Lots of folks have been talking (angrily) about Wednesday night’s GOP effort to make “community organizer” an object of mockery — see, for instance, Joe Klein, Chris Hayes, Sally Kohn, and the excellent Jay Smooth:
This is all right on, but I think one aspect is being overlooked, one contrast between community organizers and mayors (and others with "executive experience").
Consider: Community organizers are ordinary people who bring their peers together via persuasion and consensus. Community organizers are nodes in a network — it is almost by definition a non-hierarchical affair. "Executive experience," on the other hand, involves clear lines of authority. Someone is in charge. There’s a clear pecking order, and the executive is on top.
Not for the first time, I direct your attention to “Authoritarianism and the political divide” by Jonathan Weiler and Marc J. Hetherington. Evidence finds that authoritarianism, as a personality trait, was once distributed evenly between parties but has now self-selected to the right (though it waxes and wanes in all of us based on circumstances). If you want to know why Republicans spend so much time hitting on issues of group identification and fear of outsiders, it is because those issues "tap, quite directly, fundamental concerns about the proper structure of the family and authority, the need to quell possible threats to social homogeneity, and the need to use whatever means necessary to protect a suddenly vulnerable-seeming nation. In short, all of these issues tap anxieties central to an authoritarian world view."
Obviously this is a generalization, but I think it’s broadly valid: Conservatives crave clear lines of authority. They love top dogs; they love winners. They loath and fear weakness. They favor force and intimidation over persuasion and empathy.
The community organizing issue taps directly into this dynamic. However small her town, Palin was in charge. She was the top dog — had the “actual responsibilities,” ordered people around. Community organizers aren’t top dogs; they’re not in charge of anyone. They just go around talking, listening, persuading, empathizing. They can’t force anything to happen. It is, through the authoritarian lens, a form of weakness, powerlessness.
That is, at least in part, the reason the hardcore Republican crowd roared Wed. night when two mayors mocked community organizing. Obama spent his time in Chicago talking, just like he’s been talking ever since. If he had any balls, he would have been in charge, right?