Once a community organizer, always a community organizer, I suppose – from an email I received recently from the Obama campaign email list:
The current debate in Washington over President Obama’s budget has made one thing clear — ensuring our long-term prosperity won’t come without a fight.
Partisan voices and special interests are showing real resistance to President Obama’s call for making the necessary reforms and investments in energy, health care, and education. That’s why we need to bring the conversation back into homes and communities across America.
Last week, thousands of you pledged your support for the President’s economic plan and encouraged your friends and family to join you in a national display of support. Now I need you to take the next step.
This weekend, supporters like you are organizing Pledge Project Canvasses to talk to people in their communities about this plan and mobilize support in neighborhoods across the country.
The eternal campaign continues with attempts to solicit the same ground support “magic” the campaign was able to solicit during the presidential campaign. However, doing that during a campaign when the focus is a person and his promises vs. attempting to do that when the person in question has gained the office and is now talking about concrete proposals which may or may not be in the best interest of the country isn’t quite as easy.
A couple of thoughts on this sort of an attempt. One – the tie that binds (getting Barack Obama elected) doesn’t necessarily extend to things like the budget or other specific issues. So the group that accomplished the former aren’t necessarily unified on the latter. That tends to promise lower turn out in the community events or, if they show up, some discord.
Two – the assumption is these events will demonstrate the will of the people and put pressure on Congress to act as Obama asks them to act, i.e. pass his budget. But there’s no direct linkage with this sort of activity and Congress like there was during the campaign when this sort of activity could be converted to votes. The Obama campaign used to brag about the “house parties” that were held at a grass-roots level demonstrating the power of his campaign and the promise of the votes to come. None of that translates into the same sort of power when aimed at Congress.
Three – it again demonstrates that the administration still hasn’t managed to get itself out of the campaign mode. Another example of that has been the AIG bonus debacle. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and AIG CEO Edward Liddy discussed the bonuses on the 11th of March. Liddy sent Geithner a letter on the 14th explaining the reason for them and the possible impact of not paying them (explained in the AIGFP Employee Retention Plan). It’s not about “retaining the best and brightest”. In fact, it is a calculated method of hedging their risk and ensuring the tax payer doesn’t end up on the hook for even more billions in bailouts.
Instead of calmly explaining this in a joint press conference with AIG, Geithner and the administration chose to fan the flames of outrage and use it for political gain. That isn’t leadership, that’s politics. And it is also an administration in the campaign mode. That’s a dangerous mode to be in, especially at this time and place. When given the opportunity to have a frank and tough discussion with the public about bonuses it knew were going to be paid and explaining their necessity, the Obama administration reverted to the populist campaign mode of demonizing AIG instead of calming the emotions and fears of the public.
Stephanie Gutmann brings up something I’ve noticed. She starts with an Orwell quote:
“The program of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor…All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies, perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured in some hiding place in Oceania itself.”
1984 by George Orwell
She then says:
In the passage above, and throughout 1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell illustrates how regimes with tentative hold over beleaguered populations deflect anger away from their own corruptions and mistakes with the deployment of a greatly embellished, even invented, external enemy.
There are many things that bug me about Barack Obama — the insane laundry list speeches, the silly rhetoric, the hostility to the free market — but these are all talked about. He has another habit that hasn’t been talked about so much and, of all the things he does, it makes me the most queasy.
It’s pretty subtle, but I think it’s worth keeping an eye on because, if it were to become full-blown, it has the potential to be the most socially damaging element of his presidency.
I’m talking about what I’m going to call his Goldstein-ism, his tendency to make veiled, dark allusions to a recently vanquished “other”, an evil being (he is never specific) who is, he always implies, the real cause of all our problems.
His references to his “inherited” problem, to bankers, greedy Wall Street and his “predecessor” are all too common, not to mention Limbaugh and Hannity.
