John Maki has a really good article in the Windy Citizen regarding Obama’s past work as a community organizer and how it can uniquely qualify him to be President. Here’s an excerpt, but go read the whole thing
Here is a typical community-organizing scenario. Let’s say you are a community organizer who has cultivated and trained a strong base of support and identified a particular problem to attack. You then target a public official who can get you something you want. Let’s call him Official X. He chairs an appropriations committee that is deciding whether to fund a program your base supports. You and your base request a meeting with him. Official X agrees and asks that you come to his office. Before you go, you coach a core group of your base, the people you call ‘your leaders,’ on what to say and how to behave at the meeting.
After painstakingly rehearsing everyone’s roles, so that no part of the meeting is left to chance, you are ready to do the real thing. You take your leaders to the meeting, and you have one of them present your base’s demands. Your leader explains to Official X what you want him to do, and why it is in his self-interest to do so. Whatever arguments your leader uses to make their case, he also makes sure that Official X understands that he will pay a price for not helping. If Official X stands in your way, your base is going to try to find a way to hurt him, whether it’s by attacking him through the press, or turning out people to vote against him. If this tactic makes Official X angry, you could care less. You do not want people in power to like you. As a community organizer, you want them to respect and fear you.
But you also make sure that Official X knows so long as he helps you out, you will help him out too. After all, as a community organizer, your job is not to change the system; it is to master and use the system’s rules to your advantage.
If you think these tactics resemble standard forms of political intimidation, you are right.
Many of us have bad memories of the twits who wanted to be community organizers because they wanted to ‘bring people together’ and ‘help’ them. When they failed out of organizing they show up in political science or sociology grad school being bad at being a scientist as much as they were bad at organizing.
Good organizers understand, as John points out, it’s about raw political power and being such a pain in the ass that others with power want you to go away enough to give you what you want is the way to be effective. Of course, good organizers don’t go away either and just keep moving goalposts as they slowly achieve objectives.
The Presidency is the ultimate community organizer in many ways. Neustadt talks about the Presidency being mostly about the power to persuade. That’s exactly what a community organizer does. An organizer doesn’t have any formal power, but instead stitches together coalitions based on shifting interests and allegiances, exactly as a President does. Go check out John’s piece, I think it’s one of the more thoughtful pieces on Obama and his style we’ve seen. Admittedly, the national press has set a low bar, but several local writers have done better and John is amongst them.