Saul Alinsky: A GOP Bogeyman Who Influences Many On The Left And Right

Saul Alinsky Surfaces As GOP Bogeyman

Republicans in general, and Newt Gingrich in specific, pepper their rhetoric with mentions of Saul Alinsky.

"And I believe, if we have a big election with truly historic big choices, that we can defeat Barack Obama by a huge will be an American campaign open to every American who prefers a paycheck to food stamps, who prefers the Declaration of Independence to Saul Alinsky and who prefers a strong national security to trying to appease our enemies," said Newt Gingrich in Thursday night's debate.

"The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky," said Gingrich Saturday after he won the South Carolina primary.

Rudy Giuliani recently turned the tables on Gingrich's Alinsky rhetoric. "What the hell are you doing, Newt?" said the former New York City mayor recently on Fox News. "I expect this from Saul Alinsky! This is what Saul Alinsky taught Barack Obama, and what you're saying is part of the reason we're in so much trouble right now."

But who was Saul Alinsky?

He was born in 1909 to Russian Jewish immigrant parents and graduated from the University of Chicago. He dropped out of graduate school there to organize poor people in the city's slums. He organized against inhumane working conditions in the Back of the Yards area in Chicago, made infamous by Upton Sinclar's The Jungle. He later spread his organizing efforts to other cities around the country.

His seminal work, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, was published in 1971, just before died in 1972.

"What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be," wrote Alinsky in the prologue. "The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away."

Alinsky's writings have influenced many politicians across the political spectrum.

Alinsky's writings were the topic of a thesis for a 1969 Wellesley College senior -- Hillary Clinton. It's been fodder for critics to paint her as a radical or a Marxist. (Alinsky, however, said he never joined the Communist party.)

"Much of what Alinsky professes does not sound 'radical,' " she wrote. "His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is Alinsky really believes in them and recognizes the necessity of changing the present structures of our lives in order to realize them."

Alinsky offered Clinton a job at his institute after graduating, but she turned him down to go to Yale Law School.

Saul Alinsky also caught the attention of Michigan Gov. George Romney (R) -- the father of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. "I think you ought to listen to Alinsky," said Romney to "white friends," according to a biography of him by T. George Harris. "It seems to me that we are always talking to the same people. Maybe the time has come to hear new voices."

Dick Armey, former House majority leader-turned-chairman of tea party group FreedomWorks, hands out copies of Rules for Radicals to activists. The organization said it has very closely studied "what the left has done."

Conservative activist and prankster James O'Keefe has also said that he was inspired by Rules For Radicals.

Alinsky also influenced another Chicago organizer -- Barack Obama. Ryan Lizza, one of Obama's most prolific chroniclers now at the New Yorker, wrote in 2007 in The New Republic:

But, although Obama didn't quite find himself reliving the civil rights era, he soon found himself succumbing to the appeal of Alinsky's organizing methodology.

In Dreams, Obama spent some 150 pages on his four years in Chicago working as an organizer, but there's little discussion of the theory that undergirded his work and informed that of his teachers. Alinsky is the missing layer of his account.

Obama has also been critical of him. "It's true that the notion of self-interest was critical," said Obama to Lizza. "But Alinsky understated the degree to which people's hopes and dreams and their ideals and their values were just as important in organizing as people's self-interest."

Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner made the ironic point that Gingrich himself was using many of Saul Alinsky's tactics, quoting Alinsky as saying, "The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a 'dangerous enemy.'"

That tactic, in part, has led to Gingrich's success in the presidential campaign.

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