Clinton’s Alinsky Problem—and Ours

David Blankenhorn, The American Interest, 10/11/2016

Saul Alinsky wasn’t a Marxist, and Hillary Clinton wasn’t his acolyte—though you wouldn’t know it from today’s political discourse.

Recently I read a college honors thesis about Saul Alinsky, the famous community organizer, written in 1969 by a Wellesley College senior named Hillary Rodham.1 I read it for three reasons.

The first is my interest in the real Saul Alinsky. I never met the man, but for six years in the late 1970s and early 1980s I worked as an Alinsky-inspired community organizer. My comrades and I figuratively, and in some cases literally, carried around copies of Rules for Radicals, Alinsky’s most important book, in our back pockets.

The second reason is my interest in the real Hillary Rodham Clinton. I realize that for a quarter-century she’s been under intense public scrutiny as a political celebrity, but, partly for that reason, I’m not sure we know or remember who she really is—at least, I’m not sure I do. So I wanted to try to understand her as a college student, just coming into her own and as her political views were congealing—before she met Bill, before she began a career, and before she became an outsized political symbol for friends and enemies alike.

A final reason is my interest in political polarization and, with it, the political uses of demonization.2 Alinsky died in 1972, and for many years afterwards, outside of a small circle of community organizers, very few Americans heard anything about him. That changed in 2008, when Barack Obama, who had worked for three years as an Alinsky-style community organizer in Chicago, ran for President. Since then, thousands and perhaps millions of words have been spoken and written about the alleged influence of Saul Alinsky on American life. Some of them have been true, but most of them have been wildly false, mainly because crudely caricaturizing Alinsky has proven useful in the larger project of crudely caricaturizing first one, and now two, contenders for the presidency.

In short, Alinsky, Rodham-Clinton, and their acolytes and detractors all play roles in this tangled tale of how America in recent decades has come to love, or at least ardently practice, polarization. Let’s begin the tale in 1969 at Wellesley College.

Rodham’s 88-page essay is an attempt to describe and critique a particular strain of American radicalism as evidenced both in Saul Alinsky’s life and in what she (and others) call the “Alinsky Model” of community organizing. She’s also interested in how that strain of radicalism has related, and might relate, to U.S. public policy and electoral politics. Today, looking at the 68-year-old Hillary Rodham Clinton, it’s clear that this basic question—what causes meaningful social change and how do those dynamics relate to politics?—has captivated her for her entire adult life. In this essay, we see her as a 21-year-old seriously grappling with it for the first time.

Saul Alinsky’s central strategic innovation was applying the principles of labor organizing to geographical communities. Inspired particularly by the labor leader John L. Lewis and more broadly by the labor-organizing drives of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (the CIO) in the 1930s, Alinsky figured that it was possible to organize the unorganized not only where they worked, but also where they lived. Much of Rodham’s thesis is devoted to describing three of Alinsky’s most important “community organizing” drives—two in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago (Back of the Yards and Woodlawn) and another in Rochester, New York.

Alinsky was both a brilliant tactician and a masterful phrase-maker, and in connection to these drives he formulated the main tenets of what would become the Alinsky Model: a set of organizing guidelines notable for their whole-hearted embrace of conflict and polarization. For example, he describes the organizer as “an abrasive agent to rub raw the resentments of the community.” Speaking to his fellow organizers, he insists that “When those who represent the status quo label you as an ‘agitator’ they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your function—to agitate to the point of conflict.”

He says: “In order to organize, you must first polarize.” And in order to polarize, you must first “personalize”—in every conflict, Alinsky teaches, you need a villain, an archenemy, who you view as personally embodying all that is evil and unjust. In 1971 Alinsky summed it up this way: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it….One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.”3

Alinsky’s central conceptual innovation was formulating a distinctly American radicalism, unencumbered by Marxist thought and uninterested in the models of European social-democratic, socialist, or communist parties. Alinsky’s ideology, such as it is, is plain and simple:

  • The vision is democracy—a voice for everyone.
  • What thwarts democracy is an imbalance of power—a few people have too much and most people don’t have enough.
  • People act on the basis of self-interest, not ideals, and change happens through conflict, not consensus.
  • The path to a truer democracy is the unorganized getting organized in order to lobby for more power.

