How Saul Alinsky Became the Bogeyman

The rightie noise machine is pushing a story about a “close relationship” between the dreaded Hillary Clinton and the dreaded Saul Alinsky. Apparently some ancient correspondence between them has been published, proof of the evilness of the Evil Clinton Agenda.

Here’s typical commentary from a rightie blogger:

Alinsky’s chilling rules outlined in Rules for Radicals can be found here. Alinsky’s theories espouse Marxist and socialist ideologies, and this is the man on whom Hillary Clinton wrote her Wellesley College thesis. While writing her thesis at Wellesley on Alinsky’s theory of community organizing, Clinton met with Alinsky to have what she would later refer to as “biennial conversations.”

In her thesis, Hillary attempted to portray Alinsky as a mainstream American icon, writing, “His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them.”

The real Alinsky was neither a Marxist nor a socialist, of course. This is from that radical e-rag, the Christian Science Monitor:

While he has become associated with radical left-wing politics in current political thought, it’s an association that’s largely misplaced, says Mark Santow, associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and the author of a forthcoming book on Alinsky.

Professor Santow says Alinsky’s philosophy did not have a political persuasion. Rather, he was “relentlessly non-ideological.” In fact, Santow says parts of Alinsky’s thinking could be found in elements of today’s Democrat and Republican Parties.

“He basically believed that American society was increasingly dominated by large institutions, governments, corporations,” he says. “He thought that ordinary Americans had lost citizenship.”

He adds: “He bears some resemblance to libertarians like William Buckley … but he also bears resemblance to green, new left politics on the other side as well.”

This article also points out that Clinton’s senior thesis was critical of Alinsky in several respects.

Dylan Matthews has a longer article at Vox examining the relationship between Alinsky and Clinton in more detail, and in the context of the times, and of course what is revealed is neither communist nor Marxist but more along the lines of traditional American leftie-progressive populism.

Matthews’s article is titled Who is Saul Alinsky, and why does the right hate him so much? He answers the first question pretty well — ironically noting that something like Alinsky’s methodology was used to organize the Tea Party — but I don’t think he answers the second one.

I doubt very much of your average rightie has more than a vague idea who Saul Alinsky actually was, what he actually proposed, what he actually did. I think the name has come to represent something dark and nasty from deep beneath the subconscious of the rightie hive mind that has little to do with the real Saul Alinsky. I sincerely believe the straw-man Alinsky is the Right’s Emmanuel Goldstein, the possibly fabricated enemy of the state from Orwell’s 1984.

And let me also say that if Alinsky actually had been named William Thompson or John White we wouldn’t be hearing about him now. The name itself, IMO, stirs up nameless fears of a foreign “other” in our midst. For all their celebrated support of the state of Israel, the U.S. right-wing base is an overwhelmingly Christian crew representing a portion of our population long associated with antisemitism. As much as they may support Israel, Jewishness may be something else to them.

Alinsky’s most famous work is a book titled Rules for Radicals. Even though they are radicals themselves, the word radical makes righties nervous. They associate it with the Left, I believe; “right-wing radicalism” is an oxymoron to them. The word radicalism seems to stir up fears of chaos and civil disorder, which they don’t like unless they are causing it. Then it’s okay.

Saul Alinsky, then, makes a first-rate right-wing bogeyman who sends chills up the spines of the faithful even if they couldn’t tell you who he actually was, beyond some guy who did community organizing.

31 thoughts on “How Saul Alinsky Became the Bogeyman

  1. Saul Alinsky has been one of my heroes for many years. It is intensely frustrating that so much complete ignorance makes so much noise. People will believe anything if it fits their fears. I fear for the future and am glad I’m getting old. Maybe I’ll die before the whole thing world-wide falls down. Then I’ll probably be reborn right *after* that…. *SIGH*… unable to read the news without an attack of depression. I’d say I’ve lived too long, but then I realize that this sort of thing happens over and over and over in history. The only thing I can read in the Sunday paper (the only one I take) is the funny papers. Season of the Hollow Soul everywhere I look. No longer sure having a rational human mind is a good thing just now. Please excuse my mood. Some days are rougher than others.

