Andrew Sullivan: Obama is also, at his core, a community organiser. Community organisers do not jump into a situation and start bossing people around. They begin by listening, debating, cajoling, inspiring and delegating. Less deciders than ralliers, community organisers explain the options, inspire self-confidence and try to empower others, not themselves. If you think of Obama even on a global stage, this is his mojo. And those community organisers do not tell you to expect instant results. It takes time when you try to build real change from below. But the change is stronger, deeper and more real when it comes.
I trust that the last post demonstrated that I could respond to the above paragraph with cool, arch detachment, yes? Good. Now permit me to give a somewhat more off-the-cuff reaction:
Why is it that I have the distinct feeling that, had President Obama moved more quickly and decisively on gay issues, Andrew Sullivan would not be complaining that he hadn’t expended enough time and energy on “cajoling” or had betrayed his “instinctive conservatism”?
Also, Sullivan may be right about what community organizers start by doing, but he kind of conveniently leaves out what they usually end by doing: sucking up loads of funding, launching splashy initiatives of dubitable subsequent efficacy, and then sailing on to the next project and leaving others holding the baby. (There are a lot of focused not-for-profit organizations out there that do real good at achieving clearly stated missions; the Annenberg Challenge does not appear to be one of them.)
Added later: About that whole who’s-a-real-conservative thing, Eric has this to say today:
Just to be clear, yes, I supported the war, and yes, I ridiculed the idea that Bush was a Nazi and that 9/11 was an inside job. That being the case, I became tagged with the “conservative” label no matter how many times I said I was a libertarian. This debate (in which my libertarianism was attacked as suspect) is typical, and I lost track of the number of times I was called a conservative (and worse) by lefties. But hey, I’m one of those annoying snots who rejects all labels and refuses to be bound by them, so I contemptuously ignored most of these references.
Times have changed. It now seems that supporting the war, not believing 9/11 was an inside job, and opposing the belief that Bush is a Nazi are no longer conservative positions. Even foot dragging on Gitmo has become suspiciously liberal.
Where does that leave the previously labeled conservatives?
Why, they’re supposed to be dragged into a contest. Something involving “conservative principles.” What are they? Beats me, as it seems to depend on whom you ask. To some, it’s enough simply to be against big government, or statism. But to others, you also have to be against all things which are said to threaten “family values.”
I don’t intrinsically mind labels as much as Eric does, but I do agree that they’re often used as…what’s a good word? Weapons? No, I think more like talismans. Slotting someone into a pre-defined category often seems to mean warding off the possibility that they’ll make you examine your own assumptions too hard. I can’t count the number of times I’ve explained to someone that I’m a libertarian (and for obvious reasons, I’m rarely the one to bring up politics in social situations), only to be answered with a pause, a few blinks, and “Oh. You’re a conservative.”
“Believe me, honey—the conservatives don’t want me on their team. I’m a libertarian. ‘Classical liberal’ works, too.”
“You’re a conservative.”
“If you want to think of me as a conservative, fine. I admire a lot of conservative thinkers, even though I myself am a libertarian. I value existing institutions, but I think the freedom to experiment is way civilization has gotten to—”
“No, but really—you’re a conservative.”
There almost always seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance going on: I’m gay but I support gun rights, I’ve spent most of my adult life abroad but I supported the Iraq invasion, I majored in comparative literature but I support Israel, or whatever. There has to be an explanation, and the easiest one to to reach for is “conservative.” And it wouldn’t bother me were it not for the fact that I then become accountable for some nasty thing Glenn Beck (whom I don’t listen to) said the other day, or what have you.
Added on 7 July: Thanks to Eric for the links back.