Alinsky had little interest in theoretical debates and no interest in preaching or practicing socialism, forming or controlling political parties, advancing a partisan policy agenda, or getting himself or anyone else elected to high office. His strategy was relentlessly opportunistic, organizational, and local—the Alinsky Model is always about going into a particular community, a geographical place, in which people who’ve been stepped on too long have decided to do something about it. Everything else is commentary in the margins.

Rodham finds much to admire in the Alinsky Model. She admires its distinctively American style and idiom. She appreciates Alinsky’s understanding of a radical as someone who demonstrates “feeling for and with the people” and posits that one is a true radical to the degree that one “cares about people unlike himself.”

Alinsky was a fierce critic of the 1960s Federal programs that constituted the so-called War on Poverty. Rodham fundamentally agrees, concurring with Alinsky that “the problems of the poor are more directly related to their lack of power than to their lack of money” and that real power in poor communities is something that must be taken, not passively received as an entitlement or as a gift from federal anti-poverty programs.

Most of all, Rodham is attracted to Alinsky’s democratic vision. Democracy, she argues, is “still a radical idea.” And “Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio-political philosophy. As such, he has been feared, just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embodied the most radical of all political faiths—democracy.”

Alinsky’s fundamental belief in democracy—Rodham accurately calls it his “devotion”—appears ultimately to be spiritual in nature, and is certainly as close to an articulated religious faith as the assimilated-Jewish Alinsky gets. In this sense Alinsky does, as Rodham suggests, resemble Walt Whitman, the great American poet of democracy, and Rodham, an earnest young Methodist touched by and wrestling with the idealism of the 1960s, clearly grasps and admires their shared faith.

She also expresses major doubts and disagreements. For starters, she rejects as “cynical” Alinsky’s oft-stated view that moral arguments are essentially cover stories for self-interest. She reports that her disagreement with Alinsky on this issue was “mitigated somewhat” during her interview with him, in which he “conceded that idealism can parallel self-interest.”

She only partially approves of Alinsky’s uses of conflict, seeking to draw a distinction between conflict that produces a change and conflict that produces only more conflict. For example, she dislikes Alinsky’s frequent use of “warlike rhetoric,” particularly when it “can obscure the constructiveness of the conflict Alinsky orchestrates.” More fundamentally, she believes that Alinsky too often facilitates what Rodham, drawing on the work of the sociologist Lewis Coser, calls “nonrealistic conflict,” by which she means conflict that is less about achieving specific goals than about venting anger and frustration. She argues that this kind of “catharsis” in poor communities can “be healthy in certain situations,” but that it also “has a way of perpetuating itself so that it becomes an end in itself.”

She is also convinced that Alinsky’s primary sphere of engagement, “the territorially-defined community,” is no longer a “workable societal unit.” She argues that a large and growing number of problems poor Americans face don’t stem from particular neighborhoods and therefore can’t effectively be solved on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Besides, Rodham suggests, there is nothing inherently democratic about localism as such.

Finally, she suggests that many of the nation’s deepest problems affect everyone, not just some communities and not just the poor and disenfranchised. For these and other reasons, she is disappointed by Alinsky’s “apparent inability to move toward anything in the way of developing a movement or a national program or national organization,” and worries that “Alinsky’s opposition to large programs, broad goals, and ideology confuses even those who participate in the local organizations, because they find no context for their actions.”

Referring to “recent university crises”—that is, the student-administration conflicts erupting on many campuses in the late 1960s—she strongly disapproves of “some New Left strategists” who demonstrate “elitist arrogance” by using Alinsky’s confrontational tactics while lacking his faith in ordinary people and his flexibility in dealing with opponents. The result, she argues, is that students’ demands for change become “non-negotiable” and campus conflicts escalate into “zero-sum games where nobody wins.”

She believes, too, that Alinsky’s personal fame is problematic. For example, she concludes that the Alinsky Model, without Alinsky himself involved, is much less likely to be effective. She also worries that at times Alinsky is more a “master showman” than an activist.

What does a senior thesis from 1969 tell us about Hillary Rodham Clinton? It tells us that she can wrestle seriously with a serious topic, parsing the Alinskyite proposition to accept some parts of it and reject other parts. It tells us that she is a practical idealist. It tells us that she is deeply interested in social change to improve the lives of what the Christian tradition calls “the least of these,” and that, when it comes to social change, she believes that activists (including “radicals”) are at least as important as political candidates and elected officials. And it suggests that she, while obviously ambitious and gifted, is ambivalent about being in the spotlight. Is there more?

