September 9, 2008

Obama as community organizer v. Romney as LDS missionary

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post waxes on about Barack Obama being a community organizer;

In the biographies of both presidential candidates are episodes of pure wonderment. No man can read about McCain's time as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and not wonder, "Could I do that?" For most of us, the answer -- the truthful answer -- is no.

For Obama, that episode has nothing to do with physical courage but much to do with moral commitment. At age 22 -- a graduate of Columbia University and already making good money as a financial researcher, he walked away to work with the unemployed and alienated in Chicago. Obama, who later went to Harvard Law School, knew precisely what a valuable commodity he was and how much money he could have made. He turned away from all that -- or, at least, postponed it, and not because community organizing was the route to political success. (Just name one.) Once again, ask yourself if you would have done it.

Oh, boy... First, Obama wasn't "already making good money as a financial researcher." His one private sector job was as a copy editor for a newletter sweat shop notorious for paying low salaries. (He also worked for a Ralph Nader project to get Harlemites to recycle - very SWPL) And his community organizer pay ($35k after 3 years) wasn't all that bad by the standards of Chicago yuppies in the 1980s. (I was there, I know.)

Obama's less than spectacular entrance to the New York job market is linked to his less than spectacular grades at Columbia. For a future politician, he didn't seem to make much of an impression on people at Columbia -- few can remember him. This, I would speculate, was linked to what seems like a long-lasting depressive episode he underwent during his NYC years (1981-1985), which was perhaps linked to the death of his father in 1982. That's a lot of links, but it fits together with the sour tone of the New York section of Dreams From My Father. (This also may have been the period (or, it could have been later in Chicago) when he broke up with a white girl with whom he was on the path to marry because, in effect, she wasn't black. That couldn't have improved his mood much, either.) This rather monastic, asocial period wasn't unproductive for Obama -- he lost weight, stopped drinking, jogged a lot, read Nietzsche, and generally reinvented himself from the mostly cheerful, lightweight kid he had been to the ambitious, cautious, ascetic, hardworking, skillfully manipulative person he is now.

And, contra Cohen, being a black activist, like Obama was, is a very good entryway to being a black politician, which soon became Obama's ambition -- to be mayor of Chicago. People like Richard Cohen don't think about it much because black politicians who start out as black activists typically hit a glass ceiling at the level of Member of the House or mayor of a decaying city -- they can win in districts gerrymandered to produce black legislators or in heavily black cities, but not at the statewide level. Of course, even Cohen should remember one black activist who made it big in D.C. politics: Marion Barry.

For example, Obama lost in the 2000 Democratic House primary to the incumbent Representative, Bobby Rush, who had been a Black Panther. On the Black Enough scale, Black Panther beat Black Activist in the eyes of black voters. In the eyes of white voters, however, the kind of black politicians created by the Voting Rights Acts' gerrymandering to forge majority minority districts are unappealing race men.

So, Obama, realizing he would never be black enough to reach the glass ceiling open to conventional black politicians, then did an about-face in 2001 and re-gerrymandered his state senate district to include a large fraction of white Lakefront Liberals on the North Side. He reconfigured his political ambitions and style to be the black candidate who was White Enough to win the glittering prizes.

Barack Obama's three years as a community organizer are comparable in some ways to Mitt Romney's 2.5 years as an LDS missionary.

KUTV in Salt Lake City reported in 2007:

But [Mitt Romney] credits his path in life, in part, to changes he saw in the nation while he was away on his mission in France -- at the height of unrest throughout the world.

As written in the International Herald Tribune on Wednesday, Romney was called to serve an LDS mission in France between June 1966 and December 1968 -- a time when the United States saw turbulence over the Vietnam War.

While overseas, Romney was not privy to the happenings at home because missionaries are discouraged from reading newspapers, watching television or making telephone calls. According to the article, Romney staunchly defended the Vietnam War while trying to spread the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- partly because of his conservative nature and partly because of his patriotic conviction to stand behind the actions of his homeland.

Romney and his companions spent 12 hours a day knocking on doors throughout France, which often led them to defend the Vietnam War. At the time his father, Michigan governor George Romney, was running for the Republican presidential nomination as an anti-war candidate -- a detail unknown to Mitt.

Romney eventually rose to a position of power during the France mission, leading him to oversee a group of 175 people. Peers recall that he constantly vented new ideas to efficiently tune their mission work -- some worked, most didn't.