  2. I’ve been a pretty hard-core Democrat/leftie/liberal/progressive my whole life.
    I was a very political child because my father and my uncles, when drinking, would discuss politics. And I managed to stay within earshot.
    MLK Jr. and RFK were my heroes when I was 9 and 10 – that didn’t turn out too well…

    I’ve read tons of books about politics, and political action.
    I consider myself very well read on all things Democratic, liberal, progressive, and “leftie.”
    I’ve read Marx and Engels – if you ever suffer from insomnia, read them.
    I’ve read “What is to be Done” – a late 18th Century Russian book about revolution. I’ve read Russian and German tomes on revolution and Communist and Socialism – some in the original language.

    I was actively involved with tons of protests in my late-teens and early-twenties – and then in the ’00’s. I even helped NYPIRG (NY Public Interest Group) organize anti-nuke protests in three states.

    But I have to confess that I never heard of Saul Alinsky until our Reich-Wingers started throwing his name around recently.

    Now I feel that my knowledge is inadequate.
    I’ll go to the library soon, and request this seminal revolutionary book.

    By the way, since they themselves have adopted and are using his book, this is another clear case of projection.

  3. IIRC, Ralph Nader quoted (I think) Alinsky: “the only way to fight organized money is through organized people”

    The only way I’ve found to rebut the right on this boogeyman – and that’s all he is to these people, most of whom can’t or won’t read anything approaching Alinsky’s depth – is to note that Tea Party organizers used Alinsky.

    He fills the Jeremiah Wright role for Hillary Clinton, somebody they can make into a damning figure, if he only has a “bad sounding” name and a “bad sounding” book.

    @buddhasteps – one of my spiritual teachers says that if you live long enough, you’ll see everything. In my life this means the heights of post-WW2 prosperity, education, progress, tolerance, to its opposite – misery, despair, constriction.

    At my alma mater, Penn State, in the foyer to the education building, were two gorgeous murals painted by John T Biggers. The murals faced each other and I believe were called “Harvest Songs”, but their point was to show the benefits of education (it was the Education building after all). Click on Day of the Harvest, and then its opposite, Night of the Poor. As a youth, I walked between these doors and saw these murals hundreds of times, but never, ever expected to see this country turn away from Feast and toward Famine, in my lifetime.

  4. It should be noted that the American right supports Israel not out of sympathy or love of Jews, but because they believe that a Jewish state must exist so Christ can return. In other words, they support Israel because they think it’s necessary to bring about Armageddon and the Rapture.

  5. yeah, but Obama was supposed to be the secret disciple of Bill Ayers, the ultra-radical who was also supposed to be the Communist ur-mole in the American psyche. I completely agree with you, but I suspect that to most people this is going to sound like just more of the same.

    I honestly think the wingnut wurlitzer loses its impact because of this same-old, same-old. After being told over and over that Saddam is Hitler, after he gets taken out it’s hard to believe that now someone else is Hitler.

    Even the oligarchs of Oceana knew that there can be only one Emmanuel Goldstein.

  6. Democrat and Republican Parties

    Dear Christian Science Monitor: Do you mean “Democrat and Republic Parties”?


    Alinsky, Trotsky…. they’re all the same

    Indeed… beware of those terrible “-sky”ing accidents.

  7. “As much as they may support Israel, Jewishness may be something else to them”

    Oh they really do hate the jews but they love how they fight the rag-heads over in Israel so they are torn? Plus they just love to use the term Judeo-Christian. Also I think they have come to realize that they cannot continue to openly disparage Jews like they do Blacks in this country, if only the Blacks owned them some influential media companies!

  8. On July 8, 1971, Clinton reached out to Alinsky, then 62, in a letter sent via airmail, paid for with stamps featuring Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and marked “Personal.”

