Newt: Saul Alinsky Radical

One of the more amusing memes coming from the loony right, especially the Glenn Beck set, for the last three years is the obsessive focus on the formerly obscure Saul Alinsky. Newt Gingrich has adopted the Glenn Beck line that Alinsky was plotting to destroy American society and that Obama is the Lenin to his Marx.

The arguments are idiotic, amounting to little more than, “Saul Alinsky suggested dividing one’s opponents as a political tactic; Obama tries to divide his political opponents. Therefore Obama is trying to follow Alinsky’s blueprint to destroy the country.” QED, right? Well, no. It’s especially ironic coming from people like Newt or Beck, whose entire raison d’etre is to divide people. Philip Kline points out the irony that no one is following Alinsky’s tactics more than Newt:

But if any candidate is using Saul Alinsky’s playbook in this campaign, it’s Gingrich himself.

In his seminal 1971 work, “Rules for Radicals,” left-wing community organizer Alinsky laid out his method for instigating change. Many of the tactics he spoke about — such as exploiting resentment and pitting oneself against the establishment — have become a central part of Gingrich’s strategy for securing the Republican presidential nomination.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, Gingrich attributed his South Carolina victory to two things. The first was the economic pain that people were feeling. He then continued, “The second, though, which I think nobody in Washington and New York gets, is the level of anger at the national establishment.”

Gingrich’s clashes against the establishment are classic Alinsky.

“The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy,'” Alinsky wrote in “Rules for Radicals.” He went on to reveal that, “Today, my notoriety and the hysterical instant reaction of the establishment not only validate my credentials of competency but also ensure automatic popular invitation.”

Though Gingrich has spent several decades profiting from being part of the Washington establishment, the fact that he’s been attacked by so-called “elites” has become self-validating.

And the way he scolded CNN moderator John King in last Thursday’s South Carolina debate followed Alinsky’s 13th tactical rule, which states: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

I guess that makes Newt into the Lenin in this occasion.

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  • slc1

    In fact, Rethuglicans like Karl Rove and the late and unlamented Lee Atwater are the most avid of Alinsky’s followers. I personally heard the late Mr. Alinsky make the statement in a talk at the university where I was a graduate student that the way to progress was to rub raw the sores of discontent. That is exactly what Rove, Atwater, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Beck and their ilk do with their appeals to nativism and racism and their demonizing of liberals, and quite lucratively I might add.

  • Before Obama, they tried to claim Hillary Clinton was an Alinsky acolyte. It was either David Brock or the late Barbara Olsen, in a book about her, who began each chapter with a quote from Alinsky.

    As a former right-winger myself, I can vouch that the far right has been using Alinsky as a bogeyman for quite some time.

  • jamessweet

    It occurred to me while reading this that it is just yet another example of how conservatives are constantly a few decades behind, being dragged kicking and screaming into the present.

  • Aquaria

    Was there a hayseed over-educated philanderer in the Soviet uprising?

    Maybe that was Trotsky. Except Newt doesn’t have Trotsky’s smarts or charisma.

  • scienceavenger

    Alinsky is one of those names that can be used as a convenient dismissal of whoever is invoking him, since it reveals they live in Looney Echoland. He’s been part of the fictional rightwing conspiracy trinity (along with ACORN and William Ayers) since the last election.

    It’s pretty clear that Newt is purposely targeting the Echo-Chamber Republicans with this Alinsky reference, as well as his frequent teleprompter jokes when debating Obama comes up. These are all Teatard dogmas. Expect Newt to mention Ayers as well as George Soros very soon.

  • Ichthyic

    As a former right-winger myself, I can vouch that the far right has been using Alinsky as a bogeyman for quite some time.

    it makes me wonder if Alinsky noted that the use of projection is a grand tool.

    seems the GoP has adopted it wholesale for the last 30 years or so.

  • exdrone

    Bill Maher had a good “New Rules” segment on Real Time last week called Who the F@ck is Saul Alinsky?

  • KG

    I’d never heard of Alinsky that I recall (I’m not American). Having read his wikipedia entry, the comparison to Marx seems singularly inept: Marx was mainly a social theoretician, interested in long-term historical processes; his organisational efforts were not particularly successful. Alinsky seems to have had no particular interest in broad social theory, so his organisational recommendations for grassroots agitation can be used by Tea Party activists (as the wikipedia article notes) as easily as progressives, just as Lenin’s ideas about a “vanguard party” have been used by fascists and Islamists as well as Marxists, and Gandhi’s ideas on NVDA by the American civil rights movement and in the “Arab spring”.

  • jimmiraybob

    It’s worse than anybody could possibly have imagined. Obama has been palling around with the ghost of a 6th century BCE Chinese military general:

    Sun Tzu –

    It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, be able to divide them; if equal,engage them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.

    – from the Wikipedia

    We’re doomed.

  • As near as I can tell, the sum total of evidence for a connection between Obama and Alinsky is that someone (not Obama himself) compared Obama’s community organizing in Chicago to an ‘Alinsky operation’. Which could be used to describe just about any grassroots community organizing. Otherwise, Obama was 10 years-old and living in Hawaii when Alinsky died.

