A few weeks back I wrote the first part of the Barack Obama- Silas Lynch analogy. Silas Lynch was a character in D.W. Griffith’s turn of the century landmark film Birth of a Nation. The Lynch character exhibits a megalomaniacal thirst for power, and is driven by his racially mixed blood to perform acts of degradation–at least degrading in terms of how Griffith saw them. I compared Griffith’s portrayal of Silas Lynch to the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, and the unusually irrational portrayals by his political opponents.
The similarities between Lynch and President Obama are eerily linked– not just because of how they’re portrayed as power hungry zealots– but because of their biracial identity. As such, the president–and his presidency– have become an allusion to a divisive character from one of the most divisive movies of all time. Here are two examples.
In the wonderfully absurd case of the birthers, Barack Obama is not an American citizen. He is a Kenyan, usurping power in some sort of systematic conspiracy theory– replete with Hawaiian government official complicity, and Kenyan document forgers. Birthers represent this toxic blend of anger, intolerance, confusion and boredom– all quite dangerous in their simplicity to damage the brand of the popularly elected leader of the free world. The birthers represent a sliver of the empty bigoted underclass, driven to a ravenous fervor by those clinging to a disappearing sense of entitlement.
This rabid misrepresentation clearly alludes to Lynch’s blinding thirst for power, and his subjugation of the white race at any cost–even deceit and trickery. Birthers have long thought of President Obama as hiding his true religion, and his political motives. Now they’ve managed to coalesce these notions into one platform.
If the birthers dwell within their own fantastical universe, what then can be said of the anti community organizer coalition? Here’s a definition of community organizing:
Community organizing is a long-term approach where the people affected by an issue are supported in identifying problems and taking action to achieve solutions. The organizer challenges those he or she works with to change the way things are—it is a means of achieving social change through collective action by changing the balance of power. The tactics and strategies employed by the organizer are similar to the processes of leadership including timing the issue, deliberate planning, getting the attention of the populace, framing the issue in terms of the desired solution, and shaping the terms of the decision-making process.
Here are some community organizers in American and world history: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Jones, Samuel Gompers, Jane Adams, Cesar Chavez. These were people who not only shaped opinion and focus, but lives and issues. These were people who made a difference, and exhibited the real tough leadership that others would and could not. In the face of long odds, staring down the butts of rifles, and in dangerous environments, these people did not back away from their work. They pressed on, often at the expense of their livelihoods and their lives.
I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.
“He worked as a community organizer. What?” “Okay, Okay, maybe this is the first problem on the resume.” Rudolph Giuliani
What is the problem with these people, and their utter disdain for community organizing? What is so wrong with working to change the fortunes of those around you through collective action? That is what a leader does. But it stands to reason that some conservatives don’t know a thing about leadership. That much is clearly evident. Conservatives contempt for community organizing is code for bigotry and hatred of the poor. It is wrong to deny people the power to change their circumstance. Conservatives claim that this is their true aim–to allow people to make it on their own merits. Then why the mockery? I would prefer they come out and say, Hey America, we have to be honest with you. We hate those poor, ignorant bastards who live in the ghettos, and the slums, and the hills, and the woods. Why don’t they get jobs and move into the suburbs?
I find the critics amusing, since they routinely gloss over Obama’s stellar academic record, his professorial experience, his experience as a state senator, his experience as a United States senator. And they still trot out the community organizer dig, even though he’s been the commander-in- chief for fifteen months.
So what’s the take from all of this? Conservatives’ only means of conveyance for their message is to snipe, and regurgitate an old, tired, unflattering smear– a smear that in fact is no smear at all to the man they are trying to smear. It is an insult to the people they purport to care about: the poor and middle class. They’ve created and sustained the allusion so wonderfully, that it’s managed to stick as a strategy. But the problem with using allusions as reality is that you become defined by them. Leadership indeed.