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Saul Alinsky: the Conservative’s Achilles’ Heel

In his younger and more optimistic years, Barack Obama was a community organizer. Republican clods, unable to articulate why uniting neighborhoods, churches and business associations for the common good is a sin against the white man, will nonetheless try and tar Obama with this pedigree whenever they want to cast him in the role of a bolshevik (and you haven’t heard funny until you’ve watched some coot on Fox News accuse Obama of trying to “community organize the government”). And haunting Obama’s footsteps like the shade of Obi Wan Kenobi is the father of modern community organizing, Saul Alinsky. Alinsky, dead since 1972, has gotten a lot of play in the media lately courtesy of Newt Gingrich, who calls the president a “Saul Alinksy radical” at the drop of a hat. Why his audience should care, especially those under 40 who probably think that Alinsky is the prime minister of Poland,  is never explained. Republicans familiar with Alinsky are doubtless glad that Newt doesn’t press his case, since any vetting of Saul Alinsky or his people’s organizations would reveal a radical far more in the tradition of Thomas Paine than Marx or Engels. It was Glenn Beck who first brought Alinsky-bashing into fashion during the Tea Party’s heyday as a smear against Obama. Newt is simply scraping the bowl for what’s left of that movement’s true believers. He raises Alinsky’s ghost for the same reason he inveighs against secularism: it is a dog whistle to his supporters, nothing more. Like Newt’s bogus piety, painting Alinsky as some notorious red is sheer opportunism, and he is no more fearful of  community organizers jump-starting the ComIntern than he is interested in letting God’s Word within 1000 meters of his personal habits. But it wouldn’t be a Republican presidential race if someone wasn’t puting those naughty 60s on trial! Alinsky seems to have the makings of a reliable straw man; another Bill Ayers or Reverend Wright to hang around Obama’s neck. Trouble is, Alinsky, when taken in context, sounds an awful lot like Ronald Reagan. Whether it is his fierce belief in individual initiative, his disdain for authoritarians or his faith in community solutions as opposed to Federal largesse (in language that would make Spiro Agnew swoon he called the Johnson-era “War on Poverty” a “prize piece of political pornography”), Alinsky proves to be the kind of leftist only a conservative could love. But they dare not, and have always tried mightily to misinterpret him. Once, on  William F. Buckley”s program Firing Line, Saul staggered Bill by stating that he would rather steal than accept charity. Never have two poles reversed so quickly, with Buckley falling over himself pleading the case of the the welfare provider, and Alinsky championing (in only the most hypothetical language) the virtue of brute force. Unlike Bill Buckley, sputtering reactionaries like Newt and Glenn Beck are not interested in giving Alinsky a hearing. And yet, queerly, they love what he has to say! Listen to any conservative talk at length about Alinsky and you will invariably hear them pledge allegiance to his work subverting powerful interests. One YouTube video I found even featured a young campus conservative leading a workshop where he extolled the villainy of Alinsky while simultaneously trumpeting his techniques, before claiming that he could never, in good conscience, endorse them. The paradox of conservative thought is that they hate Alinsky for rubbing elbows with the poor but see in him the type of politician they admire most: the dirty trickster. They wish to paint him as a Karl Rove of the left, a Plumber planting microphones and penning canuck letters and the other felonious scumbaggery that the right holds as the high water mark of their own subversive history. That Alinsky has nothing in common with G. Gordon Liddy or Roger Ailes, and that his methods, far from being insidious, are simply means to ends that any leader with half a neuron would endorse, is just one more reason why today’s conservative movement is swirling the drain in a motorboat.


  1. Jody

    Hannity just stated that if it was up to Obama, Bin Laden would still be alive.

    Misinterpretation is what these guys DO.

    JY: Get back to making cartoons! One of my students waxed nostalgic for MegusXLR in my class just yesterday, and I promised him you’d crank out a new DVD by Christmas!

  2. Gus

    Jody – Holy fucking shit, that isn’t misinterpretation, it’s, what’s the word? Fantasy? Lying? Bullshit?

  3. theo

    God conservative americans are nearly Nazis. This is exactly that sort of reversal of reality shit the national socialists were pulling to sell their retarded ideas. Sophisms over sophisms over sophisms. I glad the right is so weak in the province I live in.

    JY: Assuming you are a Canadian, I’d love to hear your pros and cons about socialized medicine. Also, Canadian metric bacon vs. American normal bacon.

  4. Richard

    Saul Alinksy is more Parker/Stone than either liberal or conservative. Among his recommended tactics are to buy a lot of tickets for the opera and have the ticket holders eat a ton of beans just before the performance, or get a lot of people to wait around the airport and occupy all the bathrooms stalls every time a flight comes in. Though you don’t actually need to do these things, you just leak word that you plan to, and bam, you got the powers that be eager to negotiate.
    It’s “Spiro” Agnew, unless that was a creative misspelling.

  5. Simon_Jester

    @Gus, what’s really scary is all the mindless lemmings who will accept Hannity’s claim as Gospel from the Mount, without so much as a second thought.

    Take for example the following rant from one of these ignorant loons, made on another forum:

    “When our economy collapses beneath our debt, and there is panic and chaos in the streets, I suspect that Mr. Obama will resort to the same tactics as the Syrians in order to save his hide.”

  6. KiZeR

    Meanwhile the right is spreading rumors that they’re planning on bombing ballot stations in known democratic strongholds to make people scared to vote on election day. Sick, sick stuff and its only going to get worse the closer we get to election day.

  7. Jody

    Jason: Don’t I just wish. I doubt CN’s going to do anything but sit on my toon til it’s old enough to warrant a nostalgic revival on Adult Swim. On the plus side, hey, maybe I’ll get to work on it.

    Gus: yep. Those all apply. I was just being polite. :)

  8. ZJSimon

    Never heard of Alinsky. Thanks for the lesson, even if it’s another chapter in the ‘listen to what I say he said rather than what he said’ book.

    JY: By all means, listen to what he said:
    I would love to walk around with a copy of Reveille for Radicals tucked under my arm, challenging Republicans to flip to a page, any page, and find an opinion they disagree with. They would be frustratingly disappointed.

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