THE BLOG
10/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Community Organizing Experience v. Executive Experience

During the recent GOP convention, Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani mocked Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer in Chicago (population nearly three million). The one-time mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population nearly 7,000), Palin said, "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

Well, we know what mayors do, but what exactly is a community organizer?

On the invaluable daily show Democracy Now! of September 10, the host Amy Goodman interviewed one, John Raskin, who said:

"Community organizing is kind of the antidote to big money lobbying. It's the way that ordinary people come together to hold the government accountable to what they actually need. So the job of an organizer, someone like me or what Barack Obama was doing twenty years ago and other folks do around the country, is bring people together. You know, you knock on doors, you go to churches, you go to synagogues, you go to mosques, you have meetings. But people come together around what they need in the community."

Raskin referred the audience to a website for Community Organizers of America. On it, there is a good defense of the work. "Regular people, working together, are the lifeblood of American democracy. Community organizing is how we keep that democracy strong, vital and accountable to its people."

Much is made of how important it is for a president to have been a governor rather than a senator: that way they have "executive experience" and have no paper trail in the Senate that can be used for opposition research.

But this election is different. The times are different. We have three senators and a governor on the two tickets.

But of course Barack Obama also was a community organizer.

What we need so urgently in our country is to awaken the sense of community.

As global warming worsens, and the global economy, so dependent on transportation of product via vehicles that use fossil fuel, becomes less and less justifiable, we will need to become much more local, fostering the sense of local community within regional community within national community within world community.

As we seek to find ways for our bloodied world to live in peace, we will need people who can build the community of nations.

We have gone through decades where presidents of companies have transmogrified into ludicrously overpaid chief executive officers of corporations. In the early 1970s a new term, CEO, had to be created for them. Accompanying this shift is the widening gap between the salaries of CEOs and the average worker. Forty years ago, the president of an American company made no more than 20 times what workers in that company made. Today CEOs average 400 times and can reach 1,000 times what their workers make.

Executive experience in our time usually means destroying companies from within, from ENRON in 2002 to Lehman Brothers just yesterday.

This nonsense has to stop.

Bush 43 is our first MBA president, our first CEO POTUS, and his formative executive experience was as founder and CEO of an oil company, Arbusto Energy, later Harken Energy, that kept hemorrhaging money, ending its pathetic existence $23 million in the hole. Bringing this experience to Washington, he has bankrupted the government, killed a million Iraqis and made refugees of another three or so million.

During the Bush presidency, the executive branch has operated under the theory of the unitary executive, which allows for the president to be a tyrant.

Now, this election year, Barack Obama's formative work experience was as a community organizer. That is, instead of making decisions from the top like a CEO with executive experience and not knowing how most people live, he worked with people to help better their communities. As he said on September 7 on ABC's This Week:

"Understand what I--what I did as a community organizer. When I got out of college as a young person, twenty-four, twenty-five years old, I had moved to Chicago and worked with churches, who were dealing with steel plants that had closed in their neighborhoods, to set up job training programs for the unemployed and after-school programs for youth and to try to deal with asbestos in homes of poor people. Community service work, which John McCain has been talking about putting country first and extolling the virtues of national service, that's what I did between the ages of twenty-four and twenty-seven, before I went to law school. I would think that's what we want all our young people to do."
This experience is probably the best reason to vote for Barack.

That and his eloquent opposition to invading Iraq, and his experience as a professor of constitutional law, and, well, 6.6 billion (current human population of the world) other reasons.