In 2008, when Barack Obama was a very junior senator with a thin resume, conservatives were quick to point out that the would-be president was nothing more than a lowly community organizer.
What conservatives didn’t understand then is that those organizing skills would turn out to be all he needed — not, of course, to be an effective president for all the people, but enough to get him elected twice and to outmaneuver his opponents at every turn.
President Obama has shown little presidential leadership during his time in office. But he has shown remarkable skill at turning every policy argument into a moral crusade in which he represents good and his adversaries, evil.
He’s doing it now on the government-funding debacle — and conservatives in the House have fallen right into the president’s trap.
Defunding Obamacare was never in the cards for Republicans.
The law is a bad one. It will make health care more expensive for those who already have insurance without ensuring coverage of those who don’t.
It is likely to cost jobs and prove a drag on an already struggling economy. But it is the law of the land, and Republicans do not currently have the votes in Congress, much less an occupant in the White House, to change it.
Instead of biding their time and turning Obamacare’s failures into a winning GOP issue in 2014 and beyond, however, some in the party thought they could bring the president to his knees by shutting down the government.
And how did the president respond?
“This Republican shutdown did not have to happen,” he said recently. “But I want every American to understand why it did happen. Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act.
“They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.”
The debate is no longer about an unwieldy, intrusive law that will harm far more people than it helps.
It’s now about cruel, bullying ideologues who would rather shut down the government than accept the rule of law.
The president’s tactics are straight out of his intellectual mentor Saul Alinsky’s rulebook.
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” Alinsky wrote in his Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.
Alinsky’s overall goal was to provide a guide “for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be.”
Radicals — including Alinsky and a younger Obama — usually failed in accomplishing their goal because the method they used ended up alienating people.
The primary method of radicals like Alinsky was direct action: throw up picket lines, stage guerilla street theater, engage in sit-downs, stop the other side from going about its business.
Radicals could disrupt political conventions, close down public schools, tie up traffic and shut down assembly lines, but they lost public support in the process.
But on this fight, the GOP has handed the radical community organizer turned president a rare gift.
It’s now the House Republicans who are using direct action — in this case, shutting down the government — to try to accomplish their goal.
The conservatives who have pushed this tactic are playing right into the president’s hands.
How ironic that radical Barry Obama could end up looking like the rule-of-law guy, while conservative lawmakers assume the role of bomb throwers.
Republicans need to start thinking like conservatives again.
The GOP is in danger of being undone from within.
There is nothing conservative about trying to overturn a bad law by shutting down the government.
Conservatives respect process. Conservatives believe that elections have consequences, and when they lose, they don’t take to the barricades.
They live to fight another day, and they do it by the persuasiveness of their arguments, not by direct action.
LINDA CHAVEZ’S column is distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.