Obama’s mentor? - Macleans.ca

Obama’s mentor?

Critics accuse the President of following Saul Alinsky’s rules


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Though Saul Alinsky died when President Barack Obama was 11 years old, conservative media figures want us to know he’s the most important person in Obama’s life. Alinsky, author of the book Rules For Radicals, was a pioneer in community organizing, forming poor people into union-style lobbying groups; most community organizers, including Obama, have cited him as an influence. But now Glenn Beck tells his audience that “there are a couple of rules from Rules For Radicals that are being used against” people who oppose the Obama health care plan, while Newt Gingrich wrote that the passage of the health care bill displayed “the radicalism of Alinsky.” Rush Limbaugh even told his listeners that the recession wasn’t caused by banks: “what caused the collapse was Saul Alinsky.” Sanford D. Horwitt, author of the Alinsky biography Let Them Call Me Rebel, says they “almost think that he, in some spiritual way, is masterminding Obama from the grave.”

Though Alinsky was a self-proclaimed “professional radical,” using sit-ins and other attention-getting tactics on poverty and race issues, he wasn’t always one of the most-hated figures among conservatives. William F. Buckley even praised his “organizational genius.” Then came 2008, pitting Chicago community organizer Obama (Alinsky’s son compared Obama’s campaign to his father’s organizational style), against Hillary Clinton, who, Horwitt says, “wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky.” With two Alinsky fans in high places, Rules For Radicals started to be seen as what David Horowitz, a ’60s left-wing leader turned conservative pundit, called “the field manual for their struggle” to destroy America.

Now that Obama is in charge of the U.S., Alinskyism is seen as what the National Review’s Jim Geraghty has called “the Rosetta Stone for Obama’s decision-making.” When Obama criticizes an opponent, Beck claims that he’s following Alinsky’s rule No. 12: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” And when the Democrats announced their intention to use the so-called reconciliation process to pass health care, National Review writer and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote, “What does ‘reconciliation’ mean? Let’s ask Saul Alinsky,” quoting an old mention of the word by “Obama’s mentor.”

Horwitt thinks this is “an attempt to make Obama seem, through Alinsky, as though he is someone who wanted to turn this country into a socialist paradise.” Conservatives claim Obama’s moderation is a cover for something sinister; Canada Free Press journalist Judi McLeod told Maclean’s that “dissenters” are convinced that underneath the veneer, “Obama is a Marxist who lives by the Saul Alinsky rule book.” The Alinsky rule that’s most applicable to Obama, in this view, is using centrist means for left-wing ends: “I start from where the world is,” Alinsky wrote, “not as I would like it to be.” Geraghty wrote that Obama followed this lead by applying “pragmatism to achieving and keeping power.” Sounding moderate, in other words, is just what Alinsky would tell Obama to do.

Obama’s background has also turned “community organizing” into one of the most hated concepts on the U.S. right, which led a campaign against the community-organizing organization ACORN. Horwitt says that Alinsky-style organizing is considered suspect because it’s about “asking more of government”; Buckley objected to the way Alinsky tried to make people think that anything besides government action is a “venture in futility.” That makes Alinsky a perfect embodiment of what conservatives see in Obama: someone who wants America to be dependent on government, and changes the country more than the hippies ever could.

Alinsky’s admirers are pushing back against his new reputation as a scary Marxist. Horwitt says he “was not interested in socialism or overthrowing capitalism,” and when interviewed by Playboy he said that all his best tactics were “completely non-violent.” In a 1967 National Film Board of Canada documentary on the veteran organizer, Alinsky even argued in terms of conservative virtues like self-reliance, telling young First Nations men: “If you want it bad enough, why don’t you go organize and get it yourself?”

