Obama can’t be community organizer for the world

by Byron York
Chief Political Correspondent
Washington Examiner
November 3, 2009

A lot of observers are having trouble figuring out the philosophical underpinnings of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. How does the president see America’s place in the world? How will he use American power? How much does he care about such things?

There are no good answers at the moment, but there is a new theory going around: Obama approaches foreign affairs as he would neighborhood issues.
“President Obama is applying the same tools to international diplomacy that he once used as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side,” claims a new analysis in The Washington Post. As such, Obama is “constructing appeals to shared interests and attempting to bring the government’s conduct in line with its ideals.”

When he was a community organizer, the Post notes, Obama “worked to identify the common interests” of neighborhoods that had been hit by hard economic times. That required a lot of patience, and today he is showing that same patience “in regard to reviving Middle East peace talks or reaching out to Iran.” He’s also “cultivating a lower profile than the other parties involved,” as he did in Chicago.

Perhaps Obama is, in fact, drawing on his organizing experience in approaching foreign affairs. But what’s lost in the theorizing is this: What does that experience tell us about Obama himself? And is there anything in his time as a community organizer that could possibly provide a useful model for conducting foreign policy?

During last year’s campaign, I spent some time in Chicago looking into Obama’s career as an organizer. A number of the people he worked with back then — he was on the job for all of three years, from 1985 to 1988 — are still in the field today, and they have vivid memories of their time with future president. Talking to them, and looking back over Obama’s record, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that as an organizer, Obama started a lot of projects, gave a lot of inspirational talks, but accomplished very little.

Among other things, Obama tried to find new jobs for displaced steelworkers, to create after-school programs, and to bring new political power to public housing residents. But he truly succeeded at just two things. One, he pushed the city of Chicago to open up a summer-jobs office on the far South Side, where there had not previously been an office, and two, he helped force the city to clean up asbestos in a 1940s-era housing project in the same neighborhood.

That was it.

More at the Washington Examiner.

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