identified as such.
There are some rear view mirror tests. One was the look of absolute terror on the face of Dan Rather as he had to report the results of the 1994 Congressional election. And, of course, that's why I'll be switching between Ken Olberman and, probably, CBS, on November 4th, to see that same look.
9.6.2008 1:13pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
I think the "explanation" of Alinsky by Judis and Eli Rabett only further obfuscates. (In fact, it's one of the passages that led to my original comment.) For one thing, the "explanation" is purely about means and says nothing about ends. All that we can conclude from the passage is that Alinksy had grand political ends, but we can't tell what they were; Judis intentionally omits this. We also learn that Alinsky didn't want to accomplish his ends by running for office and actually being answerable to some community.

And the little bit of content that is present in the passage is certainly false:
[T]he job of an organizer is to discover what citizens think is in their self-interest and then help them fight for it.
We're supposed to believe that if citizens wanted to decertify their labor union, then Alinsky would help them? That Alinsky would help one street gang defeat another? Some people claim that "community Organizers" do things like helping people get government landlords to fix their broken toilets. But if this were the case, then the rhetoric in this passage is completely inappropriate. Why should someone lecture us to appeal to people's self-interest, to not use charisma, to stay behind the scene, to build an organization with staying power -- if what we're trying to do is get some [expletive deleted] toilets fixed?

I wonder if Alinsky's own writing is this deliberately obfuscatory? I'm guessing it is.
9.6.2008 1:23pm
James Lindgren (mail):
I voted for Obama in the primary but hadn't made up my mind about November at all.

In the late spring, I was leaning toward voting for McCain, but was still quite uncertain.

The universal service requirement, which I had not known about until July, caused me to decide (for now at least) that I intend to vote for McCain.
9.6.2008 1:34pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Obama saw the limits of community organization and decided to become a politician. I would presume he still believes in finding out what people want, and empowering them to get it.

The self-help model of the Alinsky program teaches against following charismatic leaders (who come and go, often leaving little tangible accomplishment behind) and aligning with politicians, who often use people to achieve their own goals, not the people's.

Alinsky believed that humans respond to their own self interest rather than conscience or morality.

In other words, Alinsky saw the Virtue of Selfishness. Alinsky -- "Red" or Randite?
9.6.2008 1:45pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

I wonder if Alinsky's own writing is this deliberately obfuscatory? I'm guessing it is.



Do you have $23.84? Amazon has a special offer to buy both Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals, by Alinsky.
9.6.2008 1:50pm
anon1000:
Professor Lindgren:

Do you really think that this universal service requirement is sufficient of an issue to sway your vote one way or the other? If Obama is elected and this requirement fails miserably (and it will take some time to get it going in the first place), the electorate will vote Obama out in four years.

For independents, who are willing to vote both Republican and Democratic - don't you think we should give the other party a chance now, considering the failed policies of the past 8 years? If the Democrats don't do the job, we can vote the Republicans back into the White House in 4 years.
9.6.2008 1:56pm
Big E:
It's amazing no matter who the democrats nominate they suddenly become the most liberal person ever to have lived.
9.6.2008 2:07pm
Michael B (mail):
Bill Whittle lends superb insight - and information - in a piece aptly subtitled For the first time, I feel like we deserve to win more than they deserve to lose. Too good and too substantial in its entirety to excerpt.

h/t Beldar, who has a still expanding list of 40+ informative, well measured posts, a primary focus on Palin.
9.6.2008 2:08pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
Tony Tutins --

As I've already explained (9.6.2008 12:37am), I no more want to learn about Alinsky by reading him than I want to learn about waterboarding by experiencing it personally. I was hoping some third party could coherently explain him to me. By the way, even the titles of his books appear to be obfuscatory. What is a radical? If he meant "communist" or "extremist" or something else he should have said so.
9.6.2008 2:13pm
PleaseLetMePost:
H2 said "Ok, how about Obama trying to identify with the people by talking about his worries about the price of arugula at WholeFoods in a state that doesn't even have a WholeFoods?"

Iowa grows an incredible amount of arugula. He was noting, with some relevance, the disparity between the price farmers were receiving for the crop and the rising price in the store.

