Jay Carney: Obama's Community Organizer Experience Contributed to Who He Is Today

Jan. 24, 2012

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked by a reporter to elaborate on GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s accusation that Barack Obama shares the same vision as Saul Alinsky, the Chicago native community organizer.

As you may know, Alinsky authored the book Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. In that book, Alinsky outlines his vision for ending capitalism, opining, “A Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. From this he logically proceeds to the revolution to end capitalism, then into the third stage of reorganization into a new social order of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and finally the last stage – the political paradise of communism.”

He further argues, “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history … the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.”

After graduating from Columbia and living in New York City for a year, Barack Obama moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer with the Developing Communities Project (DCP) of the Calumet Community Religious Conference (CCRC). Both DCP and CCRC are built on Saul Alinsky’s model of agitation – which, according to Alinsky, means to “rub raw the sores of discontent.” Mike Kruglik was a mentor and fellow community organizer in Chicago who took Obama in as a pupil. Kruglik considered Obama his best student. In an interview with The New Republic’s Ryan Lizza, Kruglik discusses why he thought so highly of Obama. Summing up Kruglik’s admiration, Lizza writes, “[Obama] was a natural, the undisputed master of agitation, who could engage a room full of recruiting targets in a rapid-fire Socratic dialogue, nudging them to admit that they were not living up to their own standards. As with the panhandler, he could be aggressive and confrontational. With probing, sometimes personal questions, he would pinpoint the source of pain in their lives, tearing down their egos just enough before dangling a carrot of hope that they could make things better.”

Sound familiar?

No wonder in Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, he says that “Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll organize black folks. At the grass roots. For change.”

Saul Alinsky’s philosophical impact doesn’t stop with Obama. Hillary Clinton was so inspired by his vision that she wrote her college thesis on Alinsky, comparing him to the likes of Eugene Debs, Walt Whitman and Martin Luther King.

This past week, Newt Gingrich observed that Obama is following in the footsteps of Saul Alinsky. During yesterday’s White House Press Briefing, a reporter asked Jay Carney if this accusation had merit. Carney didn’t deny it but deflected the question, simply saying that “[Obama’s] experience in that field [of community organizing] obviously contributed to who he is today.”

We agree.

Despite Obama's past efforts to alienate himself from Alinsky, let's not forget what the son of the “great community organizer” said about Obama following the 2008 DNC Convention. In a letter to Boston Globe, L. David Alinsky said:

Barack Obama’s training in Chicago by the great community organizers is showing its effectiveness. It is an amazingly powerful format, and the method of my late father always works to get the message out and get the supporters on board. When executed meticulously and thoughtfully, it is a powerful strategy for initiating change and making it really happen. Obama learned his lesson well.

I am proud to see that my father’s model for organizing is being applied successfully beyond local community organizing to affect the Democratic campaign in 2008. It is a fine tribute to Saul Alinsky as we approach his 100th birthday.

Check out the transcript and video:

QUESTION: Newt Gingrich keeps saying on the campaign trail that the president’s vision comes from Saul Alinsky, the community organizer. I haven’t heard you asked about that. I’m wondering if you want to – is there some sort of portrait of him in the White House that people look up to? Or is this just some – is this BS basically?

MR. CARNEY: Have I said how much fun I had as a reporter covering Congress from 1996 to 1998? There was a certain bombast to it at the time, a lot of colorful things to cover.

But the president’s background as a community organizer is well documented in the president’s own books, so his experience in that field obviously contributed to who he is today. But his experience is a broad-based one that includes a lot of other areas in his life, so I’ll just leave it at that.


View all comments


Shaeri said:

This is one thing I like about Newt, his willingness to lay this on the table rather than Mitt's "Obama's in over his head". Obama is not in over his head, he is proceeding as planned. Thank God for the tea party, it slowed him down.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 2:41 PM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

As I've posted several times I feel whatever integrity Carney had disappeared long ago. He sold his soul to work (lie) for this administration. With that in mind Carney's comment today about Obama's experience as a community organizer is spot on.It's unfortunate that Obama's "broad-based" experience doesn't include running a lemon-aid stand. It would have better served him than the experience of being a community organizer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 3:01 PM

Stella said:

There is no doubt Obama is a gifted speaker...divide, agitate,rub raw...HE DOES IT IN EVERY SPEECH...black against white, others have the money and won't let you succeed... class warfare, the wealthy must pay more...over and over and over....pretty simple ...I am sure David's would be proud.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 3:52 PM

Bill said:

reporter asked if it as "BS" but Carney's response was telling--nothing to say its so obvious

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 4:28 PM

Master of the Obvious said:

Too bad many are OBLIVIOUS or apathetic to the OBVIOUS.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 7:12 PM

Larro said:

I recently received an invitation from a student on campus who was hawking a Masters in Community Organization program of which I was unaware until I saw the invitation. This school has been suffering from a self-inflicted "financial crisis" due to gross mismanagement. I have been told that, under the current University President's "leadership", the administration has gone from seven Vice Presidents to twenty-five or more. The "crisis" has also resulted in budget cuts across campus and most lower-paid employees have not had even a minimal raise in the past three years or more. I think that our president is trying to mimic what he sees in the White House. Much like our man in the WH who sees taxpayers as little more than a neverending source of money, our campus president continues to pass the cost of his mismanagement on to the students. With this mindset, I am not at all surprised about the new Community Organization curriculum...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 8:17 PM