Perhaps. As an epigraph to her thesis, Rodham chose a portion of T.S. Eliot’s poem “East Coker.” She titled her thesis “There is Only the Fight…,” after Eliot’s line: “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost / And found again…” We also read: “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

Perhaps these sentiments, as much as and more succinctly than Rodham’s analysis of Alinsky, tell us something true. “There is only the fight”—but the true fight is spiritual and inward, seeking recurring recovery and renewal. “For us there is only the trying”—the rest is up to God. Eliot, an earnest Christian, said it beautifully, and Rodham, another earnest Christian at least as a 21-year old, seems to have believed it deeply.

The first time I heard the term “community organizer” spoken publicly outside of the small world of community organizers was in September 2008, at the Republican National Convention. The speaker was Alaska’s governor, Sarah Palin, who that night was accepting her party’s nomination for Vice-President. Describing herself as a former “small town mayor,” and eager to contrast her earlier experiences to Barack Obama’s, she said: “I guess a small town mayor is something like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.”

When I was a community organizer, I found that telling people so usually led to a puzzled look—so I was startled to hear the job title that had once meant a lot to me, but not to many others, mentioned on national television. And of course, I felt stung by Palin’s insult. But little did I know that much more was on the way, and that almost all of it would make Palin’s little joke seem mild and reasonable in comparison.

Take the Satan issue, for example. The last time I heard the name “Saul Alinsky” spoken publicly beyond the community organizing world was this past July, at the Republican National Convention. The speaker was Dr. Ben Carson, who had recently ended his presidential campaign:

Now, one of the things that I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes, her mentors, was Saul Alinsky. And her senior thesis was about Saul Alinsky. This was someone she greatly admired and let me tell you something about Saul Alinsky. He wrote a book called Rules for Radicals. It acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom. Now think about that. This is our nation where our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, talks about certain inalienable rights that come from our Creator, a nation where our Pledge of Allegiance says we are “One nation under God.” This is a nation where every coin in our pockets and every bill in our wallet says, “In God We Trust.” So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that.4

The Alinsky-as-Satanist thesis, which has a prevalence that might surprise you, was developed as early as 2009 by the writer David Horowitz: “The essence of what it means to be a radical is thus summed up in Alinsky’s praise for Satan: to be willing to destroy the values, structures and institutions that sustain the society in which we live.”5

Or take the organized crime thesis, which also has a robust currency today. As the best-selling writer, filmmaker, and former college president Dinesh D’Souza explains: “Even the term ‘community organizing,’ which Alinsky invented, is derived from the term ‘organized crime.’” It turns out that Alinsky patterned his entire life’s work “on what he learned from crime….The mob taught Alinsky, and Alinsky founded a school that taught his methods to scores of disciples, most prominently including a current president, Barack Obama, and an aspiring one, Hillary Clinton.”

D’Souza says that if the late Al Capone, the boss of the Chicago crime gang that taught Alinsky his methods, “knew that his methods have indirectly inspired the current and aspiring leadership of the United States, surely he would be smiling.”6

Even the Satanist and organized crime theses, however, are overshadowed by the popularity of the socialist thesis. As Bill O’Reilly put it in 2012, speaking of Alinsky on “The O’Reilly Factor”: “This guy, you know, is in the great tradition of Karl Marx, Lenin”—a guy who “didn’t believe in private property.”7

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, especially when he was running for President in the 2012 Republican primaries, repeatedly has said that “Saul Alinsky radicalism is the heart of Obama” and that Alinsky’s radicalism meant a “European socialist model.”8 The writer and commentator Monica Crowley argues that Obama “spent a good deal of time mastering the art of Saul Alinsky’s tactics for advancing the socialist revolution” and adds that that Hillary Clinton “studied with the man himself.”9

But here we must understand a crucial complexity. In the view of this argument’s proponents, while the actual line of descent is clearly discernible—Marx and Lenin begat Alinsky, who begat Obama and Clinton—the behavior of the players, especially on the American side, has been duplicitous and conspiratorial, intended to mislead. In short, Alinsky and his current-day heirs are not just socialists, they are secret socialists.

