New Republican Theme: Helping People is Laughable

Wow.  Wow.  Am I the only one who is both appalled and completely confused at the extent to which, not just Sarah Palin, but at least two other speakers including Rudy Giuliani used community organizing as a laugh line and the butt of jokes at the Republican National Convention last night?  And it’s not just that speakers decided this would be a great way to go.  It’s that the thousands of people in attendance agreed, laughingly, that the bare idea of “working” to help others is hysterical.

I don’t agree with, but can understand, Republican arguments against big government.  For the life of me, however, I can’t understand mocking individual efforts to help fellow citizens in small groups organize to govern themselves and take control over their difficult lives in times of crisis.  Now they’re against direct democracy, too??  And call me crazy, but haven’t any Republicans ever been community organizers?  Ever?  I’m sure that in fact some have.

It was certainly a show of the true colors of some attending delegates.  But, news flash for those who cracked up?, believing you’re good and holy because you vote pro-life, and then laughing your ass off at the concept of working for downtrodden individuals in small groups is not, exactly, precisely, what Jesus would do.   The only thing keeping me from thinking the nation has truly gone mad is the reassurance that I’m not alone.  At least the Obama campaign has responded promptly.


15 thoughts on “New Republican Theme: Helping People is Laughable

  1. I too am surprised. Dailykos has a post describing what could be at work here: “community” being a code word for “ghetto” and “organizer” being a code word for “activist” or “radical.”

  2. First, remember that the GOP is big on `faith-based initiatives’, especially as an alternative to government-provided services. Second, realise that faith-based initiatives are administered by community organisers. (After all, on any conservative or communitarian conception of religion, clergy are first and foremost community organisers.) Third, die of an overdose of irony and cynicism.

    I don’t much like the distinction between ethico-political and cognitive values. In particular, I think cognitive values (such as a certain amount of consistency) are valuable precisely because they’re (instrumentally and constitutively) valuable to our ethico-political projects. But that’s not what happened last night. Giuliani and Palin kicked themselves in the face to take an incidental and basically insubstantial rhetorical shot at Obama. That’s irrational by pretty much anyone’s standard.

  3. They’re only doing this to take away from the impact that both Barack and Michelle have made in their communities. This was greatly stressed at the DNC, I just find it silly that they couldn’t come up with anything better than this to “counter” it.

  4. When you applied for your last job, did you talk at length about how you played the pumpkin in your first-grade school play? Probably not.

    Then consider that Obama is applying for the job of leader of the free world. He talks more about his entry-level job as community organizer than he does about later jobs.

    There is nothing wrong with starting in an entry level job or having been the pumpkin. It is just that a candidate for leader of the free world is expected to have had greater achievements that s/he can talk about.

    The Obama campaign has been disparaging Palin’s experience as a mayor while bragging about Obama’s having worked as a “community organizer.” Doesn’t that call out for ridicule?

  5. I am in total agreement with the distinction between faith based vs. secular community organizing. They may be highlighting to their base, ofcourse, that the kind of community organizing Obama is referring to is NOT the faith-based kind.

    Regardless, its immoral, unpatriotic and counterproductive to scoff at community organizing.

  6. It does not call out for ridicule, because the McCain campaign made something called “experience” their centerpiece, not the Obama campaign. And since their choice of VP has muddled the “experience” narrative by quite a lot (is experience executive experience? is it foreign policy experience that can be had by virtue of living near another country?), they respond with this cynical misdirection.

    And I have to add that community organizing is a way of saying I worked with, you know, actual people, I helped them organize around their own concerns, and was accountable to their needs. There is a long and strong tradition of community organizing in the Chicago neighborhoods that Obama served, which developed alongside and in some instances as a way to push back against machine politics. It is hard, complicated, and dare I say noble work.

    I just want the people who seek to represent me to not think so very little of me for once.

    ps. I do however sometimes consider listing my role as “First Twin” in Peter Pan in high school on my CV if it will do anything to appease The Market!

  7. I find it strange and ironic, especially considering that the Republican position on helping the needy has for some time been focused on the importance of private (as opposed to government) initiative. The thousand points of light and such.

  8. When Obama attacked Palin’s experience as a small-city mayor, did all of you think that he was “attacking” all small-city mayors?

    No obviously, you didn’t. You knew he was attacking Palin.

    When she replies comparing her experience as a mayor to his bragged-about experience as a community organizer, Do you, profbigk, Noumena, et. al, really claim that she was actually attacking “community organizers”?

    Consider the symmetry.

    Sk, I would be interested in examples of Obama pushing “back against machine politics.” In all the examples that I am aware of, he was supporting the machine.

