It’s fascinating—and disturbing, and farcical—to watch the Republican lines of attack against Senator Obama proliferate. Some are sure to resonate with voters. But because the GOP and its surrogates appear unsure which, they continue to brand the senator with a variety of mutually exclusive labels.
Somehow, we’re expected to believe, Obama is both an elitist ‘celebrity’ (as former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani put it at the Republican Convention) and a nefarious, drug-dealing ‘street operative,’ as Jerome Corsi’s odious book The Obama Nation argues. Both a cagey, indecisive careerist and a secret Muslim extremist. Both an inexperienced neophyte and an establishment insider.
But most troubling—and revealing, and farcical —is the newest Republican strategy, trotted out by both Giuliani and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin: making fun of Obama for working as a community organizer. Palin, the self-described “pitbull in lipstick” (not to be confused with the rapper Eve, a “pitbull in a skirt”), lunged at Obama in her acceptance speech by saying her job as a small-town mayor was “a lot like being a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.”
Cue the rollicking laughter of the whitest convention hall in America. (2% of the GOP’s delegates are black this year, as opposed to 24% of the Democrats’.)
But why is the GOP so scornful of community organizers? Is this simply a line that sounds good if you don’t know what it means, because “community” sounds a little like “Communist,” and organizing sounds vaguely… radical? Is this a reprise of the 1988 election, when George H.W. Bush accused Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis of being “a card-carrying member of the ACLU,” a charge that struck fear into the hearts of millions who had no idea what those four letters stood for—but who associated the term ‘card-carrying’ with the Communist purges of the 1950s?
In part, it is. But it’s also an attack on the kind of idealism that makes a young man who could do anything in the world decide to try to improve the lives of poor people, at a salary of 10,000 dollars a year. It mocks the notion that politics can work from the ground up, and it erases the fact the real, tangible change comes from community activism: that laws have been changed, neighborhoods revitalized and rights defended by community organizers and the people they’ve organized.
It belittles some of the most important people working on the ground in cities and towns all across the country—most of whom harbor no political ambitions whatsoever, and merely want to see things improve for their families and neighbors. It also demeans some of the greatest heroes in the American pantheon. What was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., if not a community organizer?
Yesterday, the McCain campaign backpedaled, with spokesman Tucker Bounds acknowledging that “community organizers serve a valued function in civic affairs.” But next-day equivocations count far less than prime-time laugh lines. The McCain campaign has shown America where it stands, and it’s certainly not with the people.
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Watch Jay Smooth’s video blog about GOP beef: