Political Hay

Obama’s Society of Beggars

A community organizer's vision for America.

By 2.25.08

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Oh pleeeeze, sir!

In three words, this is the driving force behind Barack Obama's vision for America. A vision epitomized by the famous words written by Charles Dickens for the young Oliver Twist of 19th century England. "Please, sir, I want some more."

As America is beginning to learn, the young prince of Chicago began his career as what is euphemistically called a "community organizer." One has to have grown up in the 1960s, I suppose, to know what this is. For those who missed out, a community organizer is someone who spends their time begging from the government. The motives, at least in theory, are always pure. Mrs. Jones needs heat, Joe Smith needs a job, Sally Bell needs milk for her baby.

The problem, of course, is that after decades of practical experience it is now obvious to most Americans that the guiding light behind community organizing is some variant of socialism -- which is to say a philosophy that effectively guarantees a lifetime of poverty and dependence, always at the mercy of a government that by the very nature of big bureaucracies can be arrogantly uncaring if not deceitful, slow as molasses, frequently incompetent and, in the end, completely lacking in an ability to help people escape the grinding poverty in which they find themselves.

Barack Obama made his first mark in Chicago by choosing to be a community organizer, inspired by left-wing theoretician Saul Alinsky, the so-called "father" of community organizing. As a United States Senator he has, according to the non-partisan National Journal, emerged as one of the Senate's most liberal Senators. This is another way of saying that Obama supports all those programs that keep community organizers busy with places to go begging, insuring from the top that all those on the bottom are effectively kept in a closed loop of poverty. Unable to break out, poorly educated by government-owned, union-run local schools, housed in government-owned, crime-infested public housing, dependent for everything from food to heat to a job, the cycle rewards dependency. Dependency on government, and in turn dependency on community organizers like Barack Obama once was and on politicians like Barack Obama now is.

THE BEST PLACE to take a look at this cycle in terms of Obama is to read his writings and the glowing accounts in liberal journals that have been written about him by enamored journalists. They provide an X-ray of the way Obama sees what American life should be -- a life that effectively consists of a society of beggars. Here are but four selections.

* From Ryan Lizza in the New Republic: "Obama's work focused on helping poor blacks on Chicago's South Side fight the city for things like job banks and asbestos removal."

* From David Moberg in the Nation: "Often by confronting officials with insistent citizens -- rather than exploiting personal connections, as traditional black Democrats proposed -- Obama and DCP protected community interests regarding landfills and helped win employment training services, playgrounds, after-school programs, school reforms and other public amenities."

* From David Moberg in the Nation: "One day a resident at Altgeld Gardens, a geographically isolated public housing project surrounded by waste sites, brought a notice about planned removal of asbestos from the project manager's office. Obama organized the community to find out if there was asbestos in their apartments. They persisted as officials lied and delayed, then took a bus -- with far fewer people than Obama had anticipated -- to challenge authorities downtown. Ultimately, the city was forced to test all the apartments and eventually begin cleaning them up."

* From Barack Obama in "Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City" first published in the August/ September 1988 Illinois Issues (published by then-Sangamon State University, which is now the University of Illinois at Springfield):

"This means bringing together churches, block clubs, parent groups and any other institutions in a given community to pay dues, hire organizers, conduct research, develop leadership, hold rallies and education campaigns, and begin drawing up plans on a whole range of issues - jobs, education, crime, etc. Once such a vehicle is formed, it holds the power to make politicians, agencies and corporations more responsive to community needs."

Listen to what is being said here.

* "...fight the city for things like job banks and asbestos removal..."

* "Often by confronting officials..."

* "They persisted as officials lied and delayed, then took a bus -- with far fewer people than Obama had anticipated -- to challenge authorities downtown. Ultimately, the city was forced..."

This is the language of a society of beggars. The need to "fight the city" or "confront officials" or persist "as officials lied and delayed" or "challenge authorities" is pre-eminently the language of human beings made to depend on government. To beg from it as Oliver Twist was made to beg. "Please, sir, I want some more." It may have once had a certain allure in the 1960s -- forty years ago and even longer before that -- but the idea of creating big government programs and then creating "community organizers" whose sole purpose is to make citizens more effective beggars of those government programs has long since been discredited by the results -- or lack thereof .

YET THIS IS PRECISELY the vision that Obama wishes to extend across all of America. And the question that becomes relevant for Obama's vision is a version of the question Ronald Reagan once asked Americans about the presidency of Jimmy Carter: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" Is the South Side of Chicago better off today because Barack Obama and his fellow community organizers accepted the status quo of big government? Is the community where Obama "organized" better off today than it was when he arrived? Has he done anything with his philosophy that has lifted the people of the South Side of Chicago out of poverty, and has the philosophy itself worked anywhere else in America?

One need go no further than the Nation magazine's same loving profile of Obama to learn this:

"Despite some meaningful victories, the work of Obama -- and hundreds of other organizers -- did not transform the South Side or restore lost industries."

In other words, the Nation answers the Reagan question in a word: No.

This is important when understanding that Obama's vision of America is to make of America one big South Side of Chicago. A nation where he raises taxes ("Please sir, may I keep some more of my money that I worked for?"), bureaucratizes health care ("Please, sir, will you pay for my medicine?"), and tells automobile manufacturers how to make energy-efficient cars ("Please sir, may I make my car my way?").

All of this is, of course, the same old, same old. It is nothing more -- or less -- than the old socialist stew which has failed everywhere from the South Side of Chicago to the Ninth Ward of New Orleans to the North Side of Moscow. There is nothing new about any of this except the messenger. And the messenger, according to the impeccably left-wing pages of the Nation, has already served up this stew in Chicago and -- surprise, surprise -- failed. He has been utterly unable to do in his own public service what he once advocated for others in Alinskian terms, which is to say "challenging people to scrape away habit." The habit of setting up big unionized bureaucracies and then targeting them with organized begging campaigns is apparently impossible for Obama to scrape away.

The kerfuffle over Obama's tendency to plagiarize words from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is perhaps more revealing than the simple plagiarism itself. What it displays at its heart is an unoriginal cast of mind, as well as something more damning. An unwillingness to accept hard truths simply because it is unpopular in his circle to do so. While Obama was big on organizing to challenge local officials, he was not in the least inclined to challenge his fellow liberals with the subversive idea (to liberals) that it is big government itself that has exacerbated if not produced the problems on Chicago's South Side.

If he is unwilling to take a hard look at his surroundings on the South Side of Chicago, if he is unable to understand the failure that resulted in the conditions of the South Side in the first place, and why, then his lovely repetitions of the eloquent phrases of others notwithstanding, there either just isn't much there there when it comes to Obama's intellectual creativity -- or he fears leading real change because of what his liberal friends might say.

Absent a commitment to real change, his aspiration to be the "community organizer-in-chief" for America means one thing, and one thing only. Barack Obama, his sights set firmly on a left-wing past that did not work, is determined to organize us into 300 million Oliver Twists.

Which is to say, to make of us all a society of beggars.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.