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Alinsky, You Magnificent Bastard, We Read Your Book!

Saul Alinsky's "Rules For Radicals" is all the rage these days. It seems that his political guidelines have transmogrified from the category of "good advice" to "common knowledge," as several of them have been so subsumed into our political culture that they are embraced by people who have probably never heard of them.

For those who are unfamiliar with the not-so-good professor's rules, here they are:

1. "Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have."

2. "Never go outside the expertise of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear and retreat.... [and] the collapse of communication.

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.)

4. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity."

5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage."

6. "A good tactic is one your people enjoy."

7. "A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time...."

8. "Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose."

9. "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself."

10. "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign."

11. "If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside... every positive has its negative."

12. "The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative."

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.'...

"...any target can always say, 'Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?' When your 'freeze the target,' you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments.... Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the 'others' come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target...'

"One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other."

These are remarkably astute and canny observations. They are highly likely to bring about great success -- as long as your goal is "victory at any costs" and you have no inconvenient moral or ethical principles that might get in the way.

However, the problem with any such set of tactics is that once the other side knows about them, they don't work quite as well.

In fact, it's probably a good idea to keep Alinsky's Rules in mind whenever engaging the Left in political struggles, as the odds are that they (consciously or not) will end up using an Alinskyist tactic. And identifying that tactic will give you a good idea on how to counter it.

I really, really need to thank Wizbang detractor (that's a dissenting commenter who doesn't qualify as a "troll") Bruce Henry for this insight. In the comments to my piece on the accusations of racism against the Tea Party, he harped on enough of the standard talking points that it finally clicked on the light in my head.

The accusations of "racism" against the Tea Party are examples of Alinsky's Rules 2 and 3: "Never go outside the expertise of your people" and "Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy."

The Tea Parties were never about race or racial issues. It was about simple issues -- nearly all boiling down to "we want less federal intervention in our everyday lives." Less intrusive government policies and programs, less taxation, and overall a smaller government in regards to domestic issues.

But that's a hard thing to fight back against. In other words, it's "outside the expertise" of Alinsky's disciples.

So they need to convert it to something that is within their expertise. By making it about "racism," they can re-fight a battle and cast themselves as the heirs to the side that won the last time. And they can push the Tea Partiers into the losing side, the side that is widely held in contempt by most Americans.

Now, the Tea Partiers tend not to think about race too much. It's really not that big an issue nowadays -- the triumph of the civil rights movement was that absolute. Oh, there are places and issues where it flares up, but quite frankly America today is far better than the civil rights leaders of the 50's and 60's could have envisioned. The Tea Partiers aren't used to looking at everything through the prism of race, of the nuances of identity politics, of the whole issue of what is considered "racist" today.

In brief, arguments about racial politics is "outside their expertise."

Of course, recognizing a tactic is only half the battle. The other half is defeating it. But knowing what the other side is up to is a huge advantage. (Just look at the Battle of Midway, where the United States was considerably outmatched -- but scored one of the greatest victories in naval history, because we knew the enemy's plans.)

Well, there's nothing like fighting Saul with Saul. If they're going to use Rules 2 and 3, let's hit them back with Rules 4 and 5.

"Rule 4: Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules." This is already being done. How many times has the lily-white lineup of MSNBC been brought up? How racist must they be if they have no non-whites hosting shows? Their token of diversity is the lesbian Rachel Maddow, and she's still a honkey.

Further, look at their national leadership. They got a white man and a white woman running things, and a white man at the DNC. President Obama doesn't count, as he wasn't chosen by the Democrats, but by the American people in general. So he's pretty much a token. He's the Democrats' "House Negro."

And then there's my personal favorite, Rule 5: "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon." Mock the SOBs. Laugh at them. Don't even take the spurious allegation seriously. They don't really believe it, so why should we even pretend to?

They tried to infiltrate the Tea Parties last week, intending to demonstrate the racism by holding up their own racist and bigoted and hateful signs. They wouldn't have had to do that if they really believed that the Tea Parties were racist -- they'd just have to show up and document it. By trying to stage it, they were tacitly admitting that they knew the Tea Partiers wouldn't do it on their own.

Pity the Tea Partiers -- those ignorant hicks, those redneck rubes, those stupid racist yokels -- were prepared for it. Activists watched for the infiltrators and promptly unfurled their own signs calling out the agents provocateurs. "Infiltrator" was the most common one, but I was especially entertained by the ones with the big arrows and the message "WE'RE NOT WITH STUPID."

