Saul Alinsky’s “Rules For Radicals” is all the rage these days. It seems that his political guidelines have transmogrified from the category of “good advice” to “common knowledge,” as several of them have been so subsumed into our political culture that they are embraced by people who have probably never heard of them.
For those who are unfamiliar with the not-so-good professor’s rules, here they are:
1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear and retreat…. [and] the collapse of communication.
3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)
4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”
5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”
6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time….”
8. “Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.”
9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.”
11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside… every positive has its negative.”
12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and ‘frozen.’…
“…any target can always say, ‘Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?’ When your ‘freeze the target,’ you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments…. Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the ‘others’ come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target…’
“One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.”
These are remarkably astute and canny observations. They are highly likely to bring about great success — as long as your goal is “victory at any costs” and you have no inconvenient moral or ethical principles that might get in the way.
However, the problem with any such set of tactics is that once the other side knows about them, they don’t work quite as well.
In fact, it’s probably a good idea to keep Alinsky’s Rules in mind whenever engaging the Left in political struggles, as the odds are that they (consciously or not) will end up using an Alinskyist tactic. And identifying that tactic will give you a good idea on how to counter it.
I really, really need to thank Wizbang detractor (that’s a dissenting commenter who doesn’t qualify as a “troll”) Bruce Henry for this insight. In the comments to my piece on the accusations of racism against the Tea Party, he harped on enough of the standard talking points that it finally clicked on the light in my head.
The accusations of “racism” against the Tea Party are examples of Alinsky’s Rules 2 and 3: “Never go outside the expertise of your people” and “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
The Tea Parties were never about race or racial issues. It was about simple issues — nearly all boiling down to “we want less federal intervention in our everyday lives.” Less intrusive government policies and programs, less taxation, and overall a smaller government in regards to domestic issues.
But that’s a hard thing to fight back against. In other words, it’s “outside the expertise” of Alinsky’s disciples.
So they need to convert it to something that is within their expertise. By making it about “racism,” they can re-fight a battle and cast themselves as the heirs to the side that won the last time. And they can push the Tea Partiers into the losing side, the side that is widely held in contempt by most Americans.
Now, the Tea Partiers tend not to think about race too much. It’s really not that big an issue nowadays — the triumph of the civil rights movement was that absolute. Oh, there are places and issues where it flares up, but quite frankly America today is far better than the civil rights leaders of the 50’s and 60’s could have envisioned. The Tea Partiers aren’t used to looking at everything through the prism of race, of the nuances of identity politics, of the whole issue of what is considered “racist” today.
In brief, arguments about racial politics is “outside their expertise.”
Of course, recognizing a tactic is only half the battle. The other half is defeating it. But knowing what the other side is up to is a huge advantage. (Just look at the Battle of Midway, where the United States was considerably outmatched — but scored one of the greatest victories in naval history, because we knew the enemy’s plans.)
Well, there’s nothing like fighting Saul with Saul. If they’re going to use Rules 2 and 3, let’s hit them back with Rules 4 and 5.
“Rule 4: Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” This is already being done. How many times has the lily-white lineup of MSNBC been brought up? How racist must they be if they have no non-whites hosting shows? Their token of diversity is the lesbian Rachel Maddow, and she’s still a honkey.
Further, look at their national leadership. They got a white man and a white woman running things, and a white man at the DNC. President Obama doesn’t count, as he wasn’t chosen by the Democrats, but by the American people in general. So he’s pretty much a token. He’s the Democrats’ “House Negro.”
And then there’s my personal favorite, Rule 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” Mock the SOBs. Laugh at them. Don’t even take the spurious allegation seriously. They don’t really believe it, so why should we even pretend to?
They tried to infiltrate the Tea Parties last week, intending to demonstrate the racism by holding up their own racist and bigoted and hateful signs. They wouldn’t have had to do that if they really believed that the Tea Parties were racist — they’d just have to show up and document it. By trying to stage it, they were tacitly admitting that they knew the Tea Partiers wouldn’t do it on their own.
Pity the Tea Partiers — those ignorant hicks, those redneck rubes, those stupid racist yokels — were prepared for it. Activists watched for the infiltrators and promptly unfurled their own signs calling out the agents provocateurs. “Infiltrator” was the most common one, but I was especially entertained by the ones with the big arrows and the message “WE’RE NOT WITH STUPID.”
When this fails (and fail it surely will), the left will go back to Alinsky’s little list and find another tactic to use. What they can’t accept is that we can also read the same book, understand it, and apply it ourselves. There’s nothing inherently “liberal” or “progressive” about Alinsky’s rules — they can be used equally well by either side. If anything, they have a bias in favor of the opposition and against the establishment — and right now, the left IS the establishment.
Further, they can be used to counteract each other exceptionally well, as demonstrated above.
They’ve worked their way through Rules 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 13. With the “raaaaacist” accusation, they’ve shown they don’t grasp Rule 7. (Personally, I don’t quite grasp Rule 11. I’m gonna have to give that one some thought and some reading.) So, what will they do next?
I’d rather not speculate. I’d rather not give them any ideas.
But when it starts to develop, we will definitely see how it fits into the Rules — because we can be pretty damned certain that it will, somehow.
And that will tell us how best we can make it blow up in their faces.
They should be used to that sort of thing. Remember William Ayers? He was a leader in the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist group from the 1960’s and 1970’s that set off quite a few bombs and killed a few people, before he became a political kingmaker in Chicago and started Barack Obama on the path that led him to the White House. Well, the single most fatal bombing the Weather Underground ever pulled off was when they were preparing to bomb a military dance, intending to kill a bunch of enlisted men and their dates. Someone screwed up, and instead they blew three of themselves to bits in what is best described as an “own goal.”
Let’s give old BIlly a flashback to the fun and games that cost him the lives of a couple of friends and his girlfriend at the time. Let’s take the political machinations of his protege and his movement and blow them up in their faces, too.
And while we do it, let’s laugh. Let’s laugh real loud. After all, as Saul said in Rule 6, “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”