Wednesday, July 28, 2010

English Socialist

As US election season approaches, conservative thinker Stanley Kurtz has announced that he is reviving his 2008 argument that Barack Obama is a lifelong socialist and will have a book -- Radical in Chief -- setting out the case. He elaborates --

Community organizing is a big part of what makes American socialism distinctive, and this, of course, is where Obama comes in.

"Community organizing" is a bizarrely essential element of right-wing demonology about Obama and more broadly about the financial crisis; with regard to the latter, the narrative has it that community organizers forced bank loan officers to give trillions of dollars in mortgages to poor people, whose now-underwater mortgages nearly brought down the global financial system and forced George Bush to increase government intervention in the economy. It was amazingly clever of Obama to have set all this in motion in Chicago 20 years ago, but that's the thing about these nefarious left-wing plots.

But anyway, this obsession with community organizing is coming at a strange time in the Anglo-American currents, because here from just a few days ago is UK Prime Minister David Cameron setting out the philosophy of the government's Big Society initiative --

For a long time the way government has worked – top-down, top-heavy, controlling – has frequently had the effect of sapping responsibility, local innovation and civic action.

It has turned many motivated public sector workers into disillusioned, weary puppets of government targets. It has turned able, capable individuals into passive recipients of state help with little hope for a better future. It has turned lively communities into dull, soulless clones of one another. So we need to turn government completely on its head. The rule of this government should be this: If it unleashes community engagement – we should do it. If it crushes it – we shouldn’t.

And the speech later describes specific efforts that will be taken to support community organizers.

It's going to be fascinating to watch the intellectual gyrations required to make an intrinsically bottom-up and decentralized activity like community organizing into a socialist vanguard. It's more likely that Kurtz will -- as he did in 2008 -- rely on a web of guilt by association, with community organizing being depicted as something that old lefties now do. But the implication for how American conservatives think about freedom of association for disadvantaged people should be clear.

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