Thursday, August 4, 2011

These Foolish Things Remind Me of You

Yesterday afternoon Roy Edroso put up a post mocking Stanley Kurtz, whom I always confuse with Howard Kurtz, the same way liberals keep confusing Naomi Klein with Naomi Wolf. Kurtz had claimed in a National Review Online post that President Obama, "still every inch the Alinskyite organizer, ... talks about uniting, even as he deliberately polarizes. He moves incrementally toward radical left goals, but never owns up to his ideology. Instead, he tries to work indirectly, by way of the constituencies he seeks to manipulate."

Edroso wonders, reasonably enough, "how, in the situation just concluded, Obama was a more polarizing force than the Republicans who used the debt ceiling to force a crisis, and how his capitulation to them manipulates constituencies to realize a radical-left goal." True, but Obama has certainly been a polarizing figure, even within the Democratic party. Maybe he's using Alinskyite organizing principles to destroy the Democrats. That the Republicans are a polarizing force seeking to realize a radical-right goal doesn't mean that Obama isn't one too.

But I noticed something else, in line with my own preoccupations: just like so many of Obama's faithful supporters, Kurtz believes that Obama is playing eleven-dimensional chess with his hapless opponents, letting it appear that he is a centrist serving out George W. Bush's third term with extra embellishments, when in fact he's a true progressive; and the day will come when he will throw off the mask and reveal his glory, casting his enemies beneath the wheels of his chariot, etc. etc. In fact, of course, the opposite has proven to be true. If Obama is playing eleven-dimensional chess with anyone, it's the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. He marketed himself as a progressive-leaning liberal who would take on the entrenched powers that have hurt the American "middle class," though you have to remember that Rome wasn't built in a day, this country was built on compromise, and his campaign was built on massive contributions from the insurance and financial sectors. I say "marketed as" rather than "campaigned as," because the liberal theme was always balanced by Obama's expressed admiration for Reagan and his own record.

One of Edroso's commenters made a few changes in a passage from Orwell's 1984, and voila!
As usual, the face of Saul Alinsky, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little sandy-haired woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust. Alinsky was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared.
This is cute, but it works just as well if you imagine a Two Minutes' Hate for the Obama faithful, and substitute someone else for Alinsky. George W. Bush, say. (Hissssss!) Or Sarah Palin. (Hisssss!) Or best of all, Ralph Nader. (Swine! Swine! cried out the dark-haired girl behind Winston, and she flung a heavy copy of "The Audacity of Hope" at the screen). Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald would do about as well; Obama fans consider them major thought criminals and enemies of the Party. (By the way, I read Alinsky's Rules for Radicals a few years ago and remember now only that I hated it. I don't remember any details, so maybe I should look at it again and see if it bears writing about.)

So, it seems to me that tactics like the Alinsky meme are useful to the Right as ways of trying to explain away Obama's collusion with the Right and his enactment of their policies; and useful to liberals as ways of using the wackiness of the Right as a distraction from Obama's collusion with the Right and his enactment of their policies.