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Works and Days

But That’s What Community Organizers Do

February 20th, 2011 - 12:56 pm

During the Republican convention of 2008, Rudy Giuliani rhetorically asked: what is a community organizer? I think we always knew the answer without even referencing the guidebook of Saul Alinsky.

President Obama need not worry about budget deficits in the manner of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Unlike state officials, he can print money, and raise fees and taxes. The nation’s more affluent, unlike blue-state refugees seeking red-state low tax sanctuaries, cannot flee anywhere. That makes it easy for President Obama to weigh in on the Wisconsin unrest by suggesting an insolvent state government was more interested in destroying the public unions than meeting a $3 billion budget shortfall.

That characteristic eagerness to grandstand on extraneous issues, while ignoring federal crises, is characteristic of this administration. It will not make meaningful progress in addressing its own massive trillion-dollar debts, reexamine the looming disaster of ObamaCare, gear up to produce more gas and oil in the face of skyrocketing energy costs, or seriously explore ways to get unemployment down below 9%.

Yet in the last twenty-four months, we have learned that the president will indeed declare that: the governor of Wisconsin is using his state budget disaster largely to punish public servants; the police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, act “stupidly” and racially stereotype minorities (“typically”) as do most police departments; the state of Arizona harasses Hispanic children when they go out to eat ice cream, and thus Mexico’s efforts to sue the state should be joined by the U.S. government; much of our ills are due to “fat cat” bankers who junket to Las Vegas and the Super Bowl and cannot seem to grasp that at some point they have made enough money; the pro-democracy protestors in the streets of Tehran are not to be encouraged by our “meddling” (because of our past sins of involvement in Iran), but their counterparts in Cairo are to be encouraged by our meddling (despite our past sins of involvement in Egypt).

In addition, why would the president call for “sacrifice” in lean times, advising Americans to cut out going to dinner and to “put off” a vacation — while favoring Martha’s Vineyard for vacation, as the first lady (of erstwhile “downright mean country” repute) seems especially fond of Vail ski escapes in winter and Costa del Sol Mediterranean jaunts in summer? Is not symbolism important in these hard times?

Why, why, why all this? In a word, because that is what community organizers are supposed to do, even — or rather, especially — when they become the establishment. Cannot we answer Giuliani’s question? As a general rule, the “organizer” is not indigenous to the community, but as a sort of roaming utopian he travels widely to detect supposed foci of injustice (think an Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson), even to the point of worrying about professors being locked out of their homes or the tranquility of ice cream parlors in Arizona.

Almost immediately there is an artificial divide constructed between an oppressive “them” and a victimized “us,” usually on rigid class, gender, and racial lines. Some such university study is cited to “prove” injustice based on the absence of parity in income, health care, or education. Then the community organizer rallies the “community” to “get in their face” and agitate, which can encompass anything from suing in court, holding mass rallies, conducting voter registration drives with accordant intimidation, visiting the private homes of supposedly culpable officials, bankers, and the wealthy, and threatening strikes, slow-downs and disruptions. These metaphorical “hostage takers” must be “punished” as “enemies,” relegated to a proverbial backseat, and in such a fight have their knives rhetorically trumped by our guns.

Indeed, the supposed exploiters are deemed “fat cats” who often favor “Wall Street,” enjoy privileges that accord them Super Bowl or Las Vegas junkets, continually “raise the bar” on the rest of us folks, and can’t seem to figure out that at some point they have surely made enough money from others.

The remedy is always adolescent — the perceived government program and entitlement are demanded without any worry about who is to fund them or how. The community’s perceived “needs” are the sole point of contention, not society’s ability to meet them. The assumption of the community organizer is that there is an amorphous “they” (so often white, male, heterosexual, upper-middle class, Christian) who have done something wrong, or whose ancestors have done something wrong, that both results in their own present privilege and requires appropriate redress, in the moral sense.

The logic is circular — more public money to deserving constituents ensures political support and in turn requires higher taxes from others to pay for it, a two-pronged redistribution plan of taking from the undeserving to allot to the more worthy. Absent from the community organizer’s ideology is any sense that the individual might in some cases bear some responsibility for the ensuing inequality — encounters with the criminal justice system, poor family planning, reckless use of easy credit, involvement with dangerous and addictive drugs, no interest in formal education, or adoption of a popular culture that promotes anti-intellectualism, misogyny, illegitimacy, and defiance of accepted norms. Again, some sort of deliberate prejudice is more likely, and thus state money is justified as a sort of reparation for the collective sins of society, as well as a wise investment to prevent social disequilibrium, if not outright public unrest.

Note the flip side: those who are better off enjoy such benefaction largely as a result of birth, privilege based on the exploitation of others, bias against someone who does look like them, random chance, accident, illegality, or immorality — rarely is success to do harder work, careful planning, more education and training, deferred gratification, or wiser personal decisions. The point is not how someone got more than others, but the suspect system that allowed them to get that more — and how to correct it.

There is never any followup (think audit of the second stimulus, or reexamination of ObamaCare) about the cost effectiveness of the new grant or program. The key is getting the money, not ensuring that it is well used. The organizer — often far better educated than his constituents — then moves on, either to other crisis spots or into politics on his way up his planned cursus honorum. Moreover, the organizer feels a certain sense of entitlement, given his good works — an exemption as it were to live a particular and much deserved lifestyle not always that different from (and indeed at times far better than) the supposed purveyors of social injustice. That the creation of huge entitlements creates social dependency, disrupts traditional local and family networks of mutual help and reliance, emphasizes poverty entirely in a political rather than a spiritual framework, or enables rather than addresses destructive behavior is of less interest to the careerist organizer — either because he sees problems only in classical material terms, or because he is long gone after the money is allotted, or because unanticipated disasters are not his purview, or because dependency, not alleviation of pathology, is the more important goal.

So we should cease being surprised that the president editorializes about extraneous issues while ignoring critical ones, or that the administration is now addressing breast pumps, or that Obama has ignored the findings of his own debt commission, or that he has added 200,000 new federal workers at a time of fiscal insolvency, and on and on.

You see, that is what community organizers do, now and in the past.

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