Romney's personal sacrifices of comfort sound larger than Obama's (no media!), while their performance was similar (strong in a relative sense -- they both climbed the hierarchy -- but weak in an absolute sense -- they didn't accomplish much).

The main difference, of course, is that Obama has constantly milked his community organizing days for electoral advantage while Romney didn't get much of anything from his mission outside of from Mormons. If the general public was aware of it, it probably hurt him. Compared to where John McCain spent 1966-1968, Romney's monastic existence doesn't cut much ice. But even if McCain had just been in the Navy rather than a POW, or even if Romney was just running against Giuliani and Huckabee, this part of Romney's biography wouldn't have done him any good with the voters. They would ask, reasonably enough: "What's in it for us as Americans? You were off promoting your own group -- why should we care?"

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

25 comments:

Blode said...

But of course, Mormonism is a religion, while zealously advocating for your community, believing in progress, having faith in democratically-controlled social programs, preaching the gospel of social change, and eventually coming to believe you are an instrument of God, is completely secular, and absolutely compatible with the beliefs of millions agnostics, atheists, and religious folks who keep their beliefs out of their voting behavior.

So, really, you're comparing apples to Granny Smiths on this one, Steve.

rast said...

And his pay in Chicago in the 1980s ($35k after 3 years) wasn't all that bad by the standards of Chicago in the 1980s.

Redundant, delete "in Chicago in the 1980s".

Indra Maghavan said...

Wow, that is a truly brilliant and eye-opening analogy. Man, what are you doin' working here?

I don't think there is a polite way for McCain-Palin to use such a charge, though. Whereas as little "awareness raising" is a great thing for the rank and file to do, when the candidates themselves do it, it would certainly come off as too negative, if not racist.

What are they supposed to say? "My opponent has spent his whole career focused on black people only!" Uh, that is probably why most people are voting for him.

The insight is great, but how can they reach "middle America" with an acceptable translation. For example, getting up on stage and saying "Obama, you are a disgusting racist." Would that work?

Anonymous said...

Okay, Drudge just broke w/ "Lipstick on a pig is still a pig"

It's an old expression, but the rest of what he said shows that he knew exactly what he was doing and screams passive-aggressive:
"No, she’s new!" Obama said. "She hasn’t been on the scene, you know, she’s got five kids and my hat goes off to anybody who’s looking after five. I’ve got two and they tire Michelle and me out!"

Here's the rest that gives a good account:
http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/09/obama-says-mc-1.html

BTW, Steve, you said much about his depressive episode and that his predilection for getting them may be his achilles heel. His behavior vis a vis Palin has struck me as odd: he wasn't going to go after and suddenly got personal, upping the venom each time, though it honestly didn't take long at all.

I knew she had drawn blood at the RNC and just wondered how he would handle it; I kind of expected this.

Anonymous said...

Steve you rock!! You're a journalistic powerhouse, in all seriousness. Keep it up. I'm so excited about your book and I think we should start an internet campaign to hype it and get it into as many "mainstream" people's laps as possible. good luck with everything!

SFG said...

For Obama, that episode has nothing to do with physical courage but much to do with moral commitment. At age 22 -- a graduate of Columbia University and already making good money as a financial researcher, he walked away to work with the unemployed and alienated in Chicago. Obama, who later went to Harvard Law School, knew precisely what a valuable commodity he was and how much money he could have made. He turned away from all that -- or, at least, postponed it, and not because community organizing was the route to political success. (Just name one.) Once again, ask yourself if you would have done it.
What I find repellent here is the equation of giving up Harvard Law with being tortured by the Vietnamese for all those years. I mean, really.

I don't know if Obama thinks he's an instrument of God. Some loony people on the left believe that, but you can find loony people on the right who think Bush is chosen by God. (Remember "BUSH is LORD"?)

I'm voting for Obama because I want to punish the Republicans for fucking up regulation of the financial industry, the response to Katrina, and the ginormous tax cuts on the rich. And I think it's time this country had universal health care like the rest of the civilized world. No messianism here. He's human, but he's better than the other guy.

Anonymous said...

How did he get into Harvard Law without honors from Columbia? Was the affirmative action pool that shallow?

When do you think we'll see his SATs?

Kent Gatewood

jbday said...

