Defending ACORN

Glenn Greenwald defends ACORN (as do John Cole and Anonymous Liberal, two bloggers he links to), basically making the argument that, hey, low-level ACORN employees have gotten caught in some pretty compromising positions (UPDATED: see James O'Keefe's videos here, here, and here), causing an uproar over the estimated $1.5 million to $2 million per year it gets from the federal government for non-political purposes...meanwhile, Wall Street's hubris has caused taxpayers to spend trillions recovering from the financial crisis, hundreds of billions of which have actually gone to Wall Street itself. It's a question prioritizing outrage: ACORN's federal funds are small potatoes compared to the massive influence and umbilical-like connection the financial sector enjoys with the very government entities that are supposed to regulate it.

That's Greenwald's point. Without judging its validity, we can at least say that the reasons for being outraged at ACORN are diametrically opposed to the reasons for being outraged at the financial sector: ACORN's problems were caused by a lack of safeguards, best practices, and self-policing to prevent things like, say, people appearing to conspire at prostitution and tax evasion on camera; it has little influence on the powerful (see the Senate's overwhelming vote to cut off its fundting); and what influence it does have is a bottom-up kind of influence--it supplies Democratic candidates with voter registration and turnout efforts that help them, and, for all ACORN's shortcomings, which are manifest at the local level, Democrats have felt they can't turn their backs on the constituency ACORN represents--namely, the poor and minorities.

The financial sector, meanwhile, is more of a top-down organization; it exerts heavy influence on Washington through lobbying; the revolving door between industry and government gives the appearance, at least, of something suspect; it has tons upon tons of money; it helped cause a global financial crisis by trying to turn that money into more money; and its power is centralized on one street in New York.

It's fitting, then, that ACORN's major initiative as this scandal hit was a campaign against Wall Street, loan servicers, and in particular Goldman Sachs.

ACORN was exalted as a socialist bogeyman by conservatives, particularly bloggers, during the frenzied hysteria of the 2008 campaign, and investigations of voter registration fraud pushed things over the edge.

If there's one thing that will come out of the current video scandal and congressional votes to cut off funding, it's that ACORN's bogeyman status has been solidified: it is now firmly in the upper ranks of the conservative targets on the left.