You did not know this? I heard it straight from Newt Gingrich, so it HAS to be true.
In a rather weird turn of events in an already weird political season, the Democrats now apparently have a new candidate running for president: Saul Alinsky. Anyway, according to Newt Gingrich, Alinsky is someone the Republicans ought to be running against. Gingrich stated the need for “somebody who is a conservative and who can stand up to (Obama) and debate, and who can clearly draw the contrast between the Declaration of Independence and the writings of Saul Alinsky,” He later said: “The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky,”
Why Saul Alinsky? That remains an open question. Probably because Gingrich has made the assumption that Alinsky is some sort of bomb-throwing radical that the Dems have employed to help them win. And then there is his ominous sounding name: Alinsky, which sounds a little like “A-lenin-sky” or A-trotsky”, or something equally dangerous and foreign.
While that may be good politics, I doubt that even 1 percent of the American people even know who Saul Alinsky is. I do, because I was in college from 1950-54 – the halcyon years of Alinsky’s activities, and he had the respect of many students from conservatives to liberals.
Very simply, Alinsky was a community organizer who dedicated his life and career to assisting those he called (and we still call today) the “have nots”. Despite Gingrich’s vague references to some “European economic system”, Alinsky was as American as apple pie; born, raised and educated in Chicago. And his work represented the best American traditions of protest. Though he wrote two books containing the word “radical”, his views were hardly dangerous or radical. In fact, his use of the word “radical” was very simply to position himself as a danger to the “haves” in order to validate and consolidate his role with his constituency. In his 1946 book “Reveille for a Radical” he points out in his efforts to organize the “have nots”: “A People’s Organization is the banding together of large numbers of men and women to fight for those rights which insure a decent way of life.”
If “fighting for a decent way of life is “radical”, so be it. But as far as being politically left or right, Alinsky was neither. In fact he was largely apolitical. When asked if he was a communist, he replied; "Not at any time. I've never joined any organization—not even the ones I've organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism…The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide."
Nor was he thrilled with the conventional American political parties – and he was especially critical of the Southern Democrats as he turned his organizing efforts from the poor Northern whites to the blacks in the south. "Negroes were being lynched regularly in the South…and many of the white civil rights organizers who had started to work with them were tarred and feathered, castrated—or killed. Most Southern Democrat politicians were members of the Ku Klux Klan and had no compunction about boasting of it."
It is a source of irony that Gingrich himself is running against his own party’s establishment, just as Alinsky did his whole life; a fact apparently lost on the candidate.
To miscast him as Gingrich has done is wrong – but to attach him to Obama is legitimate. We know Obama too was a community organizer, and in Chicago as well. And we assume Obama had learned many lessons from Alinsky, because that was his legacy: developing and writing the primer on “have not” community action. But having said that, Obama was not the only one to learn from Alinsky. Conservatives too, respected his lessons, and used them as well.
While on the left, names like Cesar Chavez, Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader subscribed to Alinsky’s teachings, the conservative non-profit organization FreedomWorks, which is one of several groups involved in organizing Tea Party protests, says the group gives Alinsky's Rules for Radicals to its top leadership members. Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey also gives copies of Alinsky's book Rules for Radicals to Tea Party leaders In the wake of the devastating Detroit riots of the summer of 1967, Michigan Gov. George Romney — a Republican — met Saul Alinsky to discuss the grievances of the urban black poor. "I think you ought to listen to Alinsky," Romney told his white allies. Respected conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr. called him "very close to being an organizational genius."
In the end, Gingrich has done a positive service resurrecting Alinsky’s name and deeds. Today we are faced with the same abyss of the “haves” and “have nots” that Alinsky dedicated his life to ameliorating. As summed up by my own personal political hero, Adlai Stevenson, he said of Alinsky's aims, they “most faithfully reflect our ideals of brotherhood, tolerance, charity and dignity of the individual."