There were many troubling influences in Obama’s life that were revealed during the 2008 campaign—Reverend Wright, Rezko, Ayers, Alinsky—that conflicted with his calm and reasonable-seeming demeanor and the moderate way he positioned himself. Those of us who looked deeply were disturbed by what we saw.
But our warnings got little or no traction. Most people weren’t paying attention to the details. Obama’s smooth surface disarmed them, and they took it for the whole.
Now even a good many of those who were seduced by the con and voted for Obama are feeling uneasy about him. And those who saw him earlier as a committed leftist, and attempted to warn, have the dubious distinction of being able to claim “I told you so.” Fat lot of good that does now.
The revelation of Obama’s background as a community organizer, and especially his ties to the work of Saul Alinsky (including the fact that he taught workshops in Alinsky’s methods and concepts), had sounded a particularly harsh and jarring bell for people who took the trouble to understand what these things signified. Now that we all look back with clearer hindsight, and read articles such as this Ryan Lizza profile of Obama that originally appeared in March of 2007 in TNR, that bell rings with an almost deafening clang:
The first and most fundamental lesson Obama learned was to reassess his understanding of power. Horwitt says that, when Alinsky would ask new students why they wanted to organize, they would invariably respond with selfless bromides about wanting to help others. Alinsky would then scream back at them that there was a one-word answer: “You want to organize for power!”
Galluzzo shared with me the manual he uses to train new organizers, which is little different from the version he used to train Obama in the ’80s. It is filled with workshops and chapter headings on understanding power: “power analysis,” “elements of a power organization,” “the path to power.” Galluzzo told me that many new trainees have an aversion to Alinsky’s gritty approach because they come to organizing as idealists rather than realists. But Galluzzo’s manual instructs them to get over these hang-ups. “We are not virtuous by not wanting power,” it says. “We are really cowards for not wanting power,” because “power is good” and “powerlessness is evil.”
There’s a great deal of talk about whether Obama is an idealogue or a pragmatist, or whether he is a pawn of others. I have never felt the latter was true, although there probably have been powerful mentors and supporters pushing him along. But I have long seen him as both a true-believer ideologue and a tactical pragmatist who takes whatever position he needs to if and when it suits his ends, and abandons it with impunity when it no longer does. Here’s Alinsky again:
At the heart of the Alinsky method is the concept of “agitation”–making someone angry enough about the rotten state of his life that he agrees to take action to change it; or, as Alinsky himself described the job, to “rub raw the sores of discontent.”
“Rubbing raw the sores of discontent,” encouraging class hatred, sequentially stirring up anger at doctors and Wall Street and insurers and whomever might happen to be the targeted scapegoat of the hour, Obama’s demagoguery follows the Alinsky rules he studied and taught so carefully.
It’s only a little over a year into his presidency, and the person we see today barely contains any remnants of the campaign facade, because it is no longer necessary. Obama has shed that old skin like a snake molting, and he’s left it to shrivel on the ground where it lies, unneeded.