Will the ghost of the godfather of community organizing help the president escape without a scratch?
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In recent weeks, scandal after scandal has rocked Barack Obama’s administration. His presidency might be imperiled.
Or it might not be.
Obama steadfastly remains an activist, a “community organizer.” Nor has he forgotten that which he learned from the godfather of all community organizers, Saul Alinsky.
In his Rules for Radicals, Alinsky writes that the goal “of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy.’”
Now, given that he is the President of the United States, Obama’s should be recognized by the world as the face of “the establishment.” Obama, though, does not want this, for to be associated with “the establishment” is to be identified with the status quo, politics as usual. But Obama promised hope, change, and even “the fundamental transformation” of America. To make good on this promise, he needs the support of the electorate. Yet to elicit this support, he must convince Americans not just that he is not a member of the establishment. He must convince them that he is its enemy.
More specifically, he must have us believe that it is those in the establishment that view him as a “dangerous enemy.”
Alinsky explains that the term “‘enemy’ is sufficient to put the organizer on the side of the people,” and that “the brand ‘dangerous’” proves that “the establishment” has “fear of the organizer,” “fear that he represents a threat to its omnipotence.” Once this fear is established for all to see, the organizer can get to work.
Doubtless, Obama did not want for any of these scandals to come to light. Now that they’ve arisen, though, they can be exploited to depict himself as a Washington outsider and his Republican nemeses as “the establishment” that has vowed to destroy him. Potentially, this strategy trades off short-term loss for long-term gain.
Again, Alinsky is instructive here: “If by losing in a certain action” the organizer “can get more members than by winning, then victory lies in losing and he will lose.”
There is another respect in which Obama will exploit “the crises” of government that the Republicans are trying to expose in his administration. Rahm Emmanuel warned us against letting “a good crisis go to waste.” Crises disorganize our ordinary categories and assumptions. At the same time, according to Alinsky, they both reflect and “stir up” the “dissatisfaction and discontent” of the people. This is great news for the organizer, for he can then “provide a channel into which” people “can angrily pour their frustrations [.]”
Your average person—the average voter—wants crises resolved. He longs for normalcy, some semblance of calm. Now, Obama remains more popular than his Republican opponents, and he long ago succeeded in convincing many Americans that the GOP is the establishment while he is their “dangerous enemy.” As long as they are perceived as “crisis mongers,” Obama counts upon the public growing weary—and frustrated—with them. At the same time, he can style himself the hero, the organizer par excellence, who will relieve Americans’ of their exasperation by conceding that there are crises and then swooping in to solve them. Of course, such “solutions” will come at the cost of an ever larger government, one that is even more amenable to his agenda.
But this is exactly what Obama wants, of course.
So, Obama, in spite of being among the most politically powerful people in the world, has many Americans believing that he is an enemy of the establishment. And though all of the crises of government over which his opponents are sounding the alarm are scandals for which his administration is responsible, it is Obama who will be able to take credit for resolving them. The country has never had a president, and not even many politicians of any sort, really, who were better suited to pull off these two seemingly insurmountable tasks than is Obama. Why?
That the media continually run cover for him obviously explains quite a bit. Yet the President’s rivals err gravely if they attribute his success solely to the media’s partisan loyalties.
In the popular imagination—reinforced daily by Hollywood, the media, and academia—the American political establishment remains under the control of whites generally and white men specifically (i.e. “the good old boy network”). And blacks remain victims of racial oppression. President or not, Obama’s blackness is seen as automatically rendering him an enemy of the establishment. His Arabic name, however, signifies an even wider gap between Obama and the latter.
Republicans must hold Obama accountable for his actions. At the same time, they must reckon with our current racial politics—and the ease with which Obama, the Alinskyite, will use these perceptions to his advantage.
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