    I was going to go on about how nuts the right-wing is for their insanity over Alinsky, but I’ll just second watching the Bill Maher rant @7.

  • Interesting to compare Alinsky with Ward Churchill, another of the Right’s favorite bogeymen. Churchill is an easy target — a bomb-thrower with a tendency to make shit up about his past. Alinsky, on the other hand, seems to have primarily just been a general good guy who chose to fight disenfranchisement. In other words, the two have nothing in common besides being nominally left-wing and relatively obscure before the Right decided to burn them in effigy.

  • Michael Heath

    tommykey writes:

    Before Obama, they tried to claim Hillary Clinton was an Alinsky acolyte.

    Hillary Clinton née Rodham wrote a college thesis on Saul Alinsky.

    I have no idea nor do I care what Ms. Rodham’s sentiments were at that time of her life regarding Mr. Alinsky. At one point in her youth she was a Goldwater Republican. Wise people adapt and grow where I think Secretary Clinton is one of the wisest people I’ve ever encountered in D.C. The class and resiliency she demonstrated in in the 1990s against partisan attacks was one of my first indicators I was on the wrong side of the partisan battle.

    I read a book, Blood Sport, about Whitewater from journalist James B. Stewart. Mr. Stewart was hunting for presidential bear but instead came out realizing Clinton’s enemies had virtually nothing and didn’t care – his enemies were merely looking to destroy his presidency regardless of the outcome of to the country. Mr. Stewart revealed that Ms. Clinton probably did cheat on her taxes a couple of years and obstruct justice on some matters, but nothing compared to the sins of those with far more money and power, where I think she came out far wiser. I actually don’t have a problem with people with skeletons in their closet from their youth, in spite of not having any of my own. I’d much rather have overly aggressive, competitive leaders who’ve made mistakes and have learned than those who have no idea how to win because they have no compunction to go for it.

    Then-Senator Clinton was a close second for me in the ’08 presidential campaign with no close third (Obama was #1 for me.)

  • Brad

    Every time some Republican mentions Saul Alinsky just pretend that he said Emmanuel Goldstein. It will make a lot more sense.

  • Alinsky’s son had some interesting thoughts about the use of his father’s name. I’m not sure, but it’s plausible.

  • Chris from Europe

    With working link:

    Alinsky’s son had some interesting thoughts about the use of his father’s name. I’m not sure, but it’s plausible.

  • “Saul Alinsky” is also a code word for “Jew,” for anti-semites. Gingrich tries to have his cake and eat it, too.

  • Chris from Europe,

    Thanx for the fix.

  • Slightly OT, but here’s Christianist lunatic Gary North writing for Lew Rockwell (it’s a bigot’s perfect storm) back in ’04, comparing bin Laden to Ghandi and Alinsky. Hilarious.

  • dan4

    @16: Oh good grief, this sounds like the left-wing equivalent of the rightist meme that criticizing the policies of neoconservatives is anti-semitic because most neoconservatives happen to be Jewish. Hey, Tommy Boy, what about the JEWS who criticize Alinsky?

  • Ben P

    Before Obama, they tried to claim Hillary Clinton was an Alinsky acolyte. It was either David Brock or the late Barbara Olsen, in a book about her, who began each chapter with a quote from Alinsky.

    Hillary Clinton did in fact write some sort of thesis on Alinsky as I recall. (I think it was her undergrad thesis).

    But in reality world all that really tells you is that she was a political science major at what most would recognize is a pretty liberal school in the 60’s. (she was Wellsley 1969)

    Just like Gingrich admits that his past use of marijuana is nothing more a sign that “I was alive and a college student in the 70’s,” having been involved with 60’s radicals is part and parcel of politically active students in the 60’s.

  • dan4:

    What about them? The sort of people who use Alinsky’s name as a dogwhistle probably only care because such people give them an excuse to say what you just said. There are Jewish holocaust deniers and multiracial white supremacists too.

  • vmanis1

    There should be a Godwin’s Law regarding Alinsky. I read both his books (Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals) about 40 years ago, and found them packed with good, but hardly very radical, advice about political organizing. I wouldn’t be too surprised if various teapot party organizers have read them, and acted on what they read.

    But nowadays all the right has to say is `Saul Alinsky’ and people quake in terror.

    It reminds me of a famous story about Leonhard Euler and Denis Diderot. They were at the court of Catherine the Great, and she got tired of Diderot’s atheism. So she commanded Euler to produce a mathematical proof of the existence of God.

    Euler came back the next day, and wrote an equation on the board. He read it out, saying

    `e^(i pi) = -1, therefore God exists’

    Diderot, who knew no math, was defeated. Actually, it is a pretty amazing equality. The premise is true, the conclusion is true or false, depending upon one’s belief. The flaw is in the word `therefore’.

    The right now says things like `Saul Alinsky, therefore Obama eats babies’…and people fall for it.

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