Sunday, March 02, 2008

Saul Alinsky, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama

I have not been paying much attention to the US primaries but Dreams from Obama gives the impression that Obama may be a different type of leader.
From today's Age articleby Guy Rundle:
"Clinton's bad luck was to be a candidate of the 1960s, or more particularly of the whole postwar period of confidence and forward-looking that crashed sometime around the late '70s. What made the '50s and '60s more similar than different — and what makes Clinton closer in many ways to John McCain than to Obama — was a belief that history was moving forward, that people were capable of shaping their collective destiny. This optimism was grounded in the fact that people's lives were still set within solid social connections: work, neighbourhood, unions, church and much more. Clinton's message presumes both that optimistic spirit, and that her audience has a reasonable grasp of how society works, a picture of it in their head.

Obama is of a different era, and he is talking to a different world. Most importantly, he knows it. Having trained as a community organiser in the southside Chicago group founded by the legendary organiser Saul Alinsky, he understands what has happened to the American public in the past 20 years. Put simply, society has collapsed, and with it, many people's sense of connection to others, and their ability to see themselves as an active force in their own world.

Alinsky taught that, before any political organisation of such people can take place, their sense of possibility must be revived, that they must be reached at their point of despair. Thus, what sounds like homily to the ears of a more professional political audience — "there is a time in history and the time is now, the fierce urgency of the present" and so on — is news to the vast numbers who have long felt that society is something that happens outside them, that they are simply a human surplus.

There is no need to specify a detailed program to them, because it is implicit in what "hope" is — of a health system where people are not sent home to die of easily curable diseases, of a minimum wage that is liveable, affordable study, an end to meaningless wars, and more.

It wouldn't matter what Clinton put up against this, or how good her organisation was, she simply doesn't have anything to match it."
From the Wikipedia article on Saul Alinsky:
"Alinsky was the subject of Hillary Rodham's senior honors thesis at Wellesley College, "There Is Only The Fight...": An Analysis of the Alinsky Model.[8] Rodham commented on Alinsky's "charm," but rejected grassroots community organizing as outdated. Once Hillary Rodham Clinton became First Lady of the United States, the thesis was suppressed by the White House for fear of being associated too closely with Alinsky's ideas.[9]

Alinsky also had a significant influence on Barack Obama, who is a United States Senator and candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.[8] Obama particularly used Alinsky's techniques while participating in Chicago community organizations in the 1980s."

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