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Obama the Organizer

by Cally Carswell 


Tags: Politics, Election 2008, RNC, Republican National Convention, Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, George Pataki, John McCain, Barack Obama, military service, community organizer, The Nation,

Obama the OrganizerAfter lavishing praise on John McCain for his military service, Republicans took the opportunity to ridicule Barack Obama’s work as a community organizer on day three of the GOP convention.

Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, and Sarah Palin all took turns kicking dirt on Obama’s early days on Chicago’s South Side. Pataki said, “What in God’s name is a community organizer? I don’t even know if that’s a job.” Giuliani chimed in, “He worked as a community organizer. What? Maybe this is the first problem on the resume.” And Palin drove home the point, “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, expect that you have actual responsibilities.”

These were sharp jabs at Obama meant to stoke doubt about his readiness to be president. But the comments left any details about what Obama actually did as an organizer to the imagination. So what in God’s name did Obama do on the South Side and does it matter?

Writing for the New Republic, John B. Judis argues that the important thing to understand about Obama’s time as an organizer is not what he did, but why he quit. Judis describes Obama as “a disillusioned activist who fashioned his political identity not as an extension of community organizing but as a wholesale rejection of it.” His essay details how Obama’s organizing work led him to believe politics, not organizing, was his best opportunity to produce broad-based change. An article published last year by the Nation and another at the New Republic also take stabs at fleshing out Obama’s organizing days.

In response to the convention speeches, the Nation quotes Obama as saying, “I would argue that doing work in the community to try and create jobs, to bring people together, to rejuvenate communities that have fallen on hard times, to set up job-training programs in areas that have been hard hit when the steel plants closed, that that's relevant only in understanding where I'm coming from, who I believe in, who I'm fighting for and why I'm in this race.”

Weigh in: How is Obama's community organizing experience relevant in this election?

Image by Ari Levinson, licensed under GNU Free Documentation License.