Barack Obama: Community Organizer as President?

On ABC’s This Week last Sunday, a panel discussed what President Obama should say in his upcoming speech on jobs and the economy. Douglas Holtz-Eakin (formerly John McCain’s policy adviser and chief economist for George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors) said Obama had to “show some ideological flexibility.”

This Week, 09/04/2011

No one laughed. Not even Paul Krugman, who was sitting right next to Holtz-Eakin. But Christiane Amanpour, the anchor, called him on it. “Do you think that’s true,… since he’s come completely to the Republican side of the debate?”

Amanpour was right. Many are frustrated with Obama’s giving in to Republican demands. But no one should be surprised. One of the things that got Obama elected was that he seemed fully capable of delivering on the promise to reach across the aisle to the Republicans and bring people together. After all, he had experience as a community organizer, didn’t he?

A 2007 article in The Nation recalls Obama’s style as an organizer working for the Developing Communities Project (DCP) on Chicago’s South Side in the late 1980s:

Loretta Augustine-Herron, a member of the DCP board that hired him, remembers him as someone who always followed the high road. “You’ve got to do it right,” she recalls him insisting. “Be open with the issues. Include the community instead of going behind the community’s back—and he would include people we didn’t like sometimes. You’ve got to bring people together. If you exclude people, you’re only weakening yourself. If you meet behind doors and make decisions for them, they’ll never take ownership of the issue.” (The Nation, April 16, 2007)

Is there a better description of Obama’s presidential style? And is it working? If your opponents want only one thing—your political defeat—can it work?


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