When this fails (and fail it surely will), the left will go back to Alinsky's little list and find another tactic to use. What they can't accept is that we can also read the same book, understand it, and apply it ourselves. There's nothing inherently "liberal" or "progressive" about Alinsky's rules -- they can be used equally well by either side. If anything, they have a bias in favor of the opposition and against the establishment -- and right now, the left IS the establishment.

Further, they can be used to counteract each other exceptionally well, as demonstrated above.

They've worked their way through Rules 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 13. With the "raaaaacist" accusation, they've shown they don't grasp Rule 7. (Personally, I don't quite grasp Rule 11. I'm gonna have to give that one some thought and some reading.) So, what will they do next?

I'd rather not speculate. I'd rather not give them any ideas.

But when it starts to develop, we will definitely see how it fits into the Rules -- because we can be pretty damned certain that it will, somehow.

And that will tell us how best we can make it blow up in their faces.

They should be used to that sort of thing. Remember William Ayers? He was a leader in the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist group from the 1960's and 1970's that set off quite a few bombs and killed a few people, before he became a political kingmaker in Chicago and started Barack Obama on the path that led him to the White House. Well, the single most fatal bombing the Weather Underground ever pulled off was when they were preparing to bomb a military dance, intending to kill a bunch of enlisted men and their dates. Someone screwed up, and instead they blew three of themselves to bits in what is best described as an "own goal."

Let's give old BIlly a flashback to the fun and games that cost him the lives of a couple of friends and his girlfriend at the time. Let's take the political machinations of his protege and his movement and blow them up in their faces, too.

And while we do it, let's laugh. Let's laugh real loud. After all, as Saul said in Rule 6, "A good tactic is one your people enjoy."


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Comments (17)

Excellent post. I was conc... (Below threshold)

Excellent post. I was concerned that infiltrators would make real trouble at the rallies last week. We had some in Madison, WI, but they were quickly surrounded and neutralized. The most interesting tactic was used on s group of self-described "anarchists". They were busy spray-painting a banner that said, "Jesus Was A Socialist" (yeah, who doesn't love the irony of "anarchists" supporting "socialism"). Several of us went over and asked why they were wearing masks (insert quote from "The Princess Bride" here and began to engage them in a civil debate on ideas (under the watchful eye of the local gendarmerie). Eventually, they gave up on the banner and went home. Maybe they learned something.

Good post, Jay Tea! And her... (Below threshold)

Good post, Jay Tea! And here I've been mocking them just for the sheer pleasure of it!
Who knew it was Rule Five?

Good article Jay. I appreci... (Below threshold)
klrtz1:

Good article Jay. I appreciate your taking the time to write.

11. "If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside... every positive has its negative."

I'm not sure either but perhaps the way tea partiers embrace the idea we're ordinary Americans is an example. Liberals believe themselves to be the elite: smarter, faster, stronger ... I don't recall an elite liberal admitting being wrong about anything, ever. Their egos are are so massive as to resemble immovable objects. However anti-elitism is a powerful force too, one with deep roots in the American psyche. When we push the idea we're ordinary people, in contrast to the liberal elite, then maybe the vast majority of other ordinary Americans are more inclined to listen to us and reject the failed ideology of the current liberal elite. Tea partiers being ordinary Americans could be considered to be a negative but in this case it has become a positive for us.

Does that make sense?

The book of Sun Tzu is bett... (Below threshold)
epador:

The book of Sun Tzu is better than the book of Saul, too.

Kirtx, you neocon filth. I ... (Below threshold)
Victory is Mao's:

Kirtx, you neocon filth. I was wrong once. I admit it. I thought I was mistaken but it turns out I was right all along. I was wrong to think I was mistaken. So there you go, proof you're ordinarily wrong!

ABSOLUTE PROOF!!!

Peace.

"There's nothing inherently... (Below threshold)

"There's nothing inherently "liberal" or "progressive" about Alinsky's rules -- they can be used equally well by either side. If anything, they have a bais (sic) in favor of the opposition and against the establishment -- and right now, the left IS the establishment."

Very true Jay. Most of Alinsky's organizing efforts were with people who had no political power and no money, only strength in numbers. His tactics were designed effectively counter political and economic power. But of course it's hard to "fight the power" when your side is "the power." Of course liberals have so thoroughly indoctrinated themselves to be victim's advocates that they are totally blind to the fact that they are now the oppressors.

When the powerful use Alinsky's tactics against ordinary people, the tactics fail because they usually provoke a negative response -- "you already control the power, so why are you doing this stuff too?" In that context, Alinsky's tactics become nothing more than bullying and marginalization.

Typo fixed, Michael. Thanks... (Below threshold)

Typo fixed, Michael. Thanks.

J.

