Posted by PrestoPundit on 09/08/2008

experiment in the warehousing of human beings under the banner of “wefare” and “social justice” — Byron York on Obama’s years as a “community organizer” in Chicago.  So Byron, what did Barack Obama learn from this experience, and what can we learn about him?

something had changed for Obama .. and he began to consider leaving Chicago for law school. As he looked back, he believed that, on one hand, he had trained some good people; Loretta Augustine-Herron .. But on the other hand, Obama seemed to realize that it was very, very hard to get anything done. “He didn’t see organizing making any significant changes in things,” Jerry Kellman recalled.

The solution, Obama felt, was to find a way to political power of his own.

“He was constantly thinking about his path to significance and power,” Mike Kruglik told me. “He said, ‘I need to go there [Harvard Law School] to find out more about power. How do powerful people think? What kind of networks do they have? How do they connect to each other?'”

In a few months, Obama was gone ..

Obama’s time in Chicago also revealed the conventionality of his
approach to the underlying problems of the South Side. Is the area
crippled by a culture of dysfunction? Demand summer jobs. Push for an
after-school program. Convince the city to spend more on this or that.
It was the same old stuff; Obama could think outside the box on ways to
organize people, but not on what he was organizing them for.

Certainly no one should live in an apartment contaminated by asbestos,
but Obama did not seem to question, or at least question very strongly,
the notion that the people he wanted to organize should be living in
Altgeld at all. The place was, after all, one of the nation’s capitals
of dysfunction. “Every ten years I would work on the census,” Yvonne
Lloyd told me. “I always had Altgeld. When you look at those forms from
the census, you had three or four generations in one apartment — the
grandmother, the mother, the daughter, and then her baby. It was
supposed to be a stepping stone, but you’ve got people that are never
going to leave.”

No doubt Obama would agree that that is a bad thing, but when a real
attempt to break through that culture of dysfunction — the landmark
1996 welfare-reform bill, now widely accepted as one of the most
successful domestic-policy initiatives in a generation — came up, Obama
vowed to use all the resources at his disposal to undo it. “I made sure
our new welfare system didn’t punish people by kicking them off the
rolls,” he said in 1999. Two years earlier, he had declared: “We want
to make sure that there is health care, child care, job training, and
transportation vouchers — everything that is needed to ensure that
those who need it will have support.” Obama applied his considerable
organizational skills to perpetuating the old, failed way of doing

BONUS: “The Disillusioned Activist:  Why Barack Obama gave up on ‘community organizing’.”  Money quote:

“Obama was also worried about something else. He told Kellman that he
feared community organizing would never allow him “to make major
changes in poverty or discrimination.” To do that, he said, “you either
had to be an elected official or be influential with elected
officials.” In other words, Obama believed that his chosen profession
was getting him nowhere, or at least not far enough. Personally, he
might end up like his [poor & defeated] father; politically, he would fail to improve the
lot of those he was trying to help.”


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