So why this tendency to attempt to deflect criticism by blaming it on others? Well, consider the Obama march to the presidency. His entire campaign was based on how bad George Bush was and how necessary it was to replace him. Bush was Obama’s “Goldstein”. And Obama used Bush to deflect attention from his own paper thin resume and lack of experience. He managed to make Bush so bad that those things didn’t matter to most Americans who bought the characterization.
But Bush is gone now. And Obama has no specific “Goldstein” with whom he can shift blame and/or deflect attention. But Gutmann points out, he still tries to use Bush when possible. For example:
Monday was full of terrible economic news. It was another day of “unstoppable selling on Wall Street,” according to AP, a day in which Foreign Policy said ” the markets were sending an unambiguous signal that the U.S. economy is now headed in the wrong direction.” How did the administration respond?
I do not think it a coincidence that late in the day the administration “threw open the curtain on years of Bush-era secrets” as the ever in-the-tank Associated Press put it, with the release of memos “that claimed exceptional search-and-seizure powers…”
Soooo, what was in these scary-sounding memos? Midway down the article AP explains that the memos detailed possible legal rationale for tactics the Bush admin was considering using in its anti-terror program. You’d have to read further still to see that the “Bush administration eventually abandoned many of the legal conclusions.” Nevertheless, AP harrumphs, “the documents themselves [about stuff that had been discussed] had been closely held.” But who cares what the article actually said: It generated a nice headline — “Obama releases secret Bush anti-terror memos” — during a day the populace might have been thinking disloyal thoughts about the their president’s direction.
Of course this gets harder and harder for Obama to do, and besides, it’s unseemly if a president does it – that’s what minions are for. And as Bush fades, a new Goldstien is necessary. Enter Robert Gibbs, Rush Limbaugh, and others:
Jim Cramer. Rush Limbaugh. Rick Santelli.
What do they all have in common? Most likely, none of them is getting invited to the White House Christmas party.
All three media personalities have been singled out by President Obama’s press shop in the course of less than two weeks. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in doing so, has shown an unusual willingness to spar with cable and radio hosts who take shots at his boss.
The rebuttals have ranged from playful ribbing to disdainful scolding.
One of the things we didn’t see, for the most part, was these sorts of assaults on people who weren’t the political opposition during the Bush years. And, in fact, few assaults on those that were in the political opposition. Never once was Keith Olberman or a host of others called out from the White House Press Secretary’s podium. In fact, they were mostly, if not completely ignored. But obviously the same can’t be said of the Obama White House.
So, you have to ask, “why”?
Try Rule 12 from Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals“:
RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
As you recall, Mr. Bi-partisan, “heal the nation” Obama did have one thing on that thin resume – he was a community organizer from the Saul Alinsky school of organizing.
And as for the attacks coming from the White House Press podium? Rule 5 covers that:
RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
After watching the man for two plus years, I’ve come to realize this is more than a tendency, it’s his modus operandi. And one should assume his administration will reflect the bosses MO when dealing with criticism. The difference is Obama has himself under pretty tight control. I’m not so sure that can be said of some others. And that’s where Rule 6 comes in:
RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
The danger with Rule 6 as it is now being executed gleefully by Gibbs (“There are very few days that I’ve had more fun,” Gibbs said.) is that he (and others) will overreach. They always do. And it certainly came as no surprise to me to find out Rahm Emanuel was involved in the Limbaugh attacks. So my prediction is this new and advanced “politics of personal destruction” campaign that this administration has embarked on will blow up in their face at some point.
But that doesn’t detract from Gutmann’s point about Obama’s tendency to need and rely on a “Goldstein”. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but it seems to indicate, at least to me, a deep-seated sense of insecurity. If I had no more experience than Obama has, I might be looking for such a scape-goat myself. Knowing that, however, damn well doesn’t make me feel better about it though. But we shouldn’t be surprised when a Saul Alinsky trained community organizer acts like a Saul Alinsky trained community organizer, should we?