Conservative Pundits and the Liberal Manifesto

It was published in 1971 and its iconoclastic author died the following year, but now "Rules for Radicals" is riding a revival.

The book, written by community organizer Saul Alinsky, is a battleplan for transferring power from the haves to the have-nots. It sits at No. 25 on the Amazon political best seller list. If you strip out Kindle versions that duplicate titles on the list, this 1989 paperback edition would be at No. 15.

Alinksy, who inspired young liberals such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Paul Wellstone and Barack Obama, is reviled by the right. But conservatives may be aiding sales of his book. They're the only ones talking about it. Neither Obama nor Clinton mentions Alinsky because he is a lightning rod to those eager to portray the administration as a nest of radicals.

Obama embraced Alinsky's teachings during his days as a community organizer. The Alinsky method was to rally the poor and powerless in the backyards of Chicago. His goal was social justice through mobilization, a strategy that appealed to Obama's idealism. Obama became adept at the Alinsky technique of drawing out people's stories to discover the self-interest that would ignite their activism. But where Alinsky encouraged confrontation in pursuit of change, Obama has sought a more conciliatory approach.

Clinton wrote her Wellesley thesis on Alinsky's tactics, using a T.S. Eliot line for her title: "'There Is Only the Fight ...': An Analysis of the Alinsky Model." In 1968, Alinsky offered her a job building a grass-roots organization in Chicago, which she turned down, heading off to Yale Law School instead. Clinton would later say that national efforts were preferable to Alinsky's small scale activism and that the system could be changed from inside. But Alinsky remained a dangerous shadow: During Bill Clinton's presidency, the White House asked Wellesley to prevent public access to her thesis.

Today, only right-wing pundits such as Bill O'Reilly and Mark R. Levin jabber about Alinsky, reminding their followers of the administration's links to him. And up go the sales of "Rules for Radicals." Between 2004 and 2007, when Alinsky - and Obama - were largely outside the national political eye, "Rules for Radicals" sold no more than 4,000 copies a year. Last year, sales shot up to about 10,000 copies. And so far this year, as conservatives jabber on, sales are climbing at a faster rate; the book has sold 14,227 copies already in 2009.

In May, Bill O'Reilly raised the issue of the "far left philosopher Saul Alinsky, a Chicago rabble rouser" on his Fox TV show, noting that Alinsky defined the notion of the politics of ridicule.

Two days later, the National Review Online posted a column by Jim Geraghty under the title The Alinsky Administration, beginning: "Barack Obama never met Saul Alinsky, but the radical organizer's thoughts help explain a great deal about how the president operates." Then Geraghty gave a plug to "Rules for Radicals." "As a tool for understanding the thinking of Obama," he wrote, "Alinsky's most famous book, 'Rules for Radicals,' is simultaneously edifying and worrisome. Some passages make Machiavelli's 'Prince' read like a Sesame Street picture book on manners."

Last word should go to Mark R. Levin, author of "Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto," a best seller that is leaving "Rules for Radicals" in the dust. In July, Levin generously gave the competing title a plug on the Sean Hannity show. Speaking of Obama's tax policies, Levin declared: "Matter of fact, he's taken this page right out of Saul Alinsky's 'Rules for Radicals.' Saul Alinsky essentially said, Look, you've got to sound like you're for the middle class, you've got to act like you're from the middle class, and then you destroy the middle class."

The conservative pundits, it may be, are community organizers of radical book sales.

By Steven E. Levingston |  August 5, 2009; 5:30 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Thank goodness the likes of Fox News alerted us-all to these Alinsky Rules. They are scary, and they make sense of President Obama's reaction to the public's upset over health care issues. At first I wondered how he could respond so inanely to his constituents. Now I understand.

Posted by: murray22 | August 7, 2009 7:19 PM

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