Garden Spot

The Obama-is-no-socialist riff came out of my increased teeth-clenching whenever I hear some right-wing ideologue use “socialist” as a swear word, or a shorthand for the evil that inevitably comes from any government role in our blessed free-market economy. Read Garry Wills’s Reagan’s American to see

The guy knows his stuff

The guy knows his stuff

how silly that whole notion is. The federal government has been intricately involved in economic and social policies, the creation of wealth and communities, from the beginning. Reagan, Mr. Government-is-the-problem, benefited from that activity as much as anyone. Nothing, folks, is pure. Especially not the use of some supposedly perfect economic ideology as a way to justify greed and selfish behavior. Can anyone still cling to the asinine idea that there should be no controls on the economy, that the government doesn’t have a role in trying to create a better society for all – really the raison d’etre for why people come together to form a civil society and create government – after the recent financial debacle? My god, even Alan Greenspan admitted he might have been a little naïve in thinking the big shots would regulate themselves for the good of the system. (Here’s a great NYT article on the “oracle” before he publicly discussed his little oopsie.)

I also went off on all this because I just started doing research for a bio about Obama. I was struck by David Mendell’s use of the phrase “social gospel” to describe Obama’s motivations. For years, Obama was an agnostic. When he embraced Christianity, he emphasized the part of it that said the poor and meek are worthy too, and people should help them. The social gospel movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s took the general blandishment of the Bible to help others and made it a more forceful effort to use politics for social ends. Something that too many fundamentalist churches have ignored in their effort to demonize people who don’t share their views.

Thinking about Obama and the social gospel, I laughed when I recalled the recent Republican efforts to demean his time as a community organizer. Here was a bright guy, who would later go on to become the first black to lead the Harvard Law Review, a middle-class guy, who chose to help improve the lives of some of Chicago’s most unfortunate residents. Yeah, that’s worthy of some derisive laughter at his expense – hoo boy, what a putz. You can choose to believe that someone who says at an early age, as Obama did, that he wants to be president is making every decision in his life as a finely calibrated political calculation. But reading the Mendell bio, I get the sense that Obama was someone who really wanted to help others, partly because of the values instilled in him by his family. And partly because after a sheltered existence, he wanted to understand what it meant to be black in America. Now, he was not a Christian at this time, when he began his community work, but he soon became one. And he surely knew the kind of selflessness the social gospel demanded.

Obama did his work at Altgeld Gardens, on Chicago’s Far South Side. And I do mean far. I drove down there today; it’s 20 miles from the Loop, about 25 from my upper-middle-class North Side neighborhood (which give you an idea of the size of this great city). It’s a five-mile drive to the nearest L station, where you can take the train into the city. I’m sure getting to the station from the Gardens by bus is no easy ride. There are no skyscrapers around – the tallest structures are the storage towers at the nearby Port of Chicago. Almost as tall is the Lake Calumet landfill. The Gardens was built in what was once a heavily industrial area, meaning there’s plenty of toxic crap nearby. And a sewage plant adds to the irony of calling the projects “the Gardens,” as Obama noted in his first book.

I drive a little bit around Altgeld Gardens. Rows of two story brick buildings. Some obviously lived in and in decent shape. Some boarded up. The city has recently spent millions renovating the place, though I’m sure there is still plenty of hardship. It’s not frightening by any mean, or as depressing as other projects I’ve seen, but the distance from the city suggests the residents here could be easily forgotten by the powers that be. And that’s what Obama tried to address with his work more than 20 years ago.

I sit in the Gardens and think that there are plenty of residents working hard and trying to raise their families. A few maybe deal drugs; do they see me and think I’m looking to buy? Or am I just another white do-gooder? Nah, I’m only trying to get a feel – if somewhat removed – from a life I have never lived and will never truly understand. And try to get a feel for the man who could be the next president, and who would bring a sense of the social gospel to our government again. Because the gospel of Social Darwinism the Republicans have been pushing is starting to wear a little thin.  Just like their efforts to denigrate someone who would choose to be a community organizer. And their demarcation of the “pro-America” parts of the country. And the rant that people who don’t share their views hate real Americans and hard-working people. I am sick of all of it. Oh my god, it is time for a change.


~ by mburgan on October 26, 2008.

One Response to “Garden Spot”

  1. Yeah! Time for a real change! I can’t stand when I hear that Palin’s got more experience than Obama.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: