Streetcar Line

Alinsky to Obama to Occupiers

A president in his element.

By 10.21.11

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Civil unrest is President Barack Obama's crutch, his comfort zone, and his trump card. That's why he has encouraged the "Occupy Wall Street" protest and its progeny across the country, despite significant political dangers to him for doing so. Closer looks at Obama's career roots and at the protesters' behaviors help explain both why the protests are worrisome developments and why the president actually likes them.

First, it helps to understand just how radical most of these protesters are -- and just how obscene. Clearly, they are mostly socialist or communist in orientation. And reports are rampant about the lewdness, vileness, and illegality that has marked the Wall Street "occupation" zone, including plenteous drugs, public nudity and sex, and defecation on police cars. A lot of this isn't free speech; it's open law-breaking.

So why does Obama applaud it, when he repeatedly castigated Tea Party demonstrators who lawfully secured permits, usually behaved with remarkable decorum, and cleaned up after themselves?

The answer is easy: This is Obama's milieu. This is how he was trained. As Ryan Lizza explained in a definitive piece in the New Republic -- a liberal magazine, not a right-wing/anti-Obama hit factory -- Obama's intellectual roots and career choices made him a student of, and later actually an instructor in, the particular mass-movement methods taught by the late, radical, Saul Alinsky. The sort of unrest seen in the anti-Wall Street movement comes directly out of Alinsky's secular bible called Rules for Radicals.

"The first step in community organization is community disorganization," wrote Alinsky. "The disruption of the present organization is the first step toward community organization…. The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community…. When those prominent in the status quo turn and label you an 'agitator' they are completely correct, for that is, on one word, your function -- to agitate to the point of conflict."

Alinsky hardly was squeamish about using filth to get his way. "If your organization is too tiny even for noise, stink up the place." Later, he gave a fictitious but oh-so-literal example of one way to do it: He suggested that protesters gorge on beans before occupying a public building so that their -- uh, their natural emissions -- would literally create a stench. "In a fight almost anything goes," he wrote. "It almost reaches the point where you stop to apologize if a chance blow lands above the belt." Alinsky openly and exuberantly belittled the notion of ethics. All that mattered, he said, was whether your side is losing or winning. Only afterwards do you try to find an excuse for your illicit behavior: "The tenth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that you do what you can with what you have and [then] clothe it with moral garments."

To be clear, nobody suggests Obama is personally orchestrating the various "Occupy" demonstrations. Then again, he doesn't need to. The Occupiers are receiving financial help or organizational muscle from many of his associates or major supporters, including several union bosses of the sort who just weeks ago pledged to "take these [SOBs] out" of commission. Despite Obama's eloquent words earlier this year demanding milder rhetoric and more carefully calibrated political actions, he has not uttered a peep in admonishment of the increasingly virulent language, not to mention lawless actions such as attempting to physically "take over" public buildings.

Critics have noted that the protesters often can't even define what they are protesting, or that their "issues" are such a diverse hodgepodge as to be unintelligible. Again, this is straight from Alinsky's playbook. The organizer, he wrote, "should search for and use the wrong reasons to achieve the right goals. He should be able, with skill and calculation, to use irrationality in his attempts to progress to a rational world. For a variety of reasons the organizer must develop multiple issues…. Multiple issues mean constant action and life."

What Obama particularly likes about this disruptive movement is that its only universally acknowledged target is the one he himself provided: Wall Street. He's the one who repeatedly gave the marching order against corporate bogeymen. As Alinsky wrote in his most famous rule of all: "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." This is exactly what Obama himself tried to do as a community organizer in Chicago. It is what he has done every step of the way as campaigner and as president, always finding someone to blame or be against: George W. Bush, greedy corporations, millionaires, Republican congressmen, or people who "cling to guns or religion."

The problem with Saul Alinsky -- and for the protesters who still, knowingly or unknowingly, do his work -- was that nothing was sacred. Rules for Radicals is, in Alinsky's own words, officially dedicated to "the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom -- Lucifer."

Alinsky seemed to mean the dedication to be funny. But it's no laughing matter, and neither are protests that violate common decency.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.