You can't always buy the campaign hype.
9.6.2008 2:24pm
Stash:
MartyA:

There are lots of good reasons to vote against Obama, but it is safe to say "laziness" is not among them any more than his middle name, which you also appear to think should influence one's vote. VC and its posters make this a superior blog because for the most part people are interested in issues and facts, rather than, as we say in the law, "mere abuse." You may oppose Obama because you think he is "lazy" and has a foreign-sounding middle name, but I believe that will find little traction here.
9.6.2008 2:28pm
Mystic55 (mail) (www):
But does he shoot wolves from Helicopters like Hockey Mask Mom?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGPFPBmzRrQ
9.6.2008 2:37pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Alinsky was a radical in the mold of Thomas Paine. He was heavily influenced by his study of the Talmud in his youth, particularly of how Moses organized his people for the exodus from Egypt. He took as inspiration the maxim of the great Rabbi Hillel "Where there are no men, be you a man!" This saying of Rabbi Hillel will more than 50 years later stand over his second major work "Rules for Radicals".
9.6.2008 2:41pm
LIly (mail):

Hypo: Give a developer $5 million to build (or renovate) a building. After the building is done, he takes a huge profit and leaves the building in its own corporation (an "island"). He does not leave enough money in the corporation to keep up the building in good repair (or he takes excessive fees for management).

I don't understand this hypothetical. Would anyone really be so stupid as to give all the money to the developer up-front and expect them to do the management as well?


This type if thing happens more often in Government-financed projects. Government provides little oversight - typical.

When private companies provide funds, they often require 'reserves' be set up to pay for things that they are concerned might be underfunded by the developer / owner of the project. Most typically the reserves are for insurance and taxes, but they sometimes require reserves for "replacement" - the industry term for on-going upkeep and maintenance.
9.6.2008 2:45pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Why would thrifty Iowans pay outrageous Whole Foods prices when their local Hy-Vee carries arugula?
9.6.2008 2:49pm
Asher (mail):
What makes Obama a radical?
9.6.2008 3:07pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
Tony Tutins --

Now we're finally getting to the bottom of this whole Alinksy thing. He was "a radical in the mold of Thomas Paine" and "heavily influenced by his study of the Talmud" (and inspired by a saying of Hillel). So now I have to read not only Alinsky but also Paine and the Talmud, and everything will become clear.

I think I understand the goals of Moses and his means of achieving them (at least the movie version). Alinsky, however, ...
9.6.2008 3:15pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

What makes Obama a radical?

He doesn't meekly accept the status quo.
9.6.2008 3:17pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
Since this thread is largely about arugula, can someone point to the text or video of Obama's speech? Then we can see if he was complaining about the high cost of arugula for consumers, or about the low price of arugula to farmers.
9.6.2008 3:22pm
Michael B (mail):
"Alinsky was a radical in the mold of Thomas Paine. He was heavily influenced by his study of the Talmud in his youth, particularly of how Moses organized his people for the exodus from Egypt. He took as inspiration the maxim of the great Rabbi Hillel "Where there are no men, be you a man!" This saying of Rabbi Hillel will more than 50 years later stand over his second major work "Rules for Radicals"." Tony Tutins

And Thomas Paine was decidedly more in the spirit and mold of the French Revolution than of the American.

Alinsky was - and decidedly do - in the mold the New Left, a highly pragmatic revolutionary - and a revolutionary first and foremost - not c. 1776, but c. 1968 - and that frame of reference is significant. As this biographical piece indicates,
"In the Alinsky model, "organizing" is a euphemism for "revolution" -- a wholesale revolution whose ultimate objective is the systematic acquisition of power by a purportedly oppressed segment of the population, and the radical transformation of America's social and economic structure. The goal is to foment enough public discontent, moral confusion, and outright chaos to spark the social upheaval that Marx, Engels, and Lenin predicted -- a revolution whose foot soldiers view the status quo as fatally flawed and wholly unworthy of salvation."
To place this in a still more contemporary light, those "fatally flawed" conceptions (i.e. social/political dogmas) are the same type of dogmas that subtend the analysis hi-lighted in a link provided in David Kopel's recent "Obama, Heterosexism and Capitalism" post, specifically in this comment.
9.6.2008 3:39pm
Arkady:

Yet by political orientation, Obama is the most liberal or progressive candidate to be a party nominee for president in at least a half century


Has Obama offered up anything like McCain's wage insurance proposal? I mean this from his acceptance speech:


For workers in industries -- for workers in industries that have been hard-hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one, while they receive re-training that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage.


