Though short, this book can be quite challenging. First, it was written in 1971, an era that evokes images of bad clothing and ill-kempt people (only partially redeemed by some mighty fine music). Second, as are most things leftist, it is relentlessly negative. God, these people are unhappy. Finally, much of the book is written in “leftist-ese,” which means it contains rambling statements filled with the type of hollow thoughts that you get from college professors. They use multi-syllabic words to dress up their ignorance. While it may have been written for people taking LSD, it is, unfortunately, a deadly serious book.
If you are seeking to be offended, it won’t take long. On the third page of the prologue, Alinsky states his belief in “…the realization that all values and factors are relative, fluid, and changing.” Thus, he takes very little time to establish his faith in moral relativism – something you could have no doubt assumed -- but which he quickly confirms.
Alinsky divides the world into the Haves, the Have-nots, and the “Have some but want a lot more.” He has very little respect for the Have-nots, a group of people in America that has produced tremendous business and political leaders because we have income mobility. He writes that “The Have-nots have a limited faith in their own judgment. They believe the Haves are more intelligent and more competent.” He establishes the philosophy that you can lead the Have-nots wherever you want to take them.
Overall, Rules for Radicals is an effective primer on how to start a revolution. Alinsky defines the keywords you need to understand, and how best to communicate them. He dedicates an entire chapter to community organizers (sound familiar?), in which he emphasizes the key points necessary to effectively organize. Another chapter discusses whether the ends justify the means, and he ultimately rationalizes that accomplishing your objectives by virtually any means is acceptable (since by Alinsky’s definition, others have done so in the past).
The heart of the book is the chapter on tactics, in which he enumerates and describes thirteen of them. Let me list the key ones:
1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have. This was very effective in the beginning of Obama’s campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2008. She held all the cards, but Obama’s team used smoke and mirrors to make it look like he was her equal.
3. Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy. In his words, you want to create confusion, fear, and retreat. This means that you want your opponent to have to deal with something outside his normal frame of reference. This is the tactic Obama is using to attack Romney’s private sector experience – a history that has been universally applauded, but that he now has to defend from scurrilous charges as those made by Joe Soptic about the death of his wife somehow being the responsibility of Romney.
4. Make the enemy live up to their own rules. This is a common leftist tactic. Republicans cannot have a sexual affair because they are proponents of family values, but Democrats can because they are not. If you have no ethical standards, you can’t be challenged on them.
8. Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purposes. If you think that what Obama has tried so far in this Presidential election has been nasty – you ain’t seen nothing yet.
11. If you push a negative hard, it will break through into its counterside. This certainly is what the Obama team is trying to do. Axelrod and his henchmen repeatedly create scenarios about Romney; and, whether true or not, push them through their media allies, and then keep pushing until the voters believe it and accept it. An example is the coining of the term Romneyhood accusing Romney of wanting to raise taxes on the middle class and lower them for the more successful earners when Romney has asked for a 20% rate cut across the board.
12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. This means that if you don’t want the opposition to turn the tables on you, concede that you are correct about a problem, and then demand your solution. Thus, Obama will offer no solutions to any problems facing America. He has not and will not. But he will turn this tactic on Romney every chance he gets, and he will hammer any solution that Romney offers. Therefore, if you were wondering why Romney has stayed away from specifics, now you know why. Because of the nature of the opposition, Romney is almost forced into criticizing Obama only on his (manifest) lack of performance.
13. Pick the target it, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. If you’ve been following this election at all, this is really self-evident. Chicago-style politics were used on Romney even before he became the nominee, and the Chicago gang reached a new low by accusing Romney of committing a felony. Then they went lower by tying him to the death of a woman.
There you go. If any of these rules seem familiar, it’s because you’re watching them in action. The reason people have cited Alinsky so often when speaking of Obama is that he has lived by this rule book from day one of his political career. Obama and his allies made sure that he was unopposed in his primary for the state senate in 1996 by challenging the signatures of every candidate, including the incumbent. This being Chicago, he had no Republican challenger in the general election.
Despite being unopposed, President Obama now includes anecdotes in his stump speech about how tough that initial election was for him. He states that when he and Mrs. Obama walked precincts, people said “Nobody can pronounce your name. How are you going to win?” If you ever doubted that Obama will say and do virtually anything, you should disabuse yourself of that idea immediately.
Saul Alinsky would be proud.