Saul Alinsky, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama
Who was Saul Alinsky, and why should we still care?
We should care because his organizing for revolution tactics are being used by activists and groups all over our country today!
From Discover the Networks:
[Saul Alinsky] Identified a set of very specific rules that ordinary citizens could follow, and tactics that ordinary citizens could employ, as a means of gaining public power.
Created a blueprint for revolution under the banner of “social change”.
Two of his most notable modern-day disciples are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Born to Russian-Jewish parents in Chicago in 1909, Saul Alinsky was a Communist/Marxist fellow-traveler who helped establish the tactics of infiltration — coupled with a measure of confrontation — that have been central to revolutionary political movements in the United States in recent decades. He never joined the Communist Party but instead, as David Horowitz puts it, became an avatar of the post-modern left. Chicago alderman Leon Despres, a Communist Party member and a college classmate of Alinsky, once said: “I don’t think he [Alinsky] ever remotely thought of joining the Communist Party, [but] emotionally he aligned very strongly with it.” And Alinsky biographer Sanford D. Horwitt wrote that Alinsky was “broadly sympathetic” with the politics of his friend Herb March, who worked as an organizer for the Young Communist League.
Though Alinsky is rightfully understood to have been a leftist, his legacy is more methodological than ideological. He identified a set of very specific rules that ordinary citizens could follow, and tactics that ordinary citizens could employ, as a means of gaining public power. His motto was, “The most effective means are whatever will achieve the desired results.”
Alinsky laid out a set of basic principles to guide the actions and decisions of radical organizers and the People’s Organizations they established. The organizer, he said, “must first rub raw the resentments of the people; fan the latent hostilities to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act.” The organizer’s function, he added, was “to agitate to the point of conflict” and “to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy.’” “The word ‘enemy,’” said Alinsky, “is sufficient to put the organizer on the side of the people”; i.e., to convince members of the community that he is so eager to advocate on their behalf, that he has willingly opened himself up to condemnation and derision. 
But it is not enough for the organizer to be in solidarity with the people. He must also, said Alinsky, cultivate unity against a clearly identifiable enemy; he must specifically name this foe, and “singl[e] out” precisely who is to blame for the “particular evil” that is the source of the people’s angst. In other words, there must be a face associated with the people’s discontent. That face, Alinsky taught, “must be a personification, not something general and abstract like a corporation or City Hall.” Rather, it should be an individual such as a CEO, a mayor, or a president.
Alinsky summarized it this way: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it…. [T]here is no point to tactics unless one has a target upon which to center the attacks.” He held that the organizer’s task was to cultivate in people’s hearts a negative, visceral emotional response to the face of the enemy. “The organizer who forgets the significance of personal identification,” said Alinsky, “will attempt to answer all objections on the basis of logic and merit. With few exceptions this is a futile procedure.”
Alinsky also advised organizers to focus their attention on a small number of selected, strategic targets. Spreading an organization’s passions too thinly was a recipe for certain failure, he warned.
In Alinsky’s view, action was more often the catalyst for revolutionary fervor than vice versa. He deemed it essential for the organizer to get people to act first (e.g., participate in a demonstration) and rationalize their actions later. “Get them to move in the right direction first,” said Alinsky. “They’ll explain to themselves later why they moved in that direction.”
Among the most vital tenets of Alinsky’s method were the following:
- “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more live up to their own rules than the Christian Church can live up to Christianity.”
- “No organization, including organized religion, can live up to the letter of its own book. You can club them to death with their ‘book’ of rules and regulations.”
- “Practically all people live in a world of contradictions. They espouse a morality which they do not practice.… This dilemma can and should be fully utilized by the organizer in getting individuals and groups involved in a People’s Organization. It is a very definite Achilles’ heel even in the most materialistic person. Caught in the trap of his own contradictions, that person will find it difficult to show satisfactory cause to both the organizer and himself as to why he should not join and participate in the organization. He will be driven either to participation or else to a public and private admission of his own lack of faith in democracy and man.”
Alinsky taught that in order to most effectively cast themselves as defenders of moral principles and human decency, organizers must react with “shock, horror, and moral outrage” whenever their targeted enemy in any way misspeaks or fails to live up to his “book of rules.”
Moreover, said Alinsky, whenever possible the organizer must deride his enemy and dismiss him as someone unworthy of being taken seriously because he is either intellectually deficient or morally bankrupt. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength,” said Alinsky. He advised organizers to “laugh at the enemy” in an effort to provoke “an irrational anger.” “Ridicule,” said Alinsky, “is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.”
