L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

06 September 2008 Blog Home : September 2008 : Permalink

Effort vs Results

This blog is turning into (yet another) Palin tribute blog at the moment. For those of you who want comentary on other subjects just wait, I'l get back to them. One of the barbs that Sarah Palin got in against Barrack Obama was the "community organizer" dig.

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.

This caused the Obamanaics to come up with the (admittedly good at first sight) rejoinder - Jesus was a community organizer, Pilate was a governor. However the response doesn't stand up for long when you consider that Jesus actually did not organize his "community" to counter Roman Imperialism or slavery or any of the other injustices of life in palestine 2000 years ago. About the only "change" that Jesus actually tried to implement was to clear out the corrupt priests, money changers etc. in the temple and arguably that was what led to the Jewish leadership getting Pilate to crucify him on mostly trumped up charges.

[The sorts of charges that, had they been levelled against Obama in Chicago, would have resulted in about 5000 human rights lawyers filing petitions for this that and the other and getting wall to wall coverage on the national TV news.]

Obama, unlike Jesus, was indeed a community organizer. He was however even less successful than Jesus was. He didn't even get death threats because his community organizing was, as TNR reports, a miserable failure.  In his Time blog Joe Klein tries to put a positive spin on things:

... Obama was working for a group of churches that were concerned about their parishioners, many of whom had been laid off when the steel mills closed on the south side of Chicago. They hired Obama to help those stunned people recover and get the services they needed--job training, help with housing and so forth--from the local government. It was, dare I say it, the Lord's work--the sort of mission Jesus preached (as opposed to the war in Iraq, which Palin described as a "task from God.")

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.

However the description at TNR makes it clear that Obama was disillusioned with community organizing because it didn't actually work:

Obama attempted to put these principles into practice in South Chicago. Kellman and Kruglik's initial objective was to revive the region's manufacturing base--and preserve what remained of its steel industry--by working with unions and church groups to pressure companies and the city; but those hopes were quickly dashed. Indeed, during his three years in South Chicago, Obama was constantly having to scale back his objectives as one project after another faltered. First, he got community members to demand a job center that would provide job referrals, but there were few jobs to distribute. Then, he tried to create what he called a "second-level consumer economy" in Roseland consisting of shops, restaurants, and theaters. This, too, went nowhere. At that point, Kellman advised Obama to move elsewhere. "Stay here, and you are bound to fail," he told him.

But Obama remained. Next, he began to focus on providing social services for Altgeld Gardens. "We didn't yet have the power to change state welfare policy, or create local jobs, or bring substantially more money into the schools," he wrote. "But what we could do was begin to improve basic services at Altgeld--get the toilets fixed, the heaters working, the windows repaired." Obama helped the residents wage a successful campaign to get the Chicago Housing Authority to promise to remove asbestos from the units; but, after an initial burst of activity, the city failed to keep its promise. (As of last year, some residences still had not been cleared of asbestos.) In waging these campaigns, Obama's organization added staff, gained adherents, and won church support, including from the congregation of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But it failed to stem the area's overall decline. "Ain't nothing gonna change, Mr. Obama," says one resident quoted in Dreams from My Father who grows disillusioned with the Developing Communities Project. "We just gonna concentrate on saving our money so we can move outta here as fast as we can."

So while yes it is admirable that Obama did some community organizing (A for effort, A for hear in right place) it is also worth pointing out that it had minimal results (F for changes implemented).

What I hope Palin & McCain will point out next is the results of other spell where Obama was actually supposed to do something - when he was leading the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The CAC was, as this blog post explains, almost as successful as Barrack Obama's community organizer stint was. From the summary:

2) Review of Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) documents shows that Ayers and Obama each chaired the two CAC operating bodies from 1995 to 2000

3) CAC was at heart of Chicago school “wars” in 90s

4) CAC handed out more than $100 million in Chicago school system

5) CAC failed to improve student achievement but Ayers and Obama’s political goals were tackled

So the Obama managed to blow over $100 million that was supposed to improve the Chicago school system but ended up making no difference what so ever as far as the supposed aims of the organization. As the final report on the CAC says:

In 2003 the final technical report of the CCSR on the CAC was published. The results were not pretty. The “bottom line” according to the report was that the CAC did not achieve its goal of improvement in student academic achievement and nonacademic outcomes. While student test scores improved in the so-called Annenberg Schools that received some of the $150 million disbursed in the six years from 1995 to 2001,

“This was similar to improvement across the system….There were no statistically significant differences in student achievement between Annenberg schools and demographically similar non-Annenberg schools. This indicates that there was no Annenberg effect on achievement.

So in two jobs where he was supposed to make a difference Obama made no impact what so ever. It might be possible to claim that during his 3 years of community organizing he was hampered by a lack of funding, but that doesn't apply to his stint at CAC where he had a significant budget at his disposal.

Compare this with Governor Palin. When Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla she was re-elected in a landslide in 1999 (winning 909 out of 1234 votes cast) and when she stepped down in 2002, her named successor stepped in. No doubt there are other measures to judge her success but re-election is a pretty good overall proof. She also managed to get millions of dollars of federal funding to Wasilla, which indicates a certain amount of competence. Of course there is a fine line between effective fund-raising, pork barrel spending and crony lobbyist corruption and the latter two are things she wants to fight, however the ability to attract funding is no bad thing in itself and a sign of executive ability. Indeed she reminds me somewhat of the mayor of Mouans Sartoux here on the Riviera who also gets re-elected in landlsides despite being a rare left-wing mayor in the heavily right-wing Alpes Maritimes. He gets re-elected because he's a good mayor who runs the town well without the sorts of petty corruption that dog most of his neighbouring mayors.

Subesequent to her mayoral career, she was on the state oil and gas comission. There she discovered ethical issues with other politicians that resulted in both resignations and guilty findings in criminal trials. Then as governor she has presided over what pretty much everyone (even Time) agrees has been a cleaning out of corruption and crony politics.

This is interesting to compare to Obama in another way. Obama, as we were told in Ryan Lizza's New Yorker piece, embraced the corrupt Chicago political machine, has used it to his benefit and has never complained about it. Palin on the otherhand got involved in the corrupt Alaskan political machine, got sickened by the corruption, took it on and beat it.