WASHINGTON – In the 1960s community organizer Saul Alinsky came to Buffalo to agitate for a better life for the city's poor – meaning blacks. Among his slogans was: “Rub raw the sores of discontent.” Alinsky materially helped minorities in Buffalo, as he had in Chicago where he learned his skills.
Conservatives disparage President Obama as a disciple of Alinsky, although Obama was a pre-teen in Hawaii when Alinsky died. Nevertheless, the president's speeches on the economy and the downtrodden carry all the earmarks of picking at scabs, or rubbing sores.
The ideas that Obama, the one-time Chicago community organizer, offered last week to “build out the economy from the middle” are likely to embitter the underemployed, but will not have lasting economic effect. Public works spending and job training work best in growing industrial societies.
However, since Alinsky's community organizing game plan was written, the country – thanks to corporatist politicians like President Bill Clinton – has downplayed the manufacturing and mining industries that made the country strong and wealthy. In short, the business model that Alinsky used 50 years ago and on which Obama's current grandstanding is based no longer exists.
Since Clinton lobbied for and signed what amounted to free trade agreements with Mexico and China, millions of American manufacturing jobs have been lost. Since 1990, New York lost nearly half the manufacturing jobs it had then; 17,000 of them in the last year.
They were the factories where people – like black males now experiencing a 45 percent jobless rate who are trapped in impoverished ghettos like Buffalo's East Side – could have applied for entry-level jobs that offered in-plant training and potential advancement.
Today, in the Northeast states there are 3.3 applicants for every position that opens up – not in good-paying factory jobs but in dead-end call centers, fast-food outlets and big box retailers.
The real good that Obama can do he won't. That is to challenge China, South Korea, Japan and Germany about their low-ball currency policies that artificially make any American-made goods cost more here and overseas. He's had the chance every six months and he won't touch it.
In the past decade, the U.S. has lost 2.7 million jobs because of China's currency games, according to the American Alliance for Manufacturing. Trade expert Alan Tonelson on Friday took note of Obama's empty rhetoric on jobs. The president is going to visit an Amazon.com distribution center in Kentucky, Tonelson said, which makes absolutely nothing but sells goods made in Asia. Does the president really believe wealth is built on that, like mowing each others' lawns? Perhaps he doesn't know any better.
In the past, Obama's initiatives on the economy have been half-hearted. His council on jobs and competitiveness has not met in the last 18 months; his export council's last meeting was four months ago.
It is virtually impossible to build a strong economy where potential employers are crouching under their desks for the next jolt on Obamacare rules, and where exploration for oil and low-polluting natural gas is stifled by the federal government and New York's governor.
Two weeks ago, I voiced hope that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was doing more than deflecting when she mentioned concerns about the National Security Agency's spying on innocent Americans. Turns out she was only window dressing. Last week, she and organization Democrats like Reps. Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Louise M. Slaughter of Fairport helped right-wing Republicans defeat a bill that would have stopped this frightening, unconstitutional practice. The Obama Democrats are looking less “liberal” and more statist – meaning Big Brother knows best – every day.