Sadly, I wondered the same thing. All I knew about Saul Alinsky is that he was once a community organizer in Chicago…
Unless you’ve been paying close attention to the undercurrents of right-wing US politics over the last five years, you might have missed an obscure name from the 1960s who has been hoisted into a hate figure: Saul Alinsky.
Alinsky died nearly 30 years ago but thanks to a tenuous link to Barack Obama, his name has been raised as evidence of Obama’s radical roots. Newt Gingrich, the current front-runner for the Republican nomination, repeatedly denounces Obama as “a classic Saul Alinsky radical” on the campaign trail.
When Gingrich won the South Carolina primary on Saturday, his victory speech sought to distinguish what he called “American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky” of Obama.
Gingrich has merely tapped into a fulmination against Alinsky – who was what passes for a left-wing radical in American politics, agitating for better living conditions for the poor in the slums of Chicago and New York – that has been filtered through the likes of right-wing talkshow hosts such as Glenn Beck and Mark Levin.
The connection with Obama is that his career as a community organiser included work for an Alinsky-inspired group in Chicago, while a profile of Obama by Ryan Lizza in the New Republic in 2007 said Obama “taught Alinsky’s concepts and methods”:
(click here to continue reading Saul Alinsky: who is he and why does Newt Gingrich keep mentioning him? | World news | guardian.co.uk.)
I should read Rules For Radicals, at least once…
In Rules for Radicals, for example, he responds to the demands by youth frustrated at the continuation of the Vietnam war by the Democratic party after the political battles and riots of 1968:
It hurt me to see the American army with bayonets advancing on American boys and girls. But the answer I gave to the young radicals seemed to me the only realistic one: “Do one of three things. One, go and find a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves. Two, go psycho and start bombing – but this will only swing people to the right. Three, learn a lesson. Go home, organise, build power and at the next convention, you be the delegates.
Much of Alinsky’s advice about to bring about change in modern political climate is now so mainstream that it would hardly be recognised as radical.
From Nicholas von Hoffman:
Dead almost forty years, Saul Alinsky is still with us. The political genius who invented community organizing is given the credit (or the blame) for such left-leaning organizations as ACORN and the United Farm Workers. Now the election of the first African-American president is often ascribed to him.
But lately it’s the rightwardly inclined who are running around with copies of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals in their back pockets. During the battle for healthcare reform and its bitter aftermath, the Tea Partyers used Alinsky’s Rules as a recipe for brewing the mayhem that has won them so much attention. Alinsky has even been made recommended reading by such reactionaries as Dick Armey, who says Alinsky “was very good at what he did, but what he did was not good.”
A year and a half into President Obama’s term, Alinsky’s fame on the right continues to grow while his influence on the administration has faded. Were he around today, Alinsky in his turn might look askance at the failure to create a people’s administration, an opportunity made possible by Obama’s unique campaign organization.
Alinsky believed that the beginning of everything political was to know yourself and the terrain you were operating on. So he probably would have cautioned Obama that all the power of the presidency—its prestige, that damn bully pulpit, the helicopter and those gleaming marines saluting at every doorway—would not suffice. Obama, who had promised an enormous agenda for change, would not have the power to deliver the goods his strongest supporters were hoping for. Alinsky would have predicted that Obama could not rely on a Democratic Party whose fitful loyalties are shaped by the ravenous conflicting interests members of Congress answer to.
Without a doubt Saul, a battler himself, would have admired Obama’s battle to get the healthcare bill passed. Not since Woodrow Wilson’s national tour to win US acceptance of the League of Nations has a president fought so hard for a significant measure as did Obama. The attempt broke Wilson’s health and that, Alinsky might have said, underscores the impossibility of a president, even such an eloquent and energetic one, carrying the whole load alone. What Obama needed was Organizing for America, the once dynamic, self-starting group of street-level campaign workers that got him elected president but has degenerated into an ordinary political organization taking its marching orders from Washington.
(click here to continue reading Advice From Saul Alinsky | The Nation.)