Friday, March 02, 2007

Saul Alinsky's Republican Children

I'm sure I've heard of Saul Alinsky before, but the information didn't stick. From what I've gleaned from this MSNBC article by Bill Dedman, Alinsky was a bit of a contradiction. He was at once an ideologue and a pragmatist. He championed the rights of the underclass to demand power from the elites and developed radical tactics he believed would best achieve that goal. And he was not an ideological purist: "He said he was happy to work with anyone — the Roman Catholic Church, black Protestants, the communists — whoever would invite him into a neighborhood."

Because he did work with the communists he has been labeled a Marxist. I don't know why he wouldn't also be a black Protestant Catholic, but whatever.

And because of her association with Alinsky for the purpose of writing a senior thesis for Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton has been called Alinsky's Daughter; that is, a Marxist. In that case I would think she would have a higher rating on free trade from the CATO Institute. But again, whatever.

However, the article and its description of her long-sealed thesis paints a portrait of Clinton that most of us are familiar with: she's in the political center; she's cautious and pragmatic, not an ideologue; she's always been a political animal. She sounds more like the Republican that the Republicans claim to be, specifically opposing a big government solution to poverty.

And so far as she agreed with Alinsky, it was in the belief in the empowerment of the powerless. You know, democracy. In broad historical terms, that is the most radical of ideas, though more recently it's a rather commonplace belief. Well, favorite buzzword, anyway.

There is that other aspect of Alinsky's belief that she didn't agree with, his tactics.

In the end, she judged that Alinsky's “power/conflict model is rendered inapplicable by existing social conflicts” — overriding national issues such as racial tension and segregation. Alinsky had no success in forming an effective national movement, she said, referring dismissively to “the anachronistic nature of small autonomous conflict.”

Putting Alinsky's Rochester symphony threat [getting a few hundred people to eat beans before attending a concert, creating a 'fart-in'] into academic language, Rodham found that the conflict approach to power is limited. “Alinsky's conclusion that the ‘ventilation’ of hostilities is healthy in certain situations is valid, but across-the-board ‘social catharsis’ cannot be prescribed,” she wrote.


If a belief in empowering the weak and a rejection of agitprop makes her Alinsky's Daughter, then what is a person who believes in agitprop to continue the empowerment of the powerful? A bastard son. In other words, Republican political strategists (though "neocon" is a better phrase for these bastards).

In Alinsky's 13 Rules for Radicals, I immediately recognized many of the very tactics neocons have regularly used with recent success.

ALINSKY's RULES FOR RADICALS
"Personalize it"
Saul Alinsky's rules of power tactics, excerpted from his 1971 book "Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic 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.
3. Whenever possible go outside the experience of the enemy.
4. Make the enemy live up to their 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.
9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
10. Maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside.
12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Naturally, Dedman quoted a salivating bastard son of Alinsky in the form of a Republican political consultant.

Turning to an expert at using Alinsky's tactic -- picking a target, freezing it, personalizing it and polarizing it -- Chris Lacivita can also envision such an ad.

Lacivita co-produced the "Swift Boat" ads in the 2004 presidential race questioning Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s Vietnam service. He told MSNBC.com that no fact from a candidate's life is too old for negative advertising.

"I think the last election cycle proved that there's no statute of limitations," said the Republican political consultant. "What someone did or said 35 years ago is certainly fair game, especially if you're running for president of the United States.

"I have not read her research paper. Though I can assure you that I
will very soon," Lacivita added with a laugh.

He began to brainstorm what such an ad might look like:

"You have to make it relevant to world events today.

"Maybe you look at the contrast. What year did Hillary write this paper? 1969.

"And where was John McCain in 1969? A POW in Vietnam."


Yeah, and remember the Bush Administration's tactic of ridiculing McCain's experience in Hanoi, claiming it rendered McCain mentally unfit? A tactic which continues, by the way.

Grassroots organizing of the powerless and disenfranchised was the soul of Alinsky's philosophy, a soul shared by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. "After attending Columbia University, [Obama] worked as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago for the Developing Communities Project. Obama and others of the post-Alinsky generation described their work in the 1990 book 'After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois,' in which Obama wrote that he longed for ways to close the gap between community organizing and national politics."

The Rules for Radicals was merely the body that soul inhabited at the time, and as implied, knowing the enemy is essential. The common notion of a leftist radical revolutionary is one who disdains the bourgeoisie. Alinsky, however, warned against making the middle-class the enemy, of spurning middle-class values.
They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don't encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let's not let it happen by default.
Yet it did. In wrongly identifying the enemy, many liberals allowed neocons to use the soulless body of The Rules to stalk around the countryside chanting "liberal brains, liberal brains," infecting the neglected working class. The result is an economic ruling class that has convinced the underclass that continuing to support the ruling class is actually in their self-interest since they have soooo much in common, like music and movies.

I'm not saying neocons literally and consciously used Alinsky's Rules. But, except for rule 13, I think they are good rules, and liberals should exorcise the demons and reclaim the body. Because we do have the soul, and we can make the rules work for the good.

I don't think a stunt like staging a fart-in is a good idea (funny, but not good), but otherwise ventilation of hostilities (like blogging) is great. When Clinton was decrying "across-the-board 'social catharsis,'" there was not as much economic disparity. Sure there was plenty of civil unrest, but it seemed to be a war of radical military- and bourgeoise-hating revolutionaries versus blue collar hard hats.

After decades of increasing polarization per rule 13 by soulless and corrupt zombies that are destroying our economy, military, legal and governing systems, people are beginning to realize that they've actually been divided in order to be conquered. The time is becoming very very ripe for across-the-board social catharsis, a Little Rebellion, if you will.

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