What happened to the understanding and instincts of an organizer, being able to listen, forge the rap and flyer that works, and lead through others? A piece by George Packer in the March 15th edition of the New Yorker on Obama’s lost year was troubling and devastating on the President’s inability to connect with the American people. In an editorial coup the Packer article followed a profile on Treasury Secretary Geithner, who seemed committed to not listening, not hearing, and not caring about the impact on people and politics, as a matter of policy. Hauntingly the Packer piece seemed to echo some of the same themes where “responsibility” as policy was replacing the need to communicate and gain support of the public. Egads! This is fatal!!
Perhaps more devastating was Packer’s thrust that the President’s advisors seemed more committed to the man than the policies and a sense that he had no core. The comparisons to Reagan were depressing, but one admiring quote after another from fawning Democratic strategists like Paul Begala expressing not just admiration, but a clear reckoning that you could only make change if you had an ideology. Obama in one critique was spending too much time and energy hoping to cast himself as Roosevelt and not enough thinking about what he really wanted to achieve at rock bottom.
There is irony here of course. The right is constantly attacking him for his supposed ideology, yet unmistakably it seemed clear that part of the problem was his relentless, tone deaf search for the middle, lacking any central, personal convictions and principles, which is another way of thinking about ideology. How many wake up calls do they need here? What happened to the organizer.
In a small way I was also reminded of this problem while reading a story in the Times about the credibility problem President Caulderon of Mexico is having in Juarez and elsewhere because his military-might anti-drug strategy, bankrolled by more than a billion by first Bush and now Obama was not bringing security. In a footnote almost the reporter talked about a visit by a Mexico-based official of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) who was in Juarez this week meeting with community groups to talk about how to support community development, essentially some butter where guns were not working.
At the least we could have expected an ex-community organizer and now President to have known that and directed such programs at home and abroad as matters of policy, and maybe even as part of his personal ideology that community empowerment and development make sense in all situations.