Green Room

Obama Should Have Stayed a Community Organizer

posted at 12:33 pm on September 7, 2009 by

An article by Kyle-Anne Shriver in American Thinker asks an excellent question: “Did Obama rise too fast for his own good?” I have been asking myself a related question lately: Did Obama rise too far for his own good?

This is a question Obama unwittingly answers himself on page 133 of Dreams from My Father. The passage is an internal monologue in which a young Barack Obama discovers his true calling and seems to be mapping out the direction his life will take:

I’d pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots. That’s what I’ll do, I’ll organize black folks. At the grass roots. For change.

The one word repeated over and over, change, would become part of Obama’s rallying cry during his campaign for the presidency.

The other key word is, of course, organize. During the election, many cynics asked, “What exactly does a community organizer do?” The answer can be found here, at the Center for Community Change website. Their stated mission is “to build the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change their communities and public policies for the better.”

If they stopped there, I would be behind them, applauding their noble effort. But they don’t. Here’s the next paragraph:

The Center for Community Change strengthens, connects and mobilizes grassroots groups to enhance their leadership, voice and power.  We believe that vibrant community-based organizations, led by the people most affected by social and economic injustice, are key to putting an end to the failed “on your own” mentality of the right and building a new politics based on community values. [Emphasis added]

If the highlighted part doesn’t sound like vintage Obama to you, then you haven’t been paying attention. Accusing the right, and especially his Republican predecessor, of failure is just about all Obama has done since he took office.

As for the rest of it — the language about mobilizing grassroots groups most affected by social and economic injustice — that should sound familiar, too. Also known as rabble rousing, it has been the chief preoccupation of the country’s two most vocal race hustlers, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, for the last umpteen years.

Returning to that quote from his book, it appears that young Obama had it all figured out for himself. He, too, would get in the game, stirring up the common folk, exciting their passions by telling them the “man” is messin’ with them, that what rightfully belongs to them has been stolen and handed off to some rich fat cat.

There’s even a good living in it if you do it right. While Sharpton has been largely a chump, picking the wrong fights, Jackson has been a shrewd operator, avoiding jail time and amassing a fortune. Although his net worth is a jealously guarded secret, his shakedown of Anheuser Busch in 1982 brought half a million dollars into the coffers of his Rainbow PUSH coalition, plus a $10 million fund to help non-whites buy Anheuser Busch distributorships. (He neatly parlayed the latter concession to his own personal advantage when he arranged for his two his two sons, Yusef and Jonathan Jackson, to buy a Chicago distributorship worth an estimated $25 to $30 million.)

Obama, too, could have been riding that gravy train. People might even have hailed him as “the Reverend Barack Obama.”

But then he went and spoiled it all by running for, and getting elected, president. True, Sharpton and Jackson both took their shots at the Big Brass Ring that is the Oval Office, but neither — and especially Sharpton — comes off as mainstream enough to have made it a close race. In the end, both ended up back where they started, living the good life. Obama meanwhile wasn’t so lucky.

He should have heeded his own advice. Change, as he himself noted, doesn’t “come from the top.” Sure, for an egotist like Obama, attaining the dizzying heights of the presidency is the ultimate sky dive — getting to look down on all those little people running around pursuing their little lives. But ultimately you fall back to earth and that’s not where Obama needs or wants to be.

Cross-posted at Zombie Contentions

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Remember the Peter Principle?

In any organization, people rise to the level of their incompetence.

Somehow Obama managed to jump 2 or 3 levels beyond his.

WWS on September 7, 2009 at 12:48 PM

Remember the Peter Principle?

I sure do. It crossed my mind while I was drafting this piece.

HowardPortnoy on September 7, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Great job, Mr. Portnoy.
My Parish Priest (an Obama supporter, very early on, who worked for him in the general election) had said, early on, that he would have preferred that Obama had taken the helm of the “civil rights” movement, instead of the Presidency.

I wonder how many other Obama supporters feel something like this – that he’s in the wrong job?

Just this once, I’m not snarking; it’s a serious question.

“Is he in the wrong job?”

massrighty on September 7, 2009 at 3:14 PM

I wonder how many other Obama supporters feel something like this – that he’s in the wrong job?

I wonder if Obama wonders about this himself.

Thank you for your kind words.

HowardPortnoy on September 7, 2009 at 3:51 PM

The think about Obama that keeps him from being Jessie or Al is his personality. Basically, when it comes to getting in the face of his allies, he’s a wimp. He wants to be the alpha male (president), and will take the lead on fighting off the opposing pack (Republicans/conservatives) but he won’t challenge his own pack for dominance, leaving the enforcement angle up to his No. 2-and-lower guys like Emanuel and Axlerod. Al and Jessie operated at a lower level, but both were always ruthless enough to go after other pretenders to their throne (and in Sharpton’s case, that meant going after Jessie as King of the Race Hustlers).

The White House set-up only works because the Dems saw Obama as a means to an end – using the idea of the first African-American president to gain the power of the Executive Branch. So he’s there as the leader, but there’s nothing in his psychological make-up that allows him to be the leader, which means going against some of own allies and saying ‘no’ to their loopier plans (of course, given his likely behind-the-scenes beliefs, we should probably celebrate Barack’s wimpiness — logic would say within a two-party system where a majority of the public is now opposed to your plans that it would be time to tell the people on the far left to go pound sand, but a Barack Obama who was less fearful of conflict and with beliefs like Van Jones would be just as likely to tell everyone in the Democratic Party to the right of Steney Hoyer to go screw themselves).

jon1979 on September 7, 2009 at 7:39 PM

It’s funny that the comments should bring up “The Peter Principle”.

A week or two back I was grumbling about Obama, sort of a default situation around our house, and my wife asked what I thought all this snark would accomplish.

I replied that I wouldn’t be satisfied until Obama’s name was synonymous with the Peter Principle.

You’re thesis that Obama is not qualified for the Presidency is self evident however the way it’s galvanized the pro individualist and capitalist heart of America, which has been drifting for years, has been quite heartening.

Obama may yet prove to be the greatest community organizer America has ever seen, but, not quite in the way he or his supporters envisioned.

bongo on September 8, 2009 at 6:46 AM