Thursday, March 05, 2009

Obama and Alinsky

It is no secret that Barack Obama is a follower of Saul Alinsky, the original radical. Obama's first job was as a "community organizer", a term and job that Alinsky invented. The goal was to organize the community into a workers' movement.

It only took a couple of years before Obama became disillusioned with Alinsky's ideal of organizing from the bottom up without a charismatic leader. He did not give up on all of Alinsky's principles, though. Alinsky established a set of rules for radicals, ways for radicals to challenge the established order. Several of Obama's recent moves can be traced straight back to Alinsky's influence.

Here are the rules with commentary as applies:

RULE 1: "Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have." Power is derived from 2 main sources - money and people. "Have-Nots" must build power from flesh and blood. (These are two things of which there is a plentiful supply. Government and corporations always have a difficult time appealing to people, and usually do so almost exclusively with economic arguments.)

Of course, as President, Obama already has lots of power but he is pushing for more. When Obama took office it was assumed that he would have to put his agenda on hold until the economy improved. Instead he has pushed his agenda of change since day one.

RULE 2: "Never go outside the expertise of your people." It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone. (Organizations under attack wonder why radicals don't address the "real" issues. This is why. They avoid things with which they have no knowledge.)

Obama violated this rule. His people seem lost on what to do about the economy in general and banks specifically. The result is just what Alinsky predicted - fear as shown in the continuing stock maket drop.

RULE 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.)

It only took Obama a couple of weeks in office before he went back into permanent campaign mode. Expect to see him visit some place in the country every Friday, pushing a simplified version of his program to the general public.

RULE 4: "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules." If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules. (This is a serious rule. The besieged entity's very credibility and reputation is at stake, because if activists catch it lying or not living up to its commitments, they can continue to chip away at the damage.)

Obama is trying to do this with his supposed attempts at bipartisanship. He is not offering Republicans the slightest crumb but he says that he is. The Republicans either have to move quite a bit to the left or look like sore losers. He also did this when his Chief of Staff forced the chair of the Republican party to disown Rush Limbaugh.

RULE 5: "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon." There is no defense. It's irrational. It's infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. (Pretty crude, rude and mean, huh? They want to create anger and fear.)

Even before he took office, Obama decided that he had to have an enemy. Prior to January 20, it was President Bush. Now that he is in office and Bush is in Texas, the enemy is Rush Limbaugh. Obama and his staff are not wasting an opportunity to tie Limbaugh to the Republican party. The opening attack was when he met with House Republicans to drum up votes for his stimulus package. What was quoted from that meeting was him chiding Republicans for following Rush. A suspicious person might think that Obama never expected to get any Republican support. That it was an early chance to associate Republicans with Rush.

RULE 6: "A good tactic is one your people enjoy." They'll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They're doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones. (Radical activists, in this sense, are no different that any other human being. We all avoid "un-fun" activities, and but we revel at and enjoy the ones that work and bring results.)

See Rule 5. Rush-baiting has been a Democratic pastime for years.

RULE 7: "A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag." Don't become old news. (Even radical activists get bored. So to keep them excited and involved, organizers are constantly coming up with new tactics.)

It is too soon to see if Obama has learned this rule.

RULE 8: "Keep the pressure on. Never let up." Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. (Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, regroup, recover and re-strategize.)

No question that Obama is following this rule.

RULE 9: "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself." Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (Perception is reality. Large organizations always prepare a worst-case scenario, something that may be furthest from the activists' minds. The upshot is that the organization will expend enormous time and energy, creating in its own collective mind the direst of conclusions. The possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.)

In the lead-up to passing the stimulus, Obama kept insisting that if it failed then the economy would collapse into ruin.

RULE 10: "If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive." Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog. (Unions used this tactic. Peaceful [albeit loud] demonstrations during the heyday of unions in the early to mid-20th Century incurred management's wrath, often in the form of violence that eventually brought public sympathy to their side.)

It is too early to see if this will apply.

RULE 11: "The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative." Never let the enemy score points because you're caught without a solution to the problem. (Old saw: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Activist organizations have an agenda, and their strategy is to hold a place at the table, to be given a forum to wield their power. So, they have to have a compromise solution.)

So far the closest that Obama came to a compromise was cutting back the stimulus bill a bit.

RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Back to Rush, again. The Obama administration has named Rush as the head of the resistance. Rush is popular within his own circle but he has high negatives among moderates. Obama is using Rush to tar the Republicans in general, forcing them to disown him and making them look weak.

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