Maybe that explains why some younger conservatives are starting to claim Rules For Radicals as their own. James O’Keefe, the right-wing star whose Borat-style videos brought down ACORN, claimed to be influenced by Alinsky’s use of humour as a tactic (he protested Eastman Kodak’s hiring practices by saying that “the only contribution they have ever made to race relations is the invention of colour film”). There’s even a book, Rules for Conservative Radicals, by Michael Patrick Leahy, that describes how the right can use Alinsky’s ideas for its own ends. Horwitt sums up the message as “Alinsky’s evil, but we need to take lessons from him.” If they can’t beat the Alinsky-Obama conspiracy, they might as well join them.


Obama’s mentor?

  1. Obama is hardly a radical or a socialist.

    A Socialist response to healthcare reform is Universal Single Payer.

    Obama didn't even back a Public Option.

    A Radical response to homophobia is to repeal DADT and DOMA, support full legal recognition of marriages between 2 consenting adults, regardless of the gender combination, as well as a ban on workplace discrimination without exceptions.

    Obama's administration can't even bring itself to employ stop-loss on the argument that the military is fighting two wars and can't meet recruitment quotas for cannon fodder.

    A Socialist response to high unemployment would be a direct-hire government jobs bill and a redefinition of unemployment to include anyone who is not employed to such an extent that they can meet independent living expenses in their area.

    Obama has instead supported tax cuts.

    A radical Socialist would observe the Wall Street meltdown and conclude that capitalism is not working, and that neoliberalism has created this calamity. The Socialist response would be a Cooperative Commonwealth.

    Obama is not even implementing the Volcker Rule (which would separate investment from commercial banking). Instead, he's suggesting that maybe we should convene a panel to just talk about the Volcker Rule, without actually doing anything.

    Obama is no Socialist. Tommy Douglas was a Socialist. the United States should be so lucky as to have a President like Tommy Douglas.

  2. There's even a book, Rules for Conservative Radicals, by Michael Patrick Leahy, that describes how the right can use Alinsky's ideas for its own ends.

    Yeah. Hilarious ends. The Right should work to disenfranchise, defund and disassociate itself from powerful agents first, before it attempts to use similar tactics.

  3. " Canada Free Press journalist Judi McLeod told Maclean's that “dissenters” are convinced that underneath the veneer, “Obama is a Marxist who lives by the Saul Alinsky rule book.”

    Wow, Jaime, you certainly sought out a credible source there. Did McLeod also tell you about her theory that 9-11 was a Mafia hit? Or that Obama was born in Kenya?

    Seriously, what is the point of this article other than to drive up Maclean's hits on Google News etc? Short version: insane opponents of Obama will stop at nothing to damage his reputation.

    Don't quit your day job, Weinman, i.e. watching TV from your sofa and then typing out a few hundred words to make rent.

    • Now, now. Apart from anything else, if I had a sofa, how could I make rent?

  4. tweedle dee tweedle dum and tweedle dummer spouting drivel. not even worth a retort. just three more monkeys.

  5. gawd what a piece of spin doctor drivel! a guy reads a book and the idiots say he's that , he 's this…alinsky was everyones favorite poster boy speaker revolutionary person in the hippie days, it could have been che guavara and he was for a bit that was fifty years ago…and it did the right thing it made a better world in some situations, so what? your reasoning is only ten percent correct the rest is political crap meant to tear down the hornets next and see a fallout…try again goof balls

  6. I love the reaction from Canadian Free Press wingnut: even if Obama is behaving like a centrist, it's all because he's a closeted Marxist. This argument is getting recursive.

    I guess that the conservative truth really comes from the gut.

  7. The Alinsky rule that's most applicable to Obama, in this view, is using centrist means for left-wing ends: “I start from where the world is,” Alinsky wrote, “not as I would like it to be.”

    According to his own mentor Tom Flanagan, this is the same incremental method that Stephen Harper has been using except (obviously) in the opposite direction.

    Presumably the Canadian Free Press finds that less sinister.

  8. I enjoy reading US news s viewed through the lens from up North. Sometimes it is refreshingly incisive and spot on, and sometimes so, wide by a mile, hilariously clueless.