Jeff Pearlman

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The community organizer

Mercifully, this will be my final political post for a while. Even I’ve grown tired of hearing myself spew.

Yesterday I was watching a CNN reporter interview some young Republicans in New York City after a convention party. One of the subjects, a white kid with neat brown hair and a business suit, was wearing a pin that said COMMUNITY ORGANIZER. He was not trying to be complimentary.

A similar theme really caught my attention from the previous night, when Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin repeatedly mocked Barack Obama’s experience as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago. This certainly didn’t make me mad, or frustrated, or enraged.

But it did make me sad.

Will someone please explain to me why anyone in the world—especially a group of people trying to capture the White House—would mock any sort of sincere public servitude? While politicians like to refer to themselves as “public servants,” we certainly know by now that it’s a ludicrous phrase; that the majority of these people make sweet salaries; live lavish lifestyles; are fed grapes by the special interest groups and handed bars of gold by the lobbyists. The guy who collects my garbage is a public servant in the truest sense. Politicians are, well, politicians.

So, again, why oh why would a party that is often mocked for representing the rich and powerful tear into this specific portion of Obama’s life—the time when he seems to have done selfish, unambiguos good. Here, from Wikipedia, is a description of his community organizer days:

After four years in New York City, Obama moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer for three years from June 1985 to May 1988 as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Greater Roseland (Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale) on Chicago’s far South Side. During his three years as the DCP’s director, its staff grew from 1 to 13 and its annual budget grew from $70,000 to $400,000, with accomplishments including helping set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants’ rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute.

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If I’m the Democrats, I jump on this. In every post-convention interview, I start with, “Here’s what confused me. Immediately after college, Senator Obama moved to the South Side of Chicago—a tough, crime-infested, drug-battered area—to help people. He worked with schools. He worked with children. He made $19,000. And yet the Republicans choose to mock this sort of service; to deem it worthless. What sort of message—and I’m being serious here—what sort of message does that send to every kid thinking of joining the Peace Corps? Or volunteering for the American Red Cross? Or the Salvation Army? It says that your service is not only meaningless, but worthy of mock and scorn. If that’s what the Republicans are saying, it’s a sad day for America.”

  • Amen.

  • Chris

    I’m middle of the road.. and try my best to realize my bias.. here is my take on the shots at the community organizer:

    I didn’t take the statements as ‘mocking’ someone for being a community organizer. I saw all that as a direct response to the, at that point, very fresh criticism of Palin. That she did not have enough executive experience to be VP. “Being Mayor of a town of 9000 doesn’t cut it” sort of stuff.

    They were saying.. “Being mayor of a town of 9000, and governor of Alaska provides far more executive experience then being a community organizer in Chicago.” Not “Being a community organizer is stupid.

    Perhaps you disagree..

    As an aside.. One of the things that makes republicans obnoxious is the claim to own the military, and the drill first mentality.

    One of the things that is obnoxious about democrats, particularly right now, is every political shot the right makes about Obama… Someone says “That’s racist.” As you did on here Sept. 3. It’s not racist, it’s politics. Politicians take shots, often silly shots, at one another during a campaign. That’s how the system is set up. Claiming its racist is stupid and distracts from real discourse.

    You’re an educated man.. I’d expect better.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

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