    Not only that, but the postal rate for first class airmail was raised to 15¢ on July 1st, 1971. She therefore would have used 3- 6 cent 1966 issue of Roosevelt stamps, thereby wasting 3¢. Typical liberal… money is no object when it’s coming out of somebody else’s pocket. I don’t know why she was so tight fisted when it came to paying for security for the embassy in Benghazi.

  9. To the right wing, Alinsky is like Soros, a bogeyman name. That’s all it is; they don’t have even the slightest idea of what these guys did.

  10. No longer sure having a rational human mind is a good thing just now.

    There’s a film bio of Phil Ochs (highly recommended by me) wherein one of his old friends said of him “mistakes are like fish hooks and harpoons in the soul of an intelligent person”. That rang true to me, not just of mistakes but of encountering mistakes by your country, which we’ve been going through for many years now. Try to bull through; poor Phil couldn’t. Develop a dark sense of humor. Life is absurd, but has its oh so bright moments.

  11. Off topic…. You know how churches have message boards that usually have corny messages about getting saved or knowing God?.. Well, today I saw a message board that was a little bit different with its message, and reading JDM’s comment above reminded me of the message. It read: “You are not a failure until you blame someone else for your mistakes”.
    I just thought it was kind of clever…and true.

  12. “What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. 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.”

    This is the opening paragraph of ‘Rules for Radicals’. It’s not a shot across the bow – it’s a torpedo amidships. The ‘Haves’ are still scared of Alinsky – 40 years after his death. I suspect he’s proud of that, wherever he is. The right is comfortable with his rules and tactics – it’s his objective that freaks them.

  13. Swami,
    I saw one church board in NC, and almost drove off the road it was so tasteless:
    “His blood’s for you!”

  14. And let me also say that if Alinsky actually had been named William Thompson or John White we wouldn’t be hearing about him now.

    You really don’t even have to speculate. How about a radical named Thomas Jefferson?

    (Well, of course we do still hear about Thomas Jefferson, but not as a dangerous radical. Although in his own time he was seen as a dangerous radical by a lot of people, including a lot of people in the United States. But my main point of course is that there is a certain type of democratic and egalitarian radicalism that is indigenous to this nation. It’s kind of what we’re founded on, in my reading.)

  15. Swami:

    I believe type o positive is the universal donor and since that’s my type does that mean Jesus and I are related?

  16. grannyeagle… Well, according to Joel Osteen we all have God’s DNA, we’re all special and we are all the children of the King. And “he loves us, he really ,really does”*. So I guess by that understanding we are all related and Jesus is our Pa.

    * Jim Bakker’s sign off statement on PTL.

  17. Off-topic: There is a new tv program on ABC called “Forever.” It stars a Welsh actor, Ioan Gruffudd. I was wondering if Maha knows how to pronounce his name. It’s a cool show but opposite Person of Interest, which may kill it.

    • In Welsh, “io” usually is “yo.” Yo-an Gri-feth, last syllables stressed, and the th at the end is a “hard” th as in “teethe” rather than “teeth.” I think. And trill the r. Yeah, I’ve been watching “Forever”; it’s been good so far.

      • I haven’t seen many of the new series, but the one I really like is “Gotham.” It’s a Batman prequel with Jim Gordon as a rookie detective. It sounds kind of inane but it’s extremely well done, I think.

  18. drkrick– it is. but AB positive is universal plasma donor. And they’re not above calling you at home every six weeks to guilt you into going in. . . . . Mebbe ’cause there are so few of us?

  19. Oh, I want to amend my comment that is still in purgatory (please pray that it makes it through moderation).

    Anyway the amendment is it’s not O Holy night, rather it’s Silent Night. Well, good night all and to all a good night!

  20. Thanks, Maha and Swami. Now that I can pronounce his name, he will be even more handsome in my dreams. Haven’t caught Gotham; but, thought it had an interesting premise.

Comments are closed.