As president, Obama is trying to become an international community organizer.
There are some immediate objections to this comparison. Community organizing is about domestic policy, not foreign policy. It is a tool for the powerless, yet the White House is a global center of power. Community organizers usually take a confrontational approach and get in their opponents’ faces; Obama does not. Community organizing handbooks say that things should be run by local networks, not charismatic outsiders like Obama, with his soaring speeches to mass rallies.
Nevertheless, the parallels are strong. First, community organizing is a fundamentally progressive enterprise concerned with bringing about change. There is a strong progressive streak in Obama’s foreign policy, seen most powerfully in his signature initiative to reduce global stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
Second, community organizers are preoccupied with power. They don’t aspire to the purity of the impotent. They identify who holds power, and they set out to engage them.