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Posted by: Doug Henwood | December 16, 2010

BHO, community organizer

Maybe there really is something to Obama’s background as a community organizer after all.

For some reason, I picked Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals off the shelf a little while ago. I got the book years ago, when I thought I might write a piece on the unfortunate influence of Alinsky and community organizing on the American left, but abandoned the project because I couldn’t bear to read Alinsky’s prose. But as it happens, I opened to this passage, titled “Compromise,” on p. 59:

[T]o the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word. It is always present in the pragmatics of operation. It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100 per cent, then compromise for 30 per cent, you’re 30 per cent ahead….

I don’t want to enable the liberal trope of “too willing to compromise” about Obama—he’s about 40% conservative, which that critique overlooks. But add on 30% from the compromise, and he’s at 70%.

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Responses

  1. As they say in China: Chairman Mao was “70 percent right, 30 percent wrong.”

  2. Pretty sure you got that exactly right. Including the bit about Alinsky’s being such laborious reading.

  3. The Boston Globe reported (here:
    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/08/06/obama_shows_hints_of_his_year_in_global_finance/
    ) on the young politician’s formative years in the mid-1980s. Right out of college, Obama worked as a junior editor at Business International Corp. He wrote for bankers and financial executives, advising them how to evade foreign-exchange rules and other concerns of global finance. At the company, a belief prevailed in “the primacy of markets as engines for both the creation of wealth and social progress.” Jerry Kellman, with whom he later worked in Chicago, said Obama “believed in markets and he believed in competition, but he didn’t believe the market was a level playing field.” Transparency was his preferred solution.

    In April 2008, Obama told Fox News, “I think that back in the ’60s and ’70s a lot of the way we regulated industry was top-down command and control.” He agreed that “the Republican Party and people who thought about the markets came with the notion that, you know what, if you simply set some guidelines, some rules, and incentives for business, let them figure out how they’re going to, for example, reduce pollution.”

    “Obama is pro-market,” said Cass Sunstein, his law professor colleague at the University of Chicago. Obama “has a keen understanding of what free markets do and of the needs and value of business.” Sunstein was appointed by Obama to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

  4. Why the Labor Show Isn’t Being Broadcast on KPFA
    by David Bacon

    http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/bacon171210.html

  5. “I don’t want to enable the liberal trope of ‘too willing to compromise’ about Obama—he’s about 40% conservative, which that critique overlooks. But add on 30% from the compromise, and he’s at 70%.”

    And, when the madcap GOP assume control of the House in January, there’ll be a post-Holiday sale–a markdown of 15-20%, thus bringing Forwardlooking to…(one moment: retrieving a calculator…)

  6. Don’t you love AP? A $1.3Trillion bill, including $158Billion for the US holocausts in Iraq and Afghanistan… is “stuffed with more than $8 billion in home-state projects”… did you get that? Sixth-tenths of one percent is “stuffed”… It’s why AP is known as Asinine Propaganda. And why Americans are dumb as stumps about the US budget. Of course, luckily, Americans elected a “community organizer” to educate the masses and fight for what is right!… (said with bitter LOL).

    By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press – Fri Dec 17 2010: “After wrestling with — and finally abandoning — a 1,900-page catchall spending bill stuffed with more than $8 billion in home-state projects known as earmarks in Washington and pork in the rest of the country, Senate leaders turned Friday to devising a measure to keep the federal government running into early next year. Nearly $1.3 trillion in unfinished budget work needed to keep the government running was packed into the spending measure, including $158 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave up on the bill Thursday after several Republicans who had been thinking of voting for it pulled back their support.”

  7. “Community organizer” was one of the components of Brand Obama, with just about as much authenticity as that implies.

    Just try to think of the political ramifications of having an African-American Democrat be the face of austerity and attacks on Social Security.

    A raised glass – before a spit in the eye – to Paul Tudor Jones, Warren Buffett and other political venture capitalists who correctly saw Obama as the transitional, diversionary ideal, who would simultneously be the Little Democrat Who Could (gut Social Security) and help the Democratic party commit mass suicide.

  8. I actually found “Rules for Radicals” an easy and interesting read. I suppose the problem you’re referring to is the heavily advertising-inspired approach and tone early on, but if you can ignore that (and ignore some overwrought and silly examples, like the one where he leads his legions to a government office to demand services the office is happy to provide, but he refuses to let the bureaucrat there explain that fact, so the people think they have won a concession), it’s valuable because he openly states the basic principles of pragmatic politics every activist should understand.

    He does err by being too nakedly pragmatic, but it’s a welcome antidote to the starry-eyed idealism projected by most activist leaders.

    It is true, of course, that his “community organizing paradigm” has gone nowhere fast since then.


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