Portrait of a Failed Community Organizer

Earlier, Shawn Mallow explored the questionable tactic, now being used by the Obama White House, of singling out Fox News as “a wing of the Republican Party” and not a “news network.”

Fox News’ own reporting of Sunday’s CNN interview with White House communications director Anita Dunn, who made those allegations, is worth reading in its entirety. Here’s a sample:

As for Dunn’s complaint about Fox News’ coverage of the Obama campaign, a study by the Pew Research Center showed that 40 percent of Fox News stories on Obama in the last six weeks of the campaign were negative. Similarly, 40 percent of Fox News’ stories on Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, were negative.

On CNN, by contrast, there was a 22-point disparity in the percentage of negative stories on Obama (39 percent) and McCain (61 percent). The disparity was even greater at MSNBC, according to Pew, where just 14 percent of Obama stories were negative, compared to a whopping 73 percent of McCain stories — a spread of 59 points.

Although Dunn accused Fox News of being a “wing of the Republican Party,” she said the network does not champion conservatism.

“It’s not ideological,” she acknowledged. “I mean, obviously, there are many commentators who are conservative, liberal, centrist — and everybody understands that.”

Still, Obama refused to appear on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace on Sept. 20, the day he appeared on five other Sunday shows. At the time, the White House characterized the snub as payback for the Fox Broadcast Network’s decision not to air an Obama prime time appearance. But last weekend, Dunn blamed Fox News Channel’s coverage of the administration for Obama’s snub of Fox News Sunday.

“Is this why he did not appear?” Dunn said. “The answer is yes.”

Wallace has called White House officials “the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.”

On the surface, this tactic appears to be a very shallow manifestation of one of community organizing pioneer Saul Alinsky’s most famous and controversial power tactics — zeroing in on a target, polarizing it, and freezing it out. Alinsky found this tactic to be a very effective way of stopping those in power from shifting blame back and forth among themselves without ever addressing fundamental problems.

But organizing for change requires a lot more than power tactics. Alinsky defined “tactics” as “doing what you can with what you have.” His strong-arm methods were meant to be used by organizations that had little or nothing else with which to fight — specifically, no political connections and no money. When used by the White House and its well-funded political minions, these power tactics seem churlish and immature.

Alinsky also had a lot of other things to say about the process of organizing, most of which seem to be lost on Team Obama.

Alinsky recognized that in America, any effort designed to fundamentally alter the relationship between our existing “establishment” and our poorest citizens would have to be supported by the middle class. Alinsky understood that the American middle class was positioned directly between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and regularly vacillated between their traditional ideals — the middle class routinely demanded better benefits and working conditions from the “haves,” just as the “have-nots” had done, yet they vociferously denounced any effort that might endanger the moderate amount wealth and power that they had acquired, perhaps to an even greater extent than the “haves” defended their vastly greater wealth and power.

Alinsky also taught that organizing around “change” only works if the people are convinced that the changes will create a better system than the status quo. Organization involves “disorganization” — the dis-assembly of broken and fundamentally unjust systems, in order to replace them with something better. Measurable improvement is the key; otherwise, you are simply creating disorder and replacing one bad system with another.

The Obama Administration seems to be focused only on polarization and disorganization. They have incredibly ambitious plans to nationalize and regulate huge swaths of our economy and personal lives (banking, automobile manufacturing, energy production, medicine) thus establishing a system that they believe will produce more equitable outcomes and more responsible personal choices. Yet in spite of their idealism, the Obama Administration has failed miserably every time it has tried to convince Americans that its policies — in particular its desire to up-end and completely restructure our existing healthcare system — will result in something better than what we have right now.

Their rhetoric has been laughable: “In my wildest dreams, I never thought [the Stimulus] would work this well,” “Maybe you’re better off to tell your mother to take a pill …” etc. Americans need only to look at current economic indicators, or the incomprehensible health care legislation, in order to understand that the White House is feeding them a line, big time. The more President Obama or the Democratic Party leadership speaks, the more it alienates the American middle class.

Saul Alinsky believed that successful community organizing was the result of careful preparation, patience, and a series of small victories instead of grand battles. He also insisted that organizers gain a thorough familiarity with, and acceptance by, the community at large before beginning their organizing efforts.

Getting America to accept Barack Obama meant that the Democrats had to transform the real Barack Obama, prickly, detached and woefully inexperienced, into The One. How they thought that such a ruse could last any length of time beyond the Inauguration is a mystery to me.

By Saul Alinsky’s own standards, the Obama White House’s attempts at policy initiatives and political damage control, which have not only alienated the middle class but have stirred up a mighty grassroots protest movement, and have now managed to make the Nixon Administration’s paranoid attacks on the press look sane, are destined to fail. We would do well to remember that Barack Obama is in fact a failed community organizer. His three years at Altgeld Gardens in Chicago left him burned out and ready to try something else. Only this time, as President of the United States, Barack Obama has nowhere else he can go.

(If there is interest, I would like to write a series of posts discussing Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Although Alinsky is a controversial Leftist figure, his work deserves to be understood by conservatives simply because it has been the basis for virtually every political and community organizing effort in America during the past 70 years.)

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