Jsmith in Fredericksburg said:

Does this mean all "community organizers" are lying socialist thieves, or did Obama go to a special school for that?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 7:30 AM

Wisconsin Voter said:

Nationally, as they do here in Wisconsin, the left refuses to be still long enough to listen to any kind of reasoning or ideas from the opposition. The roar of their voices resounds through their troubled minds, convincing them they must be right as their collective raucous chanting drowns out the objections of reality. You can see this clearly in their blogs; name calling, ridicule and downright mean attacks intended to persuade others that they know the truth and we conservatives have but one mission and that is to prevent them from establishing a socialistic paradise. It will be a sad day for them when they see the blissful reality they have created for the new 1% who will rule the remaining 99% who have lost their voice and can no longer object.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 9:51 AM

JtC in TX said:

Obama's Saul Alinsky portrait is probably hanging right above his east-facing prayer rug . . .

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 9:55 AM

Jim G said:

@JsmithNo offense, but you obviously haven't been paying attention. No, of course not all community organizers are "lying socialist thieves." And yes, Obama did go to a special school for that -- The Chicago School of Community Organizing teaching Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals... which of course is entirely based in and promotes Marxism.Wake up! These people DO NOT believe you have the rights guaranteed to you by the Declaration of Independence (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness) or the Constitution (Bill of Rights). They view all of those rights, which our founding fathers acknowledged and codified as inviolable, not as inherent natural rights, but as priviledges to be bestowed upon you by a "benevolent government"... as THEY see fit. All in the interest of "social justice" of course. In short, society (or the proletariat) has rights, you don't. And under such a political / social / economic philosophy and system, society has the right to take anything and everything you possess, up to and including your life, your liberty, and your happiness.God Save the Republic.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 10:09 AM

Mike McGinn in People's Republic of Maryland said:

This is a man no one should compromise with! Stand on you values and fight for them to the death.Many lambaste the Tea Party for not being willing to compromise. I say good on 'em. Maintain course and speed and hopefully we will steer our way through this storm.I equate the left's call for "compromise" to a call for making a rule that it is my right to have sex with my neighbor's wives, and then making the issue of "compromise" whether I can have sex only 1 night a week, all 7 nights, or something in between.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 12:23 PM

Jim G said:

@Wisconsin VoterYou are spot on sir. They fail to consider, or envision, the reality of what their Socialist Utopia would really look or feel like. Once it arrives (God forbid), they'll no doubt look at the dismal landscape they've wrought and say; "Wait, this isn't what I had in mind... you can't take that from me... my 'fair share' isn't enough... what do you mean there's no more... what do mean I'm not free to pursue my own future or happiness."When you throw out an individual's liberty, rights, and the Rule of Law -- in favor of "social justice" and the Rule of Men... then the inevitable result is that you will do as your told, as the proletariat ditates, as interpreted by that 1% in the politburo.Just ask any Soviet who had their home and property taken from them in the 1920's, or was told they weren't fit to be a doctor and had to work in a tractor factor, or gave voice to a free thought and was imprisoned for it, or stood in long lines for non-existent bread and toilet paper in the 1970's and 80's.You're right. They can't see the inevitable results, they can't hear the historical and logical arguments against it. They almost speak a different language and understand the world in an unrealistic context. The word "freedom" means something altogether different to them than it does to you and I. To them freedom means to be free from personal responsibility for their own actions and results, to be free from want, and to be free from having to think for themselves or about the future. To us it means Liberty. The freedom to pursue our own lives and happiness without interference from the government or others, to the degree that we do no harm to others. And all we really expect from government is only to be protected in our rights to those pursuits - again - The Rule of Law.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 2:13 PM

Mike McGinn in People's Republic of Maryland said:

Anyone who actually wants a "socialist utopia" has probably never lived in a socialist country.Those who have lived in a socialist country would either like to run, or have run as fast and as far as they can from that socialist utopia.Those who have lived in a socialist country who still want a "socialist utopia" are probably part of the politburo or want to be.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 5:21 PM

don king said:

Obama is not showing leadership, he is merely demonstrating his only background as a community adjitator. The founding fathers cautioned about the central government pitting one class of citizen against another. That is his only solution. If he got his wish and all of the money was confiscated from the millionaire and billionaires, how long would it take for him and his ilk to spend it? Who would then be his next target?

Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 11:25 PM

tdrag in South Carolina said:

All of the previous posters have made the case for freedom. When I listen to Mitt Romney speak all I hear is vagueness and potential compromise with the Democrats. As flawed as he may be, Newt Gingrich is the only one with the background, ability, and backbone to challenge Obama and all that he has wrought. We will need a ruthless person to go against Axlerod and Obama who will be ruthless against our candidate. Our freedom is hanging by a thread in this election. If Obama wins it will be scorched earth for the Constitution. Fast and Furious was just a sample of what they can and will do.

Monday, January 30, 2012 at 3:53 PM