  9. Consider the symmetry? How misleading, since I was talking about the reactions of the crowd to all three bozos, which was raucous. Oh, look, John didn’t mention Giuliani’s asshat speech. What a surprise.

    “She replies comparing?” How stupendously bullshitty. “It’s sort of like being a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” That’s not a comparison, that’s a sarcastic knock on the nature of community organizing. Here’s a tip, genius: It takes a teeny bit more effort than being the pumpkin in a play. It often takes more than full-time work on behalf of poor and working people, not that most of the delegates to the RNC would know what that’s like.

    Born and raised in Chicago as I was, I can also state that “the machine” died with hizzoner. The Machine fought the election of Harold Washington because he was black, it lost, and it died. What Junior runs now is not the Machine.

    I’m letting descriptions of Bush’s job as “leader of the free world” slide, because if that was true, the free world would have enjoyed a peasant revolt. Fortunately for the free world, a majority of it doesn’t live in the U.S. and isn’t saddled with Bush as its “leader.”

  10. Cheers, profbigk. I was going to reply but I was making sure I wasn’t secretly brainwashed into having some kind of alien notion of symmetry. Living in Chicago lo these many years, I too understand the role of community organizing, because if you’ve got the machine, you don’t need to organize into a block club to advocate your interests. Because as the machine says, they don’t want nobody nobody sent.

    Anyway. As an addendum, I just want to mention the list McCain gave toward the end of his speech last night about ways people can serve their country sound, well, they sound an awful lot like the work community organizers do. Even on the “south side” of Chicago.

  11. A government that wants to rule and wants to keep the power in the hands of a tiny elite are likely to behave in exactly this way. By disbanding larger, more bureaucratic forms of government where more people have an empowered say in favour of a few individuals invested in power they not only increase power in their hands but the public believes somehow that the party is relatively disinterested in power. They don’t want to ‘meddle’ in people’s lives by ‘imposing’ their views (ie everything is economically led and only economy not humanity matters)

    Community work and activism, helping others, loving, caring etc is grassroots activism that’s invested in PEOPLE not money. When people see loving care not as the work of downtrodden trapped women but as a natural part of humanity patriarchy is threatened because it rests on dog eat dog mentality. When people feel empowered and are more greatly invested in the community their power is threatened. The basis of their belief system is threatened. ie that everyone would want to be at the top scavenging off those below. Work in our communities also means we’re more likely to become politically active, more knowledgeable about our oppressions. Less controllable. When I volunteered on the National Domestic Violence helpline for example i began to see that power, domination, control wasn’t something that I was coping with in a vacuum, it wasn’t my fault. I began to see it as a political reality.

    Simple. Keep us chasing the money and ignorant of our selves and our communities and the elite are laughing.

  12. The country was founded by people, who for the most part were completely different from the their countrymen, and for the most part distrusted the idea of a true democracy (hence the electoral college process). The only reason they went with a democracy is because it would be harder to gain dictator like powers, and not to piss off the ordinary folks. Also, a free society doesn’t work ( hence the failure of the Articles of Confederation).
    But the joke isn’t that community organizers are useless positions, but the joke is that that was the last time Barack actually stood out and did anything on his own in the eyes of conservatives. The last few years he has just sat in the senate, not really doing much to make himself stand out until now. Again, they were just trying to show that Barack has no experience compared to McCain, not trying to bash community organizers as a whole.

  13. Does anyone think that Thomas Jefferson was an ordianry man? or James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams? This country was founded by the elite with good intentions of protecting everyone in it, but by no means are people you grab beers with on friday nights suppose to run this country. Personally, most of my friends can barely run their own lives, much less a country with 300+ million people in it.

  14. i do not know what the relative ordinariness of thomas jefferson has to do with, as they say, the price of tea in china.

    when a person says that being a mayor in a small town is like being a community organizer except with actual responsibilities, the message i seem to be intended to receive is that while mayors of small towns have actual responsibilities, community organizers have *no* actual responsibilities. both governor palin and mayor giuliani could have said, senator obama hasn’t done anything since being a community organizer in the south side of chicago (which would also have been untrue). but they didn’t do that. they made fun of community organizers who are trying to help people rather than rule them, and that is what is at issue here.

    to throw another body on the machine, as it were, i have read some interesting pieces (jesse taylor, melissa mcewan, ezra klein) that pointed to the racist/racial resentment implications of demeaning community organizing in this way, at least understanding that said organizing is taking place on the “south side” of Chicago, and was called for a while “street organizing” by the RNC.

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