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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."

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Comment Preferences

  •  Pretty Sure I Am A Liberal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I had to Google Saul Alinsky.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Tue Jan 31, 2012 at 03:58:23 PM PST

  •  Good diary, yet somewhat misses the point (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Temmoku, jacey

    The very fact that Saul Alinsky is so unknown is exactly what makes him a perfect boogy man to the Republicans. He's an unknown; therefore it's easy for the Rovians to create a "brand" around him. And since he isn't around anymore, he's not able to create his own branding campaign to counter the Rovian one.

    The same thing was done to ACORN and so many other people and organizations. We need to find better ways to counter this kind of scare tactic, because dismissing it (as others here have done) merely give them more room to succeed with it.

    Let us all have the strength to see the humanity in our enemies, and the courage to let them see the humanity in ourselves.

    by Nowhere Man on Tue Jan 31, 2012 at 04:14:09 PM PST

  •  Actually, this isn't all that new (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Temmoku, badlands

    For conservatives, that is.

    Predictably, Alinsky had a lot of followers among the various protest movements of the 1960s.  As a result, he became a bogeyman to the era's conservatives.  It's always good to see an old fart like Gingrich reviving those thrilling days of yesteryear.

    Interestingly enough, while the right wingers of the sixties all had vapors about Alinsky, the wingnuts who replaced them apparently read his book.  (This seems to have been a general trend with conservatives beginning in the last 30 or 40 years, who've become quite good at imitating successful tactics used by the left.)

  •  The reason he is important (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    His name is reminiscent of Eastern European Communists.  

    I want my pajamas to be covered in words from Bartlett's. That way I'll always be sleeping in quotes.

    by otto on Tue Jan 31, 2012 at 05:01:48 PM PST

  •  Mommy, I'm scared! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Saul Ainsky is under my bed

    I guess Obama isn't a scary enough bogeyman any more.!

    Don't let millionaires steal Social Security.
    I said, "Don't let millionaires steal Social Security!"

    by Leo in NJ on Tue Jan 31, 2012 at 05:04:19 PM PST

  •  As a fellow member of the Class of '54 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I used Alinsky's teachings in thre Nuclear Freeze movement. Alinsky's reach was international for that movement since mothers and progressives all over the world knew the importance of popular understanding and involvement in the life and death issue of nuclear war.                

  •  The anti-European fervor is so funny (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Temmoku, jacey, badlands

    coming from a guy who wanted a European marriage.

    I'm no philosopher, I am no poet, I'm just trying to help you out - Gomez (from the song Hamoa Beach)

    by jhecht on Tue Jan 31, 2012 at 05:55:59 PM PST

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