This is a duplicate from a post I made in yesterday's open thread. I was replying to this comment from Blue South, and it got long. The short version: I'm starting to think the divide between Obama's supporters and Edwards's supporters is actually an indicator of a much deeper divide in how we see the future of progressivism.
Posting it here because I thought it was important enough to pull out separately.
While I appreciate the benefit of the doubt, the "I'm sure you're a nice enough guy, but..." can be pretty frustrating.
I'm starting to think that the fundamental difference, at least on this site, and possibly more widely, between Edwards and Obama supporters is not superficial preferences of which guy sounds the best, but a true, very deep divide in philosophy for the direction of progressive politics. Regardless of what happens, I have a fair amount of faith we'll all be able to pull together when the general rolls around, but I think the divide is worth plumbing further.
I realize that you're intending to agree with me in the following:
But that is a long winded way for me to say that I agree, community organizations could be an essential part to a new wave of progressivism (as you put it), and I can see that as a great reason to support Obama.
But my first response to that is, no, community organizing is not an essential part of a new wave of progressivism, it should be the essential organizing factor. Herein lies all the difference, I think. Perhaps this is the best way to say it: Obama is a leftist and a progressive, very profoundly, but he's not a liberal, in the late 20th century sense of the word.
I've gotten into this before, but this goes back to Saul Alinsky, the great community organizer from Chicago, founder of the Industrial Areas Foundation, and some also call him the founder of modern community organizing. The IAF's central principle in all of its organizing is something I was just introduced to in the past couple of weeks, when it appeared at the bottom of the Durham CAN! newsletter (the local IAF affiliate), and truly shocked me at a core philosophical level. They call it the Iron Rule, and it goes like this:
Never do for others what they can do for themselves. Never.
To be utterly clear here, this isn't saying that the government has no role, or that we shouldn't help each other, or anything else like that. But there are things that we as citizens CAN do for ourselves (different for every person), and things that we can't. Alinksyite organizing focuses on finding ways to allow people to work together to do great things, rather than getting the government, or the wealthy, or whomever to do them instead. The goals are ultimately the same as liberalism -- in shorthand, progressive change -- but the methods are completely different.
The difference here is most dramatic between Obama and Clinton, at a very observable level. Clinton wrote her masters thesis on Saul Alinksy, ultimately concluding that he was a fascinating case, but deciding that community organizing simply wasn't a viable model for progressive change. Obama, on the other hand, cut his teeth in the IAF's work right there in Chicago. If there's a more profound statement of difference between the two candidates, I don't know what it is.
To bring Edwards into it, this perhaps illustrates my differences with him best. I keep going back to that "man in the arena" diary. Edwards has sold himself as a true champion of the working poor, the man to stand up and be the hero for the less fortunate. And, perhaps this is why some of you don't like him as much, but Obama offers no such promise. His focus, rather, is on organizing the working poor into a force that can advocate together for their own interests, rather than relying on someone else to do it. Those interests may very well include protecting Social Security, providing unemployment insurance, and so on, but you let the people, in their own capacities as organized bodies, as you work with them as equals, not deciding for them.
I confess, a lot of this still makes me uncomfortable, and I'm very open to hearing criticism and counterpoints to it. And yes, it is not terribly liberal in the traditional sense. It his, however, quite leftist, quite radical, and quite progressive, at a very fundamental level.