Alinsky died in 1972, but his legacy lives on as a staple of leftist method, a veritable blueprint for revolution (which he and his disciples euphemistically refer to as “change”). Two of his most notable modern-day disciples are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
In 1969 Hillary Clinton wrote her 92-page senior thesis on Alinsky’s theories. A great admirer of Alinsky’s blend of ruthless and stealth activist tactics, Hillary personally interviewed the famed author for her project. She concluded her thesis by stating:
“Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio/political philosophy. As such, he has been feared — just as Eugene Debs [the five-time Socialist Party candidate for U.S. President] or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths — democracy.”
Hillary would maintain her allegiance to Alinsky’s teachings throughout her adult life. According to a March 2007 Washington Post report:
“As first lady, Clinton occasionally lent her name to projects endorsed by the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the Alinsky group that had offered her a job in 1968. She raised money and attended two events organized by the Washington Interfaith Network, an IAF affiliate.”
Ultimately, Hillary’s investigation of Alinsky’s methods and ideals led her to conclude that the Lyndon Johnson-era federal antipoverty programs did not go far enough in redistributing wealth among the American people, and did not give sufficient power to the poor.
When Hillary graduated from Wellesley in 1969, she was offered a job with Alinsky’s new training institute in Chicago. She opted instead to enroll at Yale Law School.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama never personally met Saul Alinsky. By the time Alinsky died in 1972, Obama was only 11 years old. But as a young man, he became a master practitioner of Alinsky’s methods. In 1985 a small group of 20-odd churches in Chicago offered Obama a job helping residents of poor, predominantly black, Far South Side neighborhoods. Accepting that opportunity, Obama became Director of the Developing Communities Project, where he worked for the next three years on initiatives that ranged from job training to school reform to hazardous waste cleanup. David Freddoso, author of the 2008 book The Case Against Barack Obama, summarizes Obama’s community-organizing efforts as follows:
“He pursued manifestly worthy goals; protecting people from asbestos in government housing projects is obviously a good thing and a responsibility of the government that built them. But [in every case except one] the proposed solution to every problem on the South Side was a distribution of government funds …”
Three of Obama’s mentors in Chicago were trained at the Alinsky-founded Industrial Areas Foundation. (The Developing Communities Project itself was an affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, whose modus operandi for the creation of “a more just and democratic society” is rooted firmly in the Alinsky method.)
One of Obama’s early mentors in the Alinsky method, Mike Kruglik, would later say the following about Obama:
“He was a natural, the undisputed master of agitation, who could engage a room full of recruiting targets in a rapid-fire Socratic dialogue, nudging them to admit that they were not living up to their own standards. As with the panhandler, he could be aggressive and confrontational. With probing, sometimes personal questions, he would pinpoint the source of pain in their lives, tearing down their egos just enough before dangling a carrot of hope that they could make things better.”
For several years, Obama himself taught workshops on the Alinsky method. Also, beginning in the mid-1980s, Obama worked with ACORN, the Alinskyite grassroots political organization that grew out of George Wiley‘s National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO).
This profile was written by John Perazzo.
Saul Alinsky’s 12 Rules for Radicals
Here is the complete list from Alinsky.
* RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood. (These are two things of which there is a plentiful supply. Government and corporations always have a difficult time appealing to people, and usually do so almost exclusively with economic arguments.)
* RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone. (Organizations under attack wonder why radicals don’t address the “real” issues. This is why. They avoid things with which they have no knowledge.)
* RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)
* RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules. (This is a serious rule. The besieged entity’s very credibility and reputation is at stake, because if activists catch it lying or not living up to its commitments, they can continue to chip away at the damage.)
* RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. (Pretty crude, rude and mean, huh? They want to create anger and fear.)
* RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones. (Radical activists, in this sense, are no different that any other human being. We all avoid “un-fun” activities, and but we revel at and enjoy the ones that work and bring results.)
* RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news. (Even radical activists get bored. So to keep them excited and involved, organizers are constantly coming up with new tactics.)
* RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. (Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, regroup, recover and re-strategize.)
* RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (Perception is reality. Large organizations always prepare a worst-case scenario, something that may be furthest from the activists’ minds. The upshot is that the organization will expend enormous time and energy, creating in its own collective mind the direst of conclusions. The possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.)
* RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog. (Unions used this tactic. Peaceful [albeit loud] demonstrations during the heyday of unions in the early to mid-20th Century incurred management’s wrath, often in the form of violence that eventually brought public sympathy to their side.)
* RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. (Old saw: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Activist organizations have an agenda, and their strategy is to hold a place at the table, to be given a forum to wield their power. So, they have to have a compromise solution.)
* RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)