Obama’s Core Beliefs and Agenda
I know a lot of Republicans are out smearing Obama with scary labels and painting him as someone to be feared, but he’s far more centrist and conservative than Republicans depict him. (Italics below are mine, for emphasis.)
Mike Kruglik, Community organizer from Chicago
Obama and I were meeting with a group of leaders one evening on the South Side [of Chicago]. And after these meetings, we would get together and debrief. … And after we got through with the debriefing, as we’re walking out to our cars in the parking lot, this panhandler comes up to Obama and he asks him for a dollar.
Obama then did something that I don’t think I’d ever seen anybody do, including myself. He looks at the young man, he says, “Now, young man,” he says, “You are better than that.” He said, “You’re embarrassing yourself and you’re embarrassing the community. You need to reflect on what you can do to get yourself straight.” And he walks away.
What does that show about Obama? Well one thing that it shows is tough love, otherwise known as agitation in the lingo of an organizer. You’re agitating people to be better instead of commiserating with them about their fears and their weaknesses. You’re challenging them to be better. And, you know, after I told that story, a reporter asked Obama, what did he think about this idea of agitation? And he said, “It’s a way of scraping away bad habits that one person does for another person out of concern for that person’s strength and power and potential.”
But of course, there’s something else that one learns from that episode. And that is, Obama believes that everybody deserves a decent shot at life. But he doesn’t believe that that’s going to be handed to you. It’s not a matter of giving handouts. It’s a matter of people realizing their own potential like he has himself.
So later on, when welfare reform became an issue in the State of Illinois, he didn’t just say, “I’m against welfare reform, period.” He understood that it’s a bad idea to pay people not to work. But he wanted to make sure that if we were going to reform that system, that there would be transportation and child care and necessities that people would need to move from poverty into work.
Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker
He’s a cautious guy. And he’s a deliberate and, in a sort of old-fashioned sense, a conservative guy. I think that’s one of the things that people miss about him. They mistake the message of change for being somehow an ultra-left-winger or something.
If you think about … what he wants to change, it’s sort of a correction back to the center in American politics. The argument to the Obama campaign is that the last eight years have been ideologically radical in one direction.
Ron Brownstein, The National Journal; author, The Second Civil War
With Obama, you’re getting a candidate who I think is clearly committed to a different style of how leadership works; that it is not simply a matter of mobilizing elites, and not even simply a matter of the bully pulpit of the president talking at the country.
I think he has a vision of leadership, growing out of his experience, to a large extent, as a community organizer, that is much more of a president talking with the country, a much more interactive kind of style of leadership.
We have someone in Obama whose life has been to a large extent, in personal terms, about reconciling differences and building bridges. Mixed race, mixed nationality, feeling like a fish out of water in many communities — in the white community, in the African American community — trying to find his place where he fits in, I think has given him a kind of integrative view of how you pursue change and how you make things happen in the same way that perhaps Bill Clinton’s growing up in a family with an alcoholic instilled his desire to be someone who would find ways to make peace and to find ways to synthesize ideas that seemed incompatible.
Ben Wallace-Wells, Rolling Stone
He’s come from sort of two cultures independently. One of which is this kind of community organizing, left-wing culture and the other of which is this sort of counterintuitive academic culture. …
So from each of these backgrounds, you have a kind of deep skepticism about American power and how it’s constructed and how it’s yielded. And I think the idea that somebody who is young and has a fresh idea might aspire very quickly to overturn all of that and sort of run things, is less shocking and surprising if you start with much less piety towards American power in general.