Thursday, September 17, 2009

Putting the Debate Over ACORN into Context

As ACORN is once again making news, it seems as though many Conservative voices in the media and in the blogosphere are poised to claim victory in demonstrating the vast network of corruption. NiceDeb is one voice of many that has posts like this up today:

Yes, ACORN is a thoroughly corrupt organization, and even stalwart libs can no longer deny it.

In recent days we’ve seen Congress finally take action in defunding ACORN. Now, private organizations, which have donated to ACORN “to make them go away” are being asked to stop funding the criminal organization (which Obama has been closely associated with). So that’s another revenue stream going going….hopefully gone, thanks to our young heroes, (who aren’t even through, yet. Next video to be dropped 9:00pm Eastern).

While conclusions are easy to jump to when you have been salivating at the possibility of putting this organization out of business for years, Anonymous Liberal encourages us to take a step back:

But even if you take these film-makers at face value and assume the worst, the reality is that ACORN has thousands of employees and the vast majority of them spend their days trying to help poor people through perfectly legal means (and receive very little compensation for doing so). Even before yesterday's Senate vote, the amount of federal money that went to ACORN was very small. This is a relatively insignificant organization in the grand scheme of things, but it's an organization that has unquestionably fought over the years to improve the lives of the less fortunate in this country.

That the GOP and its conservative supporters would single out this particular organization for such intense demonization is telling. In September of last year, the entire world came perilously close to complete financial catastrophe. We're still not out of the woods and we're deep within one of the worst recessions in U.S. history. This situation was brought about by the recklessness and greed of our banks and financial institutions, most of which had to be bailed out at enormous cost to the American taxpayer (exponentially more than all of the tax dollars given to ACORN over the years). The people who brought about this near catastrophe, for the most, profited immensely from it. These very same institutions, propped up by the American taxpayer, are once again raking in large profits.

But rather than focus their anger on these folks, conservatives choose to go after an organization composed almost entirely of low-paid community organizers, an organization that could never hope to have even a small fraction of the clout or the ability to affect the overall direction of the country that Wall Street bankers have. ACORN's relative lack of political influence was on full display yesterday, when the U.S. Senate (in which Democrats have a supermajority) not only entertained a vote to defund ACORN, but approved it by a huge margin (with only seven Democrats opposing).

Glenn Greenwald also speaks to how this acts mainly as a distraction:

If one were to watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh -- as millions do -- one would believe that the burden of the ordinary American taxpayer, and the unfair plight of America's rich, is that their money is being stolen by the poorest and most powerless sectors of the society. An organization whose constituencies are often-unregistered inner-city minorities, the homeless and the dispossesed is depicted as though it's Goldman Sachs, Blackwater, Haillburton and combined, as though Washington officials are in thrall to those living in poverty rather than those who fund their campaigns. It's not the nice men in the suits doing the stealing but the very people, often minorities or illegal immigrants, with no political or financial power who nonetheless somehow dominate the government and get everything for themselves. The poorer and weaker one is, the more one is demonized in right-wing mythology as all-powerful receipients of ill-gotten gains; conversely, the stronger and more powerful one is, the more one is depicted as an oppressed and put-upon victim (that same dynamic applies to foreign affairs as well).

It's such an obvious falsehood -- so counter-intuitive and irrational -- yet it resonates due to powerful cultural manipulations. Most of all, what's so pernicious about all of this is that the same interests who are stealing, pillaging and wallowing in corruption are scapegoating the poorest and most vulnerable in order to ensure that the victims of their behavior are furious with everyone except for them.

I think this is right on point. While I am in no way defending the actions of the ACORN employees that are depicted in the video tapes, context and perspective are too often overlooked in situations like these. The CEO of ACORN, Bertha Lewis, was on Democracy Now! this morning and stated that these two Conservative undercover operatives went to almost two dozen ACORN offices. She stated that they were told to leave, had the police called on them, or were turned away in two-third of their visits. She also stated that the applications for these two were never processed in any of the offices, which is proof that their vetting process works. I think that these two points are important to look into further in order to paint a more clear picture of the organization as a whole. It will help to show whether ACORN has some rouge employees or if this problem is more systematic than they are leading on.

It is also important to take the points of Anonymous Liberal and Glenn Greenwald into account as well. ACORN has received $53 million dollars since 1994 which is considerably less than other corrupt Wall Street institutions who have a much closer connection to the government and who have not had any funding cut off. Couple this with the recent treatment that conservatives have reaped upon Van Jones and other Administration officials and the full context of what is happening becomes a little clearer.

This is a more complicated situation than it initially appears and it is important to open up the discussion to put all elements of this ACORN issue on the table.

1 comment:

Grumpy said...

You have put this story in the context in which it should be judged. Every group, organization or company has bad apples. The right's strategy is to keep the pot boiling with a new "story" every few weeks. When it simmers down, they concoct a new one.