Today Obama announced the creation of a permanent organizing body that will help push his goals. Here’s the video:
I have to confess I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I believe that community based political organizing is one of the most powerful tools we have for engaging people in the political system and may have a lot of positive results. However, in order for an organizing group to be successful I think it needs to be non-partisan and willing to criticize all members of government that need criticizing. Moreover, I think it needs to be a place that emulates Athenian democracy, where the members debate amongst themselves and grope towards consensus, rather than having marching orders from up top that all members then follow.
I’m not sure that Obama’s organizing groups will live up to those points; by definition it means that they would criticize him a lot and that Republican citizens would be very active in the debate process. (I think that the Republican political machine has become cynically radicalized and a lot of classic Republicans have no party right now, but they do have wisdom to contribute to the process.) Is Obama really going to create an organization that may find itself in opposition to him quite frequently?
One thing that irritates me about the current political environment is that goals have become intertwined with means. Protecting the environment, reducing government, or working towards peace — those are all things that anyone should support in theory.
Yet the concepts themselves have become politicized to the point of ridiculousness. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve met a lot of people refuse to conserve because “that’s what treehuggers do” or that government social programs must be large because “companies will always screw people over.” Heck, the Republican Convention was one giant swipe at community organizers as liberal cults. Yet, leaving aside that those broad generalizations aren’t correct, even to the extent that they are at the moment, doesn’t mean that they have to be that way. Most people from other countries think we’re idiots for having environmentalism be political for instance.
So when Obama says that he wants to use this to help implement “a solution to our economic crisis, an end to the war in Iraq, affordable health care for all, new sources of energy that will power our economy and protect our environment” does he mean he wants a group that will get marching orders to put pressure on Congress and implement things in the way Obama has already decided, or does he mean creating a dialogue for building consensus even if it’s against his initial plans? In the second case, it means that he would act as the figurehead for the People that helps reflect the broad consensus for the country to Congress, and then they would work out the details. That would be a radical change in the role of the Presidency that I approve of highly. If it’s the former then it’s just Rovian politics redux.
Based on my understanding of his political belief system I do believe it will be closer to what I approve of, but on the other hand there will be strong pressure from the DNC to politicize it. Thus, I am tentatively optimistic. Of course, I also think things will get so badly economically that there will be no time for consensus building and people will demand steadfast leadership at all costs…so even if Obama is a political savior it doesn’t guarantee he’ll be a good President right now.