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Last night at the Republican National Convention, both Rudy Giuliani and McCain veep choice Sarah Palin mocked Barack Obama's work as a community organizer in Chicago two decades ago. Comparing her experience to Obama's, Palin said "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer—except that you have actual responsibilities." Despite the fact that organizers do have responsibilities, Palin's derision was echoed by the delegates in the hall, who roared with laughter at the idea that "community organizing" is real work.
But in guffawing at Obama's work, the GOP was mocking the efforts of an important group: the Catholic Church. Obama's community work was part of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a project sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Campaign for Human Development has been the church's main anti-poverty and social justice program in America since 1969. Do Palin, Giuliani and all those GOP delegates really believe that bishops' effort to improve the lot of the poor and jobless is a laughing matter?
Mocking church-sponsored community organizing also undermines the right's case for faith-based initiatives and so-called compassionate conservativism. Under the conservative model, a caring citizen doesn't wait for the government to help; he raises himself and his community up—sometimes with the help of community (but non-governmental) groups. It's hypocritical for Republicans to make fun of people for doing what Republicans are always saying they should do—lifting themselves up by their bootstraps. If you want government to to do less, you ought to want community organizers to do more. And as Roland Martin pointed out yesterday on CNN (video below), community organizers are the people assisting Americans hit by the housing crisis and the sputtering economy:
Palin and Giuliani got a good laugh from a friendly crowd, but a lot of Americans won't be in on the joke.