"...even if Romney was just running against Giuliani and Huckabee, this part of Romney's biography wouldn't have done him any good with the voters. They would ask, reasonably enough: 'What's in it for us as Americans? You were off promoting your own group -- why should we care?"

Wasn't Huckabee "promoting his own group" during the 1980s and the early 1990s working for a televangelist and being president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention? Huckabee had much higher position in his religion than Romney did in his, but that was never mentioned because Romney's religion is "wierd."

Tino said...

If you want to convert 1985 wage numbers a good rule it multiply by 2,5.

So 35.000 is the rough equivalent of 88.000 today.

Obama essentially got a job paying that within a few months would pay him at least 50.000 in 2008 college graduate dollars.

(you have pure inflation of 104% since 1985, plus average wage increase of men with bachelor degrees of about 23%.).

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/p18.html

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/p19.html

http://woodrow.mpls.frb.fed.us/index.cfm

Ron Guhname said...

Let us not forget that the parents of Mormon missionaries get the privilege of PAYING their kid's way during the two years (unless they're too poor). Some parents pay so much, they can't afford to help the kids though college.

Remind me again how much Obama earned? Oh but I forget that Jesus was a community organizer.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the Mormons really amaze me.

http://www.detroitblog.org/?p=542

Concerned said...

Does anyone else here think that Obama has a problem not with white people but with white women? They seem to really tick him off. Is that just my opinion or do people agree?

Steve notes that Obama "lost weight, stopped drinking, jogged a lot, read Nietzsche, and generally reinvented himself from the mostly cheerful, lightweight kid"

so when he was plump he was on a personality level more lightweight? Maybe someone can map a graph of Obama's weight and his moods. Maybe losing weight did something to his serotonin levels.

Half Sigma said...

When I attended the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1980s, all the black students hung out together (they all ate at one side of one cafeteria), so most white students didn't get to know many of them.

The black sorority would walk around campus in the middle of the night screaming stuff. I guess they were trying to ensure that all the white people trying to sleep would hate them.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: His one private sector job was as a copy editor for a newletter sweat shop notorious for paying low salaries... Obama's less than spectacular entrance to the New York job market is linked to his less than spectacular grades at Columbia. For a future politician, he didn't seem to make much of an impression on people at Columbia -- few can remember him.

Well, with one obvious exception - Edward Said remembered him.

But given that he obviously did pretty horribly at Columbia [if he'd even had so much as a low "B" average, then, with the melanin in his skin, he could have had his choice of any job on Wall Street], the obvious question becomes: How DID he get into Harvard Law School?

Steve Diamond opens up the possibility that it was the Minow family who got him into HLS [Minow Sr worked with Bernardine Dohrn & Michelle LaVaughn Robinson at Sidley & Austin, and one of the Minow daughters is a professor at HLS]:

Who "sent" Obama?
By Steve Diamond
globallabor.blogspot.com

Sidley Austin LLP - Our People - Newton Minow
sidley.com

HLS: Faculty Directory - Martha L. Minow
law.harvard.edu

Jack Cashill, on the other hand, thinks it was the Saudi Arabian front man, Khalid al-Mansour:

Is Khalid al-Mansour the man behind Obama myth?
By Jack Cashill
wnd.com

A recent televised interview with octogenarian entrepreneur and politico Percy Sutton, on a New York City show called "Inside City Hall," sheds light on the question of who this godfather might be.

A Manhattan borough president for 12 years and a credible candidate for mayor of New York City in 1977, Sutton spoke knowingly about the Obama candidacy. Although unspecified as to date, the interview likely took place within the last few months.

"I was introduced to [Obama] by a friend," Sutton told the interviewer. The friend's name was Dr. Khalid al-Mansour, and the introduction took place about 20 years ago.

Sutton described al-Mansour as "the principle adviser to one of the world's richest men." He also implied that al-Mansour was currently raising money for Obama.

Knowing that Sutton had friends at Harvard, al-Mansour asked Sutton to "please write a letter in support of [Obama] ... a young man that has applied to Harvard." Sutton gladly did so.


Cashill also doubts that Obama wrote "Dreams from my Father" - Cashill thinks that it was probably ghost-written:

The Mansourian Candidate
By Jack Cashill
wnd.com

Having written a book on intellectual fraud, "Hoodwinked," and being something of a literary detective, I had no doubt on reading Barack Obama's 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," that Obama did not really write it.

The style is above his pay grade, way above...


Having been treated to a summer of "breathalyzers for asthmatics" and "57 states" and "Penn State NitaLLy Lions" and "New Pennsylvania", it's become pretty clear that Obama doesn't have a whole lot going for him upstairs.

Of course, if Michelle LaVaughn Robinson could get into HLS, given her illiterate senior thesis at Princeton, then it's possible that all you need is the melanin, and maybe a low-C/high-D grade point average.

Lucius Vorenus said...

sfg: (Remember "BUSH is LORD"?)

Uhh, no?!?

There used to be an ongoing series of threads at Free Republic, called "Pray for President Bush, Day XYZW", but, generally speaking, monotheists don't go around declaring random politicians to be Gods.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Gee. it's not like the French ever had anything to do with French Indo...uh, Vietnam now, did they? And we were the ones catching hell from them? Wow. Just...wow.

The more you learn about Mormon missionary service the more you respect the sacrifices missionaries make. They pay their own way (granted, no problemo for the son of the former American Motors CEO). They work 6 days a week with only one day off. They get up early - 6am-ish - and go to bed late. They spend almost the entire day tracting, telling other people about their beliefs. They're never allowed to part with their companion, another person of the same sex who changes every couple of months. They don't even et to choose their companions - love 'em or hate 'em, you're stuck with 'em. They're not allowed to watch TV, not allowed to read newspapers, not allowed to phone their friends or family, not allowed to swim, dance, drink or do just about anything else that normal 19-21 year olds do. Sure, if they go to a foreign country they might come away knowing the language and culture, but there are more exciting ways to do that - hey, France has nude beaches!

That's why I could never bring myself to do the Mormon mission thing.

Granted it wasn't Vietnam. Lots of soldiers in Nam would've gladly traded places with Mitt. And that was one of Mitt's problems - not just that he was Mormon, which didn't help, but that he was a rich Mormon who did mission service an escaped Vietnam. There's a perception, true or false, that Mormon guys escaped Vietnam duty by going on missions, and it didn't help Mitt.

As for Barack Obama, Community Organizer: of course he did it to further his political career. Of course. Face it: the Democratic Party's two leading candidates have both been plotting world domination since their college years. That's the problem with Democrats - the arrogant presumption of the right to rule.

headache said...

Steve,
You must be one of the few pundits who understand what Obama really does and think. This picture of Obama is in such stark contrast to that portrayed in the media. The media is being incredibly irresponsible. They are tricking people to vote for a person who in reality is almost the opposite of who the claim he is. And both Obama and the press know it.

tg said...

I personally would prefer to work in France rather than the ghettos of Chicago, but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I went on an LDS mission during the Vietnam period. At the time each stake (diocese) was limited to sending out two missionaries a year (ten to sixty is a more normal number, although it may have been fewer then). Becaue my stake had already sent out its quota for the year, the only reason I was allowed to go was that my draft number was 365 and my draft board thought it unlikely I would be called up.

The point is, missions were not a safe haven from the war for most of us. Someone ought to ask Mitt what his draft number was.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Romney's personal sacrifices of comfort sound larger than Obama's (no media!)

Yeah, that means ROmney was separated from his "loved ones" while Obama was not.

Anonymous said...

The point is, missions were not a safe haven from the war for most of us. Someone ought to ask Mitt what his draft number was.

These things are a matter of public record. The draft lottery was performed yearly in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972 for persons born between 1944 and 1950 for the 1969 lottery, and then men born in 1951 for 1970, 1952 for 1971, and 1953 for 1972. The 1972 results weren't used because the draft was ended in 1973.

Thus, Romney would have been eligible for the draft in the December 1969 lottery.

According to this site:
http://www.sss.gov/lotter1.htm

Romney’s birthday, 12 March (1947), received the lottery number 300, and men were called up to service with numbers of 195 in this year. Thus, it is next to impossible that Romney ever received a draft notice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for checking. My point was that it was pretty darned hard to use missions as a way of escaping the draft.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

The point is, missions were not a safe haven from the war for most of us. Someone ought to ask Mitt what his draft number was.

I said it was the perception that Mormons got out of the draft by serving missions. Thanks for the interesting data, though.

Simon Oliver Lockwood said...

The average left-winger will respond to the high draft number argument with, "The Army was accepting volunteers, wasn't it?"

Anonymous said...

It's still taking volunteers. I served my two-year mission and just finished a year in Iraq. What's stopping you from going over?