Mocking community organizers

When Rudolph Giuliani was mayor of New York, he went to war with community gardeners, of all people. So the mocking comments he made at the Republican convention about Barack Obamas experience as a community organizer are in character. Sarah Palin is picking up where Giuliani left off (as she did when she said her job as mayor of a small town was sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.)News organizations across the country are picking up on this easily localized story, noting that community organizers are angered over these attacks. For an example, see The Salt Lake Tribune.Is all politics local? One has to question the political wisdom of picking an unnecessary fight with thousands of grassroots organizations. But it fits with Giulianis sneering, us-against-them politics, which worked for Giuliani for a while in New York but ultimately failed him even there and flopped on the presidential campaign trail once the broader public got to know him.Giuliani was a sad figure in St. Paul. He had once topped the presidential polls, but wasnt even considered for vice president. But what really made him a sad figure for me is that I can remember a time when he exuded optimism and zeal for reform and community service in much the way that Barack Obama does. I covered him as a reporter when he first arrived back in New York as U.S. attorney in the 1980s. Like Obama now, he was lean, smart, serious, quick on his feet, enormously talented and eager to promote societal change and challenge entrenched interests. Both men burst on the national scene as a refreshing presence. But over time, Giuliani went wrong because he couldnt control his anger. His sense of resentment colored his campaigns and style of governance; he alienated large blocks of everyday people. Had his temperament been different - had he possessed the self-control he was quick to say was missing in his opponents - he might well have gotten to deliver an acceptance speech for one party or the other this year.Ridiculing community organizers and similar attacks might produce a temporary bump in the polls for the McCain-Palin campaign, but could hurt in the long run.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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