Friday, September 5, 2008

Rudy, Palin and Community Organizers

You might be surprised that I haven't commented on either of the conventions over the last couple weeks. I've watched every day of both conventions (or at least TiVo'd and caught up) and the sheer volume of rhetoric has left me grasping for where to begin. I've also wanted to give myself a bit of time to cool down because both sides provoked a range of emotions that I didn't want to overly influence my writing.

But some of my strongest emotions were provoked two days ago after hearing Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin and they haven't really gone away. So, I thought I would say a few words.

In this post, I want to focus on a single comment both of them made that I felt crossed a line and, more than that, revealed something meaningful about these two individuals.

Sarah Palin moved me to the edge of my seat when she said the following:

Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves.

Great, I thought. Inform us about your record - make an argument that you will be able to take the reigns next year if the oldest President ever elected to a first term has his 5th recurrence of skin-cancer or, God forbid, some other health problem. Tell me something substantive about yourself. I'm listening with an open mind.

Instead, she said this:

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities.

(And by the way, she never quite remembered to tell us "what the job involves").

Rudy Giuliani preceded Gov. Palin that evening. If you can spare 45 seconds, you can observe the remarks (and the audience's favorable reaction) that prompted this post.

So why am I writing about this after all the things that were said by both parties in the last two weeks? It's standard practice for politicians to mock their opponents -particularly at their political conventions. But this remark was not merely demeaning Obama (who worked as an organizer in his youth), it was denigrating a service oriented profession.

If you're interested, you can read more about the job of community organizing here - but here is a pretty solid core definition:

Community organizers create social movements by building a base of concerned people, mobilizing these community members to act, and developing leadership from and relationships among the people involved.

Community organizers act as area-wide coordinators of all the programs of different agencies so as best to meet community needs for health and welfare services. They also facilitate self-help programs initiated by local common-interest groups, for example, by training local leaders to analyze and solve the problems of a community. Community organizers work actively, as do other types of social workers, in community councils of social agencies and in community-action groups. At times the role of community organizers overlaps that of the social planners.

So basically, community organizers help people help themselves. They are nothing less than the very embodiment of what the conservative movement once claimed (rightly) to champion and what it continues today to pretend that liberals reject in favor of government handouts.

I find this tremendously ironic and hypocritical. And given the boisterous positive response of the convention's crowd - both to Giuliani and Palin's statements - it is also sad.

Barack Obama gets a lot of credit for his role as a community organizer from those that support him. They say that after graduating with his elite education and given his personal gifts he could have taken any number of lucrative and prestigious jobs instead- and they are right.

Some of his more thoughtful critics like to say that given Obama's political ambitions, his "sacrifice" wasn't a sacrifice at all given the political network he built in the community where he eventually launched his career. Some further claim that this was one of Obama's chief intentions all along when he returned to Chicago. And you know... I'm willing to say that there is a good chance they are right.

But Giuliani and Palin did not attempt to cast doubt on Obama's intentions. Instead, they mocked the job itself and by extension, it's purpose. They also insulted all the other people that have served in the same capacity - most of whom were not able to use the experience to attain wealth or political power.

This says a great deal about Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin and yes, John McCain.


Unknown said...

It doesn't say anything about Rudy Giuliani that wasn't already known. If it shocks you that Rudy Giuliani is a despicable man, then you haven't been paying attention.

Megan said...

I couldn't agree more. I thought Palin's comment was way over the line.