Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rules for Radicals

It's been observed that radical leftist Saul Alinsky exerted a formative influence on the thinking of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, so to understand better the minds of the Secretary of State and my president, and those with whom they surround themselves, I recently undertook to read the book for which Alinsky is most famous, his 1971 Rules for Radicals. I confess I had never read it before, but I wish I had, not because it's a particularly entertaining read - it's not - but because it does shed light on the Democratic leadership in general and President Obama in particular. His frenetic urgency, the polarization of the nation he seeks to effect and exploit, the ease with which he says one thing while doing another, can all be traced to the philosophy and tactics Alinsky outlines in his book.

Alinsky, who died a year after his book was published, is very much preoccupied with finding meaning and purpose in life, mentioning the need for meaning at least a dozen times in Rules. For him meaning was found in challenging the establishment, in working for a more "equitable" distribution of wealth, in seizing power from those who have it and using it to upset the old social order.

His book is clearly and unabashedly an updated version of Machiavelli's Prince. Like Machiavelli, Alinsky's guiding ethic is pragmatism - whatever works is right: "My aim here is to suggest how to organize for power: how to get it and to use it." (p.10)

Nor is he any more concerned with traditional morality than was Machiavelli. To be sure, Alinsky wants to "realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation, equal and full opportunities for education....," but he never really elaborates on these ideals nor explains why they're goals worth achieving. Nor does he see them as objective absolutes. Instead he says this: "The organizer does not have a fixed truth - truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing. He is a political relativist." (p. 10f)

But if everything is relative then so are the ideals to which the pragmatist aspires, and if they're relative then the decision to value them is purely subjective.

Throughout the course of the book Alinsky says things like:

"Political realists see the world as it is....In this world we are always moral and our enemies immoral; a world where 'reconciliation' means that one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it." (p.13)

"We live in a world where 'good' is a value dependent on whether we want it." (p.14)

"One does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one's individual conscience and the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter." (p.25)

"Ethical standards must be elastic to stretch with the times." (p.30)

"With very rare exceptions the right things are done for the wrong reasons...The organizer should know and accept that the right reason is only introduced as a moral rationalization after the right end has been achieved...therefore he should search for and use the wrong reasons to achieve the right goals." (p.76)

The world as Alinsky saw it consists of basically two groups, the Haves and the Have Nots. There's a third group, the Have a Little, Want Mores, but they're essentially an appendage of the Have Nots.

He argues that pacifism is merely a tactic that one must employ, clothing it in religion and morality (p.45), when the other side has the weapons. He quotes Lenin approvingly: "They have the guns and therefore we are for peace and for reformation through the ballot. When we have the guns then it will be through the bullet." (p.37f)

His real goal, after all the nods toward justice and equality have been made, is power:

"Power is the very essence, the dynamo of life. It is the power of the heart pumping blood and sustaining life in the body. It is the power of active citizen participation pulsing upward, providing a unified strength for a common purpose. Power is an essential life force always in operation, either changing the world or opposing change." (p.51)

To be successful the community organizer must see himself as something of a God:

"If he or she does not have that complete self-confidence (or call it ego) that he can win, then the battle is lost before it is even begun." (p.60)

"The organizer is in a true sense reaching for the highest level for which man can reach - to create, to be a "great creator," to play God." (p.61)

"Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society." (p.62)

Alinsky professes to hate dogma but is himself as dogmatic as any officer of the Inquisition about the rightness of what he does.

If it's necessary to discredit and humiliate good people (Joe the Plumber?, Sarah Palin?) then so be it. If it's necessary to misrepresent a situation in order to personalize it and polarize it then so be it:

"The most potent weapons known to mankind are satire and ridicule." (p.75)

"Men will act when they are convinced that their cause is 100 percent on the side of the angels and that the opposition is are 100 percent on the side of the devil. He knows there can be no action until issues are polarized to this degree." (p.78)

"The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues...for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act....An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent; provide a channel into which people can angrily pour their frustrations." (p.117)

"Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." (p.130)

The radical must not dither. He must be constant action. There must be a sense of urgency to everything he does or else people will lose interest, or worse, they'll stop to think about whether what they're doing is right. No doubt this is why legislation is pushed through congress before anyone even has the chance to read the bills they're told to vote for:

"[A] conflict that drags on too long becomes a drag....From the moment the tactician engages in conflict, his enemy is time." (p.159)

"There is a way to keep the action going and to prevent it from being a drag, but this means constantly cutting new issues as the action continues, so that by the time the enthusiasm and the emotions for one issue have started to de-escalate, a new issue has come onto the scene with a consequent revival." (p.161)

Saul Alinsky would be very proud of Barack Obama and the current congressional leadership. They certainly seem to have taken his book and its lessons to heart.


The Greater Offense

With the revelations that Senator John Ensign of Nevada and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Republicans both, have been engaging in marital infidelities some in the media have found themselves unable to contain their glee at having the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of members of a party that emphasizes family values being caught in flagrante.

Of course, many Democrats have also been caught with their pants down, but unless their infidelities involved law-breaking it didn't cost them their careers because, well, Democrats don't profess to have high moral standards, or something. Evidently it's not hypocritical when Dems cheat on their spouses because they don't say that one shouldn't do such things.

It's not the infidelity itself, we're told, it's the hypocrisy of touting family values while cheating on one's spouse that makes the Republican offenses so egregious. Okay, but if it were really true that it's the hypocrisy that sends some precincts of the media into transports of pious self-righteousness why do they not likewise slam all those in the Democratic party who demand that we pay our taxes while they avoid paying theirs? Why is a legal, albeit immoral, affair a career-ender for Republicans, but illegal tax delinquency is just a speed bump for Democrats? If hypocrisy is the issue what can be more hypocritical than the man in charge of writing the tax laws (Charley Rangel) and the man in charge of enforcing them (Timothy Geithner) both failing to pay their own taxes? Why is that not a career-ender for these two malefactors?

Is there something about being a person of the left that makes it impossible for them to see their own hypocrisy in pillorying Mark Sanford while giving certain Democrats, whose offenses are not only hypocritical but also illegal, a pass?