Thursday, August 2, 2012

Our Organizer-in-Chief does it his way on urban issues

I understand why some people avoid wingnut web sites at all costs - their lunacy can literally drive you nuts sometimes. But I go there regularly for several reasons. One of the most profound is that I often hear things there about what the Obama administration is doing that I don't learn about other places. Sure, you have to weed through the hair-on-fire about it all. But you can almost count on the fact that if the wingers are screaming about it - there's something good going on.

Such was the case this week when I noted that they're all excited about a recent book written by Stanley Kurtz on how President Obama wants to go after the suburbs in his second term. So today I noticed that National Review published an excerpt from Mr. Kurtz's book that they titled Burn Down the Suburbs? When you filter through the paranoia, you find a really powerful progressive initiative on the part of the Obama administration.

My ears perked up when I read this description at the beginning of the article:
One of Obama’s original trainers, Mike Kruglik, has hived off a new organization called Building One America, which continues Gamaliel’s anti-suburban crusade under another name. Kruglik and his close allies, David Rusk and Myron Orfield, intellectual leaders of the “anti-sprawl” movement, have been quietly working with the Obama administration for years on an ambitious program of social reform.
As you probably already know, by "one of Obama's original trainers," he means Kruglik is one of the people who hired and trained President Obama as a community organizer in Chicago. I recognize the name Myron Orfield because he was a MN State Legislator and now teaches at the University of Minnesota.
Orfield teaches and writes in the fields of civil rights, state and local government, state and local finance, land use, questions of regional governance, and the legislative process. He is known for developing a classification scheme for U.S. suburbs (based on stage of development, social stress and fiscal capacity), documenting suburban racial change and resegregation, and for developing innovative regional land use, public finance, and governmental reforms.
Kurtz points out that in July 2011, the organization Building One America held a conference at the White House. Here's how their web site summarizes the day.
The day was a tremendous success. 170 local elected officials, business, labor and civic leaders from 22 metropolitan regions from across the United States crowded into the White House South Court Auditorium to discuss the strengths and assets as well as the fiscal, social and environmental issues facing America’s first suburbs...

The White House leadership committed to continue the conversation about the unique but common challenges facing our communities, to join us back in our regions where we will continue to organize and build support, and we secured support from some of the Administration's most senior policy advisors to the President to hear our proposals for reform.
The Obama administration is fueling these efforts through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities - a joint initiative between HUD, DOT, and EPA.
Developing more sustainable communities is important to our national goals of strengthening our economy, creating good jobs now while providing a foundation for lasting prosperity, using energy more efficiently to secure energy independence, and protecting our natural environment and human health. Three federal agencies came together to create the Partnership for Sustainable Communities to help places around the country develop in more environmentally and economically sustainable ways.
Sounds really scary, huh? ;-)

You might have noticed that the Building One America Conference focused on the issues facing "first suburbs." Kurtz finds something terribly nefarious about that.
Kruglik’s group goes a step further by organizing not only the religious left but politicians from relatively less-well-off inner-ring suburbs. The goal is to build coalitions between urban and inner-ring suburban state legislators, in a bid to force regional tax-base sharing on middle-class suburbanites. That is how the practice came to Minnesota.

The July 2011 White House conference, gathering inner-ring suburban politicians for presentations by Rusk and Orfield, was an effort to place the prestige of the Obama administration behind Kruglik’s organizing efforts. A multi-state battle over regional tax-base “sharing,” abetted by the president, would usher in divisive class warfare on a scale likely to dwarf the puny efforts of Occupy Wall Street.
OK, so now you can imagine what fun I'm having reading this...he's suggesting that little ole Minnesota came up with a scheme that would "dwarf the puny efforts of Occupy Wall Street" in its radicalness. How kewl is that!!!!!

Some of you might not know what he's referring to there, but its all about something folks around here call the Minnesota Miracle.
The Minnesota Miracle of 1971 resulted from a ten-year effort to restructure Minnesota's fiscal policy...

Rising public discontent with soaring property taxes created the ferment for needed reform of long-established policies: local governments and school districts were financed solely through autonomously levied property taxes; municipalities were forced to compete for commercial-industrial development to boost their tax base; and disparities in the quality of education between property-tax-rich and property-tax-poor districts were egregious. Reform laws enacted to resolve those issues, taken together, came to be known as the Minnesota Miracle of 1971.
These reforms were so successful that in 1973 they led TIME magazine to declare Minnesota A State That Works.

To me, all of this is the perfect example of what it means to have a Community Organizer-in-Chief in the White House who understands how to play the really long game of do it from the ground up.

I was thrilled when President Obama established the first ever Office of Urban Affairs as part of his administration. It spoke to his roots in community organizing as well as the fact that he is actually the first urban POTUS. But like many others, I didn't see the impact of that commitment to our major metropolitan areas in any significant way.

But now I realize that I was doing what we've all been taught to do for a very long time...look for it to come from the top. My thanks to winger Kurtz for reminding me that's not likely to be where we'll find this President at work over the long haul.


  1. Great point about looking at right-wing sites to see what they're complaining about. The policy example you give is heartening.

    The other point that change happens from the bottom up but reporting happens from the top down is really important. I think David Axelrod made a glowing comment about Burke early in the Administration (or maybe in the transition) and many took it to mean Obama was really a "conservative." Rather, Burke offered a theory of historical change that actually worked. Ideas from on high--i.e., Jacobinism--doesn't work. Incremental bits based on what is already there does.

    Where Obama differs from Burke is that while Burke had a visceral dislike of change Obama embraces it.

    1. Reading about all of this makes me more excited about Obama's work than just about anything I've seen so far.

      And so I'll save my more childish response for below-the-line...take THAT Cornell West and Tavis Smiley. All they're doing these days is screaming that something needs to be done. Meanwhile, the President is showing how that actually happens.

    2. I have a soft spot for West because I have found him so personally engaging and also because he has thoroughly posited liberation as a theological question with political, social, and economic dimensions rather than the other way around. I can go with that. Unfortunately, he has lately confused being a "prophetic voice" with "being a petulant pain in the ass." It's a disappointment.

      But yes, there is a lot to be really happy about. Happiness is the most radical program, so the more we cultivate it the better everything is.

  2. He's always got his eye on the long game. It's awesome.