We know they speak in dog-whistles. If you were wondering what Sarah Palin meant by dissing ‘community organizers’, she was not thinking about Jesus, or Martin Luther King Jr, or Mahathma Gandhi….just so you know who their base is….
‘Community Organizers’ Is a Dog Whistle:
Matt is absolutely right on the merits, but, make no mistake about it, “community organizers” is code for ‘uppity black people who are taking your tax dollars.’ One thing that is becoming pretty clear is that the Republicans are making a desperate pitch to the remnants of Nixon’s ‘silent majority’ (which is getting very long in the tooth, and isn’t even close to a majority anymore either).
My heroes are community organizers who impact lives everyday in their neighborhood. I have the utmost admiration for such selfless, often frustrating, and deeply committed work. And I prefer this sentiment:
‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’
This is what Palin and Giuliani were mocking. They were making fun of a young man’s decision “to serve a cause greater than himself,” in the words of John McCain. They were, therefore, mocking one of their candidate’s favorite messages. Obama served the poor for three years, then went to law school. To describe this service–the first thing he did out of college, the sort of service every college-educated American should perform, in some form or other–as anything other than noble is cheap and tawdry and cynical in the extreme.
So I applaud Senator McCain’s call to young people to become active in their community. His words of inspiration and record of support for community organizers is admirable and I am pleased that he has chosen to emphasize this fact in Teaching Tolerance, a publication directed toward young people.
Who knows? One of these future community organizers might grow up to become President.
But look, let’s call a spade a spade: When Giuliani sneered about community organizers on the “South side” of Chicago, it’s pretty clear what he was saying: Barack Obama spent his time rabble-rousing among black people. It’s no different then when the RNC called him a “street organizer.” A community organizer can be a PTA member or a Christian Coalition lieutenant. Indeed, there’s something deeply conservative about the vocation, which informally organizes citizens to demand better, fairer, and wiser treatment from detached government bureaucrats. But that’s really not what Palin and Giuliani and the RNC are getting at. Community organizer isn’t being used to describe a job but a background. Obama organized poor black people. Helped channel their anger and grievances and anxieties. That’s change you can fear.
Ezra points out that the constant mockery of Obama’s time spent community organizing is a racial dogwhistle, which sounds about right. He spent time digging around in the surefire pool of racial resentment that is any group of black people larger than three that aren’t wearing sports uniforms, meaning, of course, that he was avoiding Real Work and probably smoking his crack rock or working on his recipe for chitlins.
Although I’m not surprised, I am a bit impressed at how easy it is for Republicans to take anything and turn it into a mockable “other”. It’s not that community organizing is an incredibly common act which is so far removed from the act of governing that someone mentioning it gives you a reason to scratch your head and cock your eyebrow (like, say, your membership in the PTA). It’s that it’s an inherently alien and strange act that normal people just don’t do, and is codeword for effete ghetto liberalism – a concept which probably didn’t exist before right now, but seems as good as any to explain the way that Republicans are playing the culture card on Obama. Think Brewster’s Millions, except that halfway through the film Richard Pryor collaborates with a balding ex-terrorist and a puffy-faced pastor who threaten the downfall of America until John Candy drops a bucket of water on their heads, then they sputter off and go slip on a banana peel.
Michelle Malkin, who apparently spent the entirety of her convention-watching experience laughing uncontrollably at the screen, attempts to explain the right’s stand-up festival…explosion…festiplosion of comedy:
Let me clarify something. Nobody is mocking community organizers in church basements and community centers across the country working to improve their neighbors’ lives. What deserves ridicule is the notion that Barack Obama’s brief stint as a South Side rabble-rouser for tax-subsidized, partisan non-profits qualifies as executive experience you can believe in.
Again, what Palin said:
“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer — except that you have actual responsibilities[.]”
I understand that comedy is usually about the audience understanding the unspoken connection between the commentary onstage and their base of knowledge, but to say that Palin’s comment was restricted to a commentary on Obama given what she said is like saying that me walking on stage and saying “sandwich” into the microphone is actually a killer bit on Abu Ghraib, on-the-go yogurt snacks and professional archery.
In case you don’t believe my gloss, let’s look at how Palin’s audience took her not-at-all-general commentary on community organizing as it relates only to Barack Obama. Jim Treacher remarks that Don Corleone was a community organizer and then offers a space for community organizers “to stop the mockery of, um, whatever the hell it is you do”. Bob Owens calls community organizing the vocation of “Bull Conner” (sic) and Charles Manson. White supremacist Steve Sailer uses Tom Wolfe to portray community organizing as a hotbed of anti-white resentment, making me think Bob and Steve should really talk.
So, somehow, everyone from us apostolic Obama liberals to rabid right wingers took Palin’s statement as an indictment of community organizing as a whole, and Palin’s base even took it a step further, broadening the slur to racists, murderers, gangsters and college kids who annoy increasingly shitty authors.
The message that one gets from this is that the greatest service we can perform for our community is to avoid entirely the prospect of getting involved with it unless you can gain some sort of elected role that allows for rapid ascension and ruthless abuse of the details of your biography. And if you’re wondering why that sounds exactly like what Republicans are accusing Obama of, hockey moms pit bulls POW babies! Elitist.