Saturday, January 31, 2009

Limbagh Reads Alinsky

I normally ignore Rush Limbagh's rants as the garbage that they are. But here is something he said last Monday in response to Obama calling him out that I found intriguing.

This is a political play and a lot of people I think are misunderstanding this. ‘He's frightened of Limbaugh.' I don't think he's afraid of anybody. He's the president of the United States. This is a political play to marginalize me so that Republicans are afraid to associate with my ideas or any of us. He wants conservatism, mainstream conservatism to be thought of the way you and I think of communism. He wants it thought of as the most foreign, the most offensive, the most extreme manner of belief possible... This is a Saul Alinsky radical rule number 13: Pick the target, me, isolate it, polarize it... That's what's happening here. This is a purposeful effort to get rid of conservatism as a mainstream way of thinking forever in this country, make no mistake about it.


So Rush is paying attention to the community organizing tactics espoused by Saul Alinsky...interesting. It piqued my curiosity enough that I decided to look into the "Radical Rules"to see what I could learn as well as to consider whether or not Obama is using them as a playbook.



First, a little background on Alinsky from wikipedia.

He is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing in America, the political practice of organizing communities to act in common self-interest...

In the 1930s, Alinsky organized the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago (made infamous by Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle" for the horrific working conditions in the Union Stock Yards)... In "Rules for Radicals" (his final work, published in 1971 one year before his death), he addressed the 1960s generation of radicals, outlining his views on organizing for mass power. In the first chapter, opening paragraph of the book Alinsky writes, "What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. "The Prince" was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. "Rules for Radicals" is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away".


Two of Alinsky's founding principles are about "power" and "self-interest." Ryan Lizza lays out how Obama was schooled in these principles in an article titled The Agitator.

Alinsky's contribution to community organizing was to create a set of rules, a clear-eyed and systemic approach that ordinary citizens can use to gain public power. The first and most fundamental lesson Obama learned was to reassess his understanding of power. Horwitt says that, when Alinsky would ask new students why they wanted to organize, they would invariably respond with selfless bromides about wanting to help others. Alinsky would then scream back at them that there was a one-word answer: "You want to organize for power!"...

The other fundamental lesson Obama was taught is Alinsky's maxim that self-interest is the only principle around which to organize people. (Galluzzo's manual goes so far as to advise trainees in block letters: "get rid of do-gooders in your church and your organization.") Obama was a fan of Alinsky's realistic streak. "The key to creating successful organizations was making sure people's self-interest was met," he told me, "and not just basing it on pie-in-the-sky idealism."


So, what are these Rules for Radicals?

1 ) Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

2 ) Never go outside the experience of your people. It may result in confusion, fear and retreat.

3 ) Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear and retreat.

4 ) Make the enemy live up to his/her own book of rules.

5 ) Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.

6 ) A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

7 ) A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

8 ) Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.

9 ) The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.

10 ) The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.

11 ) If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into it's counterside.

12 ) The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

13 ) Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.


That's some pretty hard-knuckled stuff!! For any of you who wondered how Obama came up through the machine of Chicago politics, perhaps there are some answers there.

But apparently, Obama has never been a complete disciple of Alinsky. Here's how Lizza describes it.

But, although he was a first-class student of Alinsky's method, Obama also saw its limits. It appealed to his head but not his heart...

In our last conversation...I asked Obama if his reputation for purity is a little overblown. He chuckled. "I wouldn't be a U.S. senator or out of Chicago or a presidential candidate from Illinois if I didn't have some sense of the world as it actually works," he said...

But being clear-eyed about power also means understanding its limits.

"What I am constantly trying to do," he added, "is balance a hard head with a big heart."

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