Obama: Failure Is Always A Resume-Enhancing Option
July 07, 2008, 01:27 PM
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The NYT runs a long article by Serge Kovaleski on Obama's storied three years as a "community organizer" in Chicago, which sure did more for Obama than it did for the community. The NYT summarizes its article:

"Barack Obama’s time as an organizer in Chicago has figured prominently in his life story, though it is clear that the benefit of those years to Mr. Obama dwarfs what he accomplished."[In Organizing, Obama Led While Finding His Place , July 7, 2008]

There's nothing in it too new to iSteve readers (e.g., it was an Alinskyite organization, although the NYT avoids using Saul Alinsky's favorite word, "radical"; this is where Obama finally felt black enough; and he mined the people he met for literary ore, turning them into characters in unpublished short stories he carefully crafted).

But it does reinforce the little-understood point that Obama's career largely consists of failing upwards. At various points in his life, he undertakes to help the black race, fails to accomplish much of anything significant in that overwhelming undertaking, but is rewarded by white people with a promotion anyway.

The article concludes by recounting the biggest meeting he organized, involving the issue of asbestos removal (a comically low priority problem in the ghetto):

Meanwhile, the residents’ meeting with the housing authority’s executive director was a debacle, an illustration of the setbacks faced by Mr. Obama and other organizers.

The crowd of about 700 residents grew irritable in the stifling heat and booed the director when he arrived an hour and 15 minutes late, according to people who were there, as well as newspaper accounts.

The meeting became even more raucous after the director indicated that the agency still did not have a plan to remove the asbestos. The director abruptly left 15 minutes into the meeting after a resident wrestled with him for the microphone. Angry tenants followed him out the door, chanting, �No more rent!�

Later that night, Mr. Obama called Johnnie Owens, whom he would hire as a community organizer. Never had Mr. Obama sounded so downcast or frustrated, Mr. Owens said.

�Barack basically talked about how tough it was to generate real results through organizing and that it was embarrassing to him to have the residents out of control,� he recounted.

�He wondered if he had done a good enough job preparing them for the meeting,� Mr. Owens said. �He sounded angry at himself. He was questioning the whole methodology.�

Mr. Obama had risen to executive director of the Developing Communities group, but the demanding hours, small victories and low pay took a toll on him, and he decided to leave.

He left for Harvard Law School, of course. Quitters always prosper in the one-man Obamaverse.

Some of the interesting questions somebody might get around to asking Obama someday include whether he blames himself for his recurrent failures to do much that's meaningful to help the black community? Or did he just lack sufficient power in all the earlier jobs he's sprinted through on his way to supreme power? Or is what ails the black community beyond the help of any political leader, so his failures at that impossible job shouldn't reflect badly on him?

I suspect that this last might be how Obama now really feels. It's not an unreasonable position. (Interestingly, Obama's aide Valerie Jarret's great-uncle Vernon Jordan, the Washington fixer to whom Bill Clinton delegated the task of finding Monica Lewinsky a job, sometimes seems to come close to expressing that position, in that he publicly states that he's not a civil rights leader anymore, he's now a Clark Clifford-style Washington insider.)

But does Obama really feel that way — has he just given up on blacks as unworthy of his efforts? — or does he have Unresolved Issues. His protracted waltz with Trinity United Church of Christ suggests he has U.R. But who knows?

I can't imagine anybody will ask the candidate such impertinent questions before the election (that kind of thing is just not done in modern America — Presidential candidates are much too fine and noble to be subjected to such indignities by commoners), but some historian might want to ask him those questions when he is an ex-President.