Obama defends community organizers

September 4, 2008

newphil.jpgLANCASTER, Pa. – The work of community organizers, who work  for low salaries to help people in impoverished communities,  is getting lots of attention this week as Republicans poke jabs at Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama‘s job experience.

The three years Obama spent as a community organizer “maybe … is the first problem on the resume,” said former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in his speech at the Republican convention on Wednesday.

Giuliani, who failed in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and now runs a lucrative consulting firm, said community organizing sounded as though Obama had “immersed himself in Chicago machine politics.”

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin also took a swipe in her speech,  saying her experience as a small-town mayor in Alaska was similar to being a community organizer, “except that you have actual responsibilities.”

Obama was a community organizer after college in Chicago. He worked with a church-based group trying to improve conditions in poor neighborhoods and communities hurt when steel plants closed, according to his official campaign website.

He then went to Harvard Law School, became a civil rights lawyer, taught law and ran for the Ilinois State Senate. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.

On the campaign trail on Thursday, Obama told a crowd in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that the Republicans “really had fun talking about the work I did after college.”

“I don’t know if they understand what it means for a young person, at the age of 22 or 23, to pass up more lucrative options and work with people who are having a tough time and seeing that when people work together, we can do amazing things, rebuilding communities and setting up job training centers and setting up afterschool programs for kids.

“Maybe that’s not really interesting work for Rudy Giuliani, but for the people on the ground who are seeing a difference in their lives, that’s important stuff,” he said.

At another campaign stop in York, Pennsylvania, he said the remarks about community organizing showed Republicans were out of touch.

“Why would that kind of work be ridiculous?” he asked. “Do they think that the lives of those folks who are struggling each and every day, that working with them to try and improve their lives, is somehow not relevant to the presidency?

“I think maybe that’s the problem. That’s part of why they’re out of touch, and they don’t get it because they haven’t spent much time working on behalf of those folks,” he said.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Photo credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan (Obama campaigning) 


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Community organizing — give me a break.

What he was doing is described more fully here: And it IS going to catch up with him, despite his clever attempts at hiding his “missing” years under the guise of ‘community organizing.’ He was ‘organizing,’ alright. Just not the kind of organizing you’re thinking of. More like cultivating friends in low places to help him along the way — first stop Harvard, final stop, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I really wish I was joking.

http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas _shrugs/2008/08/obamas-benefact.html

Posted by michelle m | Report as abusive

So now the Republicans have mocked community organizers? Of course if you have never been in an impoverished community or tried to really make a difference in the lives of those who are just trying to improve their neighborhoods and lives, I guess you would think it’s a joke. As a social worker and someone who spent time in my youth as a community organizer, I’m outraged by these comments. The repos just don’t get it!

Posted by Gina | Report as abusive

I don’t know as anyone made fun of community organizers the point ( which as usual is overlooked ) was that experience as a community organizing does not lend itself to running a country. I don’t think any country in the world has a community organizer as leader. The profession is admirable. I say this because I am one. but I don’t fool myself into believing I could run the United States.

Posted by frank | Report as abusive

The way the speech was delivered, it sounded like Palin was mocking Obama for being a community organizer. And it seems like a lot of other people took it that way, as well.

The point that experience as a community organizer does not lend itself to running a country is well taken. But no one is saying that being a community organizer qualifies one to be president. It is just one portion of the full body of work that is Barack Obama that shows that he is in touch with real hard working people going through hardship.

Posted by frankie d | Report as abusive

i heard the message loud and clear…Obama needs to help his own and leave the presidency to the “rich and elite”…

i see that Sarah will continue the GOP’s usual “attack” mode and not “change” how things will be done. well, if you really think about it, she will be changing a lot of diapers when her and McCain are “put” into office…sarcasm

Depends/Huggies 08
A whole lot of changing we will see

Posted by JL | Report as abusive

All the talk about McCain’s character because of his Vietnam POW days gets all the press. Well, it also takes character to pass up the big bucks to go work to help make other peoples lives better and work for peanuts. I think Obama deserves as much credit for that as McCain gets for his past. Shame on the RNC dragging Obama’s selfless work through the mud like that.

Posted by Al Raguckas | Report as abusive

The GOP screwed themselves with this line one. And any attempt to refute or correct will not work. Too much mocking and contempt and it was done by an old face, Rudy Giuliani and their new star Palin. So it was obviously as GOP talking point.

Letterman, the Daily Show, people all over the place are now using it in bits against the GOP convention.

Very unwise move for them considering the lack of diversity I witnessed all week, the off-puttin chants of “drill baby drill,” and snide speeches. All together it reminds me of a party of the past. The only interesting person was Palin and she’s as far right as you can get. No thanks–we just had 8 years of that.