That's pretty progressive (liberal), no? Anyone know if Obama has made a similar proposal?
9.6.2008 3:48pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
As this biographical piece

A piece that relies on the unsourced work of a Richard Poe, as well as J. Edgar Hoover's Masters of Deceit, ghostwritten when there was a Commie under every bed. Can you find a well-sourced explanation of Alinsky, i.e. one that does not principally rely on work from other right-wing talking point sites?
9.6.2008 4:14pm
ichthyophagous (mail):
In plain language, Judis' article tells us that Obama has moved from community organizing to exciting people by rhetorically implying that he knows what they want better than they do. The transition he made was from community organizing to Obamessiahing. When he is in the Oval Office he probably be giving the contemporary equivalent of fireside chats to make us keep the faith. Since liberals' favored policies are mainly concerned with programs that are automatically conceived as worthy and and whose success is difficult if not impossible to measure, he may likely get what he wants. The economy will remain bogged down if it does not decline even further, and there will be plenty of photo opportunities with foreign heads of state, but he may well escape blame from the mandarins anyway.
9.6.2008 4:37pm
QUID (www):
@Arkady: in his nomination speech, Obama said that people who couldn't get health insurance through their employers were entitled to the same insurance that the members of congress vote themselves. It's not hard to find references to Obama's proposals that make him sound more liberal than John McCain.

Why do we have to infer that Barack Obama has "rejected" the radical ideas of Saul Alinsky and Bill Ayers, et al.? Barack has done things to implement those ideas. What has he done that shows that he rejects them? Besides moving on up the political food chain? If his goal were to make things better for the South Chicagoans, then he'd use his new insight and try a different approach. The most obvious route would be security, small cap loans and incentives to revitalize the area, but those "market" solutions are ideologically incompatible with his worldview. While we're at it, we can infer that he doesn't understand market economics, despite the superfluity of advisers.
9.6.2008 4:37pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
Michael B's description of Alinsky's goal may come from a right-wing (mainstream conservative) source, but at least it is coherent. And unlike "getting toilets fixed", this is a goal in the context of which his means (e.g. appealing to self-interest rather than using charisma, building an organization with staying power) actually make sense.

I'm beginning to think that the Far Left adore Alinsky, that they refuse to give a coherent description of what he was trying to accomplish, and that they get very angry indeed if anyone accuses him of being of the Far Left. (Kind of like how advocates of racial quotas go ballistic whenever anyone describes a racial quota as a racial quota. (Sorry, I couldn't resist saying this. I hope that "racial preferences" does not become the new arugula in this thread. ))

But I could be wrong. I too would like to see coherent discussions of Alinsky from other sources.
9.6.2008 5:15pm
Michael B (mail):
Tony Tutins,

What facts, specifically, are you denying or in any sense refuting? Do you have anything other than sneers and an ad hominem based dismissiveness to offer?

There are eighty-eight (88) references in the biography, most of them are to Saul Alinsky's own works. Only two of those 80+ references are to Hoover's cited work and those two references - as with the three references to Richard Poe quotes - are not in the least controversial.

E.g., a Richard Poe quote notes "Alinsky viewed revolution as a slow, patient process. The trick was to penetrate existing institutions such as churches, unions and political parties."

E.g., similarly, a Hoover reference notes "[Alinsky] advised organizers and their disciples to quietly, subtly gain influence within the decision-making ranks of ... institutions, and to introduce changes from that platform. This was precisely the tactic of "infiltration" advocated by Lenin and Stalin. As Communist International General Secretary Georgi Dimitroff told the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern in 1935:
"Comrades, you remember the ancient tale of the capture of Troy. Troy was inaccessible to the armies attacking her, thanks to her impregnable walls. And the attacking army, after suffering many sacrifices, was unable to achieve victory until, with the aid of the famous Trojan horse, it managed to penetrate to the very heart of the enemy's camp."
Iow, not only are they non-controversial statements and references, the Hoover excerpt is substantiated with a direct quote from the ComIntern's 1935 World Congress, the final World Congress held by the ComIntern, reported on by Leon Trotsky, here. An excerpt from Trotsky's own report is itself intriguing, emphasis added:
"The questions were discussed and settled behind the scenes, often over the telephone connecting the Kremlin with the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. There was some semblance of a conflict of opinions within the narrow bureaucratic circle. However, once the decision was finally reached by the Politisal Bureau, orators were appointed who were instructed to present the decision in such a manner as would least compromise the upper crust of the Communist International, and, in any case, cast not the slightest shaddow upon the infallibility of the Leader. ...

"For this reason, the reports of the discussions must be scrutinized in the same manner as one goes over diplomatic documents, asking at every step the questions: What has the orator really in mind?"
By contrast, you offer a sneer - you offer an unthinking, tout court dismissiveness.
9.6.2008 5:35pm
Asher (mail):
@Arkady: in his nomination speech, Obama said that people who couldn't get health insurance through their employers were entitled to the same insurance that the members of congress vote themselves. It's not hard to find references to Obama's proposals that make him sound more liberal than John McCain.