An example of Rules 8 throu... (Below threshold)
bobdog:

An example of Rules 8 through 13:

Joel Klein suggested to Chris Matthews yesterday that in his opinion, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin Beck and others were close to committing "sedition" (From Newsbusters):

"I did a little bit of research just before this show - it's on this little napkin here. I looked up the definition of sedition which is conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of the state. And a lot of these statements, especially the ones coming from people like Glenn Beck and to a certain extent Sarah Palin, rub right up close to being seditious." He included Limbaugh in his statement, causing Matthews to drool on his desk.

Klein seems to think that these folks are inciting the violent overthrow of the United States.

You're all guilty as charged. Please report to your local office of the FBI for prosecution.

I loved one of the comments that said "Accusing these folks of sedition is as ridiculous as accusing Klein of practicing journalism."

If Contempt of Congress is a crime, where do I turn myself in?

The tea partier's side has ... (Below threshold)
Roy:

The tea partier's side has actual diversity of thought as an advantage, which allows for a rapid change of tactics against a monolithically single-minded enemy. Advantage TP.

with regard to rule #11, I ... (Below threshold)
jim m:

with regard to rule #11, I think that this is referring to the fact that you can over do it with a negative.

Take the whole Raaaaacist! thing. It's no longer a negative. People wear the false accusation like a badge of honor. Being called a racist no longer brings the condemnation that the left desires. Instead it elevates the accused to a status of validation that the accused has struck the left in a way that they have taken notice.

I think that this cuts both ways. You can push your negative too hard or, like in this case, you can join the opposition in pushing on the negative to demonstrate the wrong-headedness of it .

9. "The threat is usually m... (Below threshold)
914:

9. "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself."


In selecting Barry the reverse is true.

"with regard to rule #11, I... (Below threshold)
Mark Pinzon:

"with regard to rule #11, I think that this is referring to the fact that you can over do it with a negative.

Take the whole Raaaaacist! thing. It's no longer a negative. People wear the false accusation like a badge of honor. Being called a racist no longer brings the condemnation that the left desires. Instead it elevates the accused to a status of validation that the accused has struck the left in a way that they have taken notice.

I think that this cuts both ways. You can push your negative too hard or, like in this case, you can join the opposition in pushing on the negative to demonstrate the wrong-headedness of it ."

Great observation, I've been trying to figure that one out myself and I think you may have hit it.

"So, what will they do next... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"So, what will they do next?"

They'll stick with the 'rule book' and continue to follow #2. So you can expect more "racists!" taunts. Which mean nothing anymore.

Besides, EVERYONE KNOWS progressives are pedophiles.

A negative is not a negativ... (Below threshold)
ron:

A negative is not a negative if it is a lie. Lies = 0. If the substance of the lies does not exhist. To perp a lie is next to jumping off of a very tall cliff which is fatal.

>>You're all guilty as char... (Below threshold)

>>You're all guilty as charged. Please report to your local office of the FBI for prosecution.

Sorry, Post Office closed at 3PM Eastern.

11. "If you push a... (Below threshold)
Anon Y. Mous:
11. "If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside... every positive has its negative."

I think it means that you just keep on pushing the downside to the extreme. For example, take libertarianism. What do you get if you take the concept of limited government to the extreme? The answer is anarchy, or lawlessness.

I think that's why they have Bill Clinton out there raising the specter of McVeigh and Oklahoma City. Because that's what happens if you get too down on government, right? The crazies take over and start blowing stuff up and killing people.

The problem with the tactic is that they can't sell it. People are just not going to believe that we have to watch out or these pleasant, law-abiding people who don't want their freedoms taken away and their taxes raised are going to go nuts and start blowing stuff up. They (we) are just waiting for November to deliver the blow at the ballot box.

The truth about Alinski's t... (Below threshold)
jim m:

The truth about Alinski's tactics is that they work, for a time. Back when Alinski wrote his book the ability to communicate information was far more restricted than it is today. If you could get your message out it was exceedingly unlikely to have anyone be able to counter it.

Today with the internet and every phone a video camera, they cannot control their message. To be honest, nobody can completely control their own message. For activists like Alinski and his followers, who aim to create confusion and spread disinformation the ability to do that has largely evaporated. It is too easy today for someone not only to find out who is behind an organization and broadcast that across the world via the internet.

Astroturf may have worked a decade ago, but it is easily unmasked. False allegations like those against the Tea Parties don't hold up as the message from 1000's of independent sources proves them false. Cleaver's accusations of racism fell flat because people expect proof. There were too many video cameras recording the event for none of them to have recorded the slurs he alleged.




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