If Obama hadn’t been in the Senate for years AFTER being a community organizer, then yeah, I could see them mocking him for jumping from that to a presidential campaign. But instead, they thought the label of “community organizer” was funny and tried to use that to paint him a certain way, I guess. It’s backfiring and Obama is correct in running with this.

The thing is, up until the last two weeks, I had no idea Obama came from such a modest background. I thought he was an “elite” guy and privileged. I didn’t know he had worked on behalf of folks on the South side of Chicago. And I imagine, the GOP has now given him a way to frame how he’s different than them.

I work in the community myself so this line of attack bothered me. I was on the fence but after seeing the conventions, it’s a done deal for me: Obama/Biden ’08.

Posted by Michael E. | Report as abusive

Frank – ofcourse only having something like Community Organizer wouldn’t be enough to quality a person for President, but neither does being a member of your kid’s school’s PTA make you ready for VP. Good thing there’s more on these resumes than just that.
Obama was President of the Harvard Law Review, State Senator for almost 7 years and Junior Senator of Illinois for 2 and a half years. Palin may have been in elected office for longer than him, but considering what she was doing before she came to office (sports reporter, pagent queen, getting a B.A. in journalism in Idaho) Obama’s done a lot more of substance (JD from Harvard, lawyer, BA in poli sci from Columbia).

Posted by LaraB | Report as abusive

I don’t know if Sarah Palin is being political or is she actually does not understand what community organizers actually do. When she decided to run for office, someone organized family, friends and community to help with her campaign. Somebody made decisions about strategy and job assignments. But because Palin portrays herself as a Superwoman, maybe she didn’t need the help of anyone. Community service is a noble endeavor and should not be laughed at to get a vote. What would she have said about Jesus’ community work had she known him. Oh! I forgot. She does know him! She’s a Christian.

Posted by jeannie | Report as abusive

Both Governor Palin and Mr. Guiliani made it very clear in their speeches that they are looking down on community organizers. I understand that Republican’s believe that the dirty work is beneath them and that it should be done by local government, but that doesn’t give them a right to look down their noses at the people who actually do that dirty work.

http://www.zazzle.com/car_owner_obama_bu mper_sticker_bumpersticker-1287180880624 94829?gl=onesockjr&rf=238076746232105496

Posted by Nobscotter | Report as abusive

I am pretty certain Palin doesn’t have it out for community organizers and Obama is smart enough to know what she meant. She was refering to Obama’s Presidential resume, and defending her own Vice Presidental resume, which has been attacked for the past week. Obama’s campaign along with many other Dems brought up the issue of qualifying experience when they said that being Mayor of a small town in Alaska or the Governor of Alaska does not qualify Palin to be VP. I think Palin’s point was that if the Dems really believe that, well then “community organizer” probably shouldn’t make it on the resume for President. Both parties need to realize if they want any change to happen they have to stop hearing only what they want. If you’re an Obama supporter (including Obama himself), Palin attacked all community organizers (i’ve even heard people go as far as to say she is attacking the very people who paved the way so that women could vote in this country–seriously?). It works the other way too. Thats just part of why I’m an Ind.

Posted by AT | Report as abusive

And also, is it really a smart move for Obama’s campaign to be putting so much emphasis on Palin’s experience in the first place? That just opens the door even wider for the experience comparison, but I think once again the comparison will be Obama vs McCain. It might be smarter for Obama to skirt the issue of experience a little more rather than bring it out into the limelight. Also, Obama probably should stick to trying to convince people that he can change America rather than trying to convince America that nobody else can. McCain might benefit from the same tactic. At least if either of them did that, that alone would be a positive change in the way politics is done.

Posted by AT | Report as abusive

I’m an Ind. (leaning towards Obama) . . . I get the point that Palin wanted to defend her resume. But there WAS some serious “community organizer” bashing here. It’s one thing to point out that it’s not qualification alone, but she should have built up her own story. You can’t bash someone trying to help someone else and then expect anyone to take “I care for the little guy” seriously. Showed some bad judgment IMO. . .

Posted by zbw | Report as abusive

Let’s see. “Community organizer” services: Outreach for alcholics, runnaway children, halfway houses for mentally challenge, teen pregnancies, trouble youth for boy and girl homes, reintergration of exprisoners into society, drug rehab just to name a few. If they sound familiar to you, they should because they would be the same or practically the same as “Faith Based Initiatives”. “Question”, Why would some in the christian right trash their own intiatives if they were ever serious about them in the first place.

Posted by ingramris | Report as abusive