I mean, an incremental healthcare reform isn't very radical. His plan is way less liberal than Clinton's '93 plan, and I don't think you'd call Clinton a radical.
9.6.2008 5:41pm
MQuinn:
RW Rogers: I had always heard that, but I was skeptical myself, so before I made the above comment I did some googleing. Wiki mentions some anecdotal evidence to that effect, and a few other sources support the supposition, e.g., here. But as I said in my post, I am very skeptical that these labels are accurate, which is probative of my overall theory -- media bias is in the eye of the beholder, and both conservative and liberal ideologies receive fairly even exposure.

Marty A: can we try to avoid the blowhard rhetoric? Also, can you try to supply a source to support your suggestion that the media only mentions the political party of conservative wrongdoers? I realize that Powerline and Instapundit play that game, but that doesn't make it so. Personally, I have never noticed such a double standard, and it seems far fetched to suggest that there is some vast conspiracy to hid the occasional criminality of democrats.
9.6.2008 6:22pm
LM (mail):
Stash:

You may oppose Obama because you think he is "lazy" and has a foreign-sounding middle name, but I believe that will find little traction here.

You'd think so.
9.6.2008 6:27pm
Helene Edwards (mail):
Can't anyone here see that talking about Alinsky is like talking about baseball with 16 teams? What Alinsky couldn't foresee was a future in which you could be both left and rich, where you don an earring, join MoFo, make $160K and represent various freaks in federal court before judges who are terrified of appearing unsophisticated. Given the cornucopia awaiting someone like Obama after HLS, becoming an "organizer" means he's either an idiot, an angel, or someone desperate to prove he's black enough.
9.6.2008 6:46pm
MQuinn:
Jim Lindgren said

Yet by political orientation, Obama is the most liberal or progressive candidate to be a party nominee for president in at least a half century — probably ever.

The right has successfully -- and impressively -- turned the words "liberal" and "left" into stigmatized labels that are viewed as synonyms for "radical" and "communist," (a good discussion of the phenomena is here). This is so entrenched in to our political discourse that Alan Colmes feels the need to repeatedly say "I am proud to be a liberal" and people have even wrote books on the subject, here. This demonization, of course, does not exist for conservatives, and as was rightly mentioned above, the right as managed to convince the public that every democratic presidential candidate is the most liberal politician ever, e.g. here.

Jim Lindgren has fallen prey to this phenomena. I won't purport that Obama is down-the-middle moderate, but his positions belie Lindgren's unsubstantiated conclusion that he is some flaming radical liberal (I will admit, however, that Lindgren has helped perpetuate an impressive strategy -- repeat the "most liberal ever" rhetoric so many times that it becomes true; I wish democrats would develop such a strategy!). Examples...

1. Supporting the bill that gave immunity to the telephone companies for their criminal wiretapping. This is a non-liberal position on one of the defining issues of the Bush administration, and one would expect a radical liberal to oppose such a bill

2. Supporting off shore drilling. It is true that this position was spurred by some critique by the public. However, Lindgren's proposition is that Obama is liberal for his political means -- not his personal means -- and thus the adoption of this position severely undermines Lindgren's conclusion because it is the result of his political orientation. This is one of the defining issues of our time, and one would expect some radical liberal to hold a different position.

3. Obama supported (alongside Independent Richard Lugar) a bill aimed at preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear materials. Bush has signed this bill into law! Such spending on national security seems inconsistent with the popular idea of radical liberalism.

4. Obama supports same sex civil unions, yet opposes same sex marriage (but, to be fair, he does oppose a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage). This is hardly a radical, far-left position.

5. Studies classifying Obama as the most liberal Senator are flawed and have been critiqued. In fact, other studies have ranked Obama as the 10th most liberal Senator, and McCain as the 8th most conservative Senator. This is hardly radical, and if it is, then McCain is also a radical. See here.
9.6.2008 7:27pm
Michael B (mail):
There is a huge difference between a contemporary "liberal" and a classical liberal. The latter involves foundation stones and touchstones such as Locke, Montesquieu, Smith, Burke, et al. - while the former involves touchstones and foundation stones such as Marx, Gramsci, Alinsky, Rorty, Foucault, queer theorists, shoddy pomo and deconstructionist initiatives, a Multiculturalism writ large, etc., etc., etc.
9.6.2008 8:29pm