David Brock’s 1996 book, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, is an early extended argument on behalf of this thesis. A major theme of the book is that, early on, Clinton became “Alinsky’s Daughter”: “Saul Alinsky would have been proud, too: Hillary had not only adopted his goal of radical political change for noble ends, but also his tactical rules of secrecy, angle-playing, and manipulation of the process to advance the cause.”10

Stanley Kurtz’s 2010 book, Radical-In-Chief, is probably the fullest treatment of this theme. In it we learn that “community organizing is largely a socialist profession” whose leaders, beginning with Saul Alinsky, have “admired Marx, Lenin, and Mao.” Yet we also learn that: “Particularly at the highest levels, America’s community organizers have adopted a deliberately stealthy posture—hiding their socialism behind a ‘populist’ front.” And finally that “Barack Obama’s colleagues and mentors were some of the smartest and most influential stealth-socialist community organizers in the country. Their strategies of political realignment and social transformation guide the Obama Administration to this day.”11

This goes on for hundreds of pages. We learn that “the problem is that community organizers are not forthcoming about their beliefs.” And that Obama’s work as a community organizer represents his full entry into America’s “hidden socialist world.”12 You get the point.

Almost by definition, a conspiracy theory, particularly one reflecting what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called “the paranoid style,”13 cannot be disproven, since each piece of disconfirming evidence presented by the skeptic is viewed by the proponent as one more piece of evidence in support of the theory. Thus for Robert Welch, Jr., who founded the John Birch Society and argued at length in the late 1950s that President Eisenhower was a “dedicated” secret Communist, everything the President and his accomplices said or did to oppose Communism was, in Welch’s view, further evidence of their duplicity and of the scale of the conspiracy that Welch had discovered. Kurtz’s book is exactly like this. Everything—whether A or the opposite of A—proves the same point.

Our tale of Alinsky, Clinton, and political polarization is thick with irony. Let’s untangle at least some of it, and start with the irony of Alinsky’s socialism.
Alinsky was largely indifferent to ideology and completely allergic to any fixed philosophical doctrine. Arguably his main contribution to American radicalism—and certainly community organizing’s most distinctively American trait—is the refusal of community organizing to embrace Marxist ideology or European socialist policies, platforms, or strategies. Alinsky’s many critics on the Left denounced him bitterly for this very contribution, accusing him of advocating “organizing for organizing’s sake” and “process without goals.”14

Alinsky faced this criticism his entire life, but he sloughed it off. Here’s how he responded to it in 1972, explaining in an interview why he’d never considered joining a socialist organization or cause:

Philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it’s Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what judge Learned Hand described as “that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you’re right.” If you don’t have that, if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated… . The great atomic physicist Niels Bohr summed it up pretty well when he said, “Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question.” Nobody owns the truth, and dogma, whatever form it takes, is the ultimate enemy of human freedom.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m rudderless. I think I have a much keener sense of direction and purpose than the true believer with his rigid ideology, because I’m free to be loose, resilient and independent, able to respond to any situation as it arises without getting trapped by articles of faith. My only fixed truth is a belief in people, a conviction that if people have the opportunity to act freely and the power to control their own destinies, they’ll generally reach the right decisions… . [An organizer] should never have an ideology more specific than that of the founding fathers: “For the general welfare.”

The clot of irony here is obvious. The real Alinsky had zero use for socialist ideology or Marxist doctrine, much to the dismay of actual socialists. Yet the fantastic Alinsky introduced to millions of Americans since 2008 is a fervent proponent of socialist ideology and Marxist doctrine. For contemporary political purposes, a man who cared little for ideology and actively detested ideological certitude of any stripe is transmogrified decades after his death into a hard-core ideologue of the Left, by none other than hard-core ideologues of the Right!

Then there is the irony of Clinton’s Alinskyism. Clinton is not now and has never been an Alinskyite. She admired Alinsky personally and agreed with much of the Alinsky Model, but as we’ve seen, she also had major disagreements with it. She certainly disagreed, as did many of Alinsky’s left-wing critics, with what in her thesis she termed “Alinsky’s opposition to large programs, broad goals, and ideology.” To be blunt, Hillary Rodham did not want to spend her life working long hours for low pay in poor neighborhoods on mostly local issues. Which is why, when after their interview Alinsky offered her a job, she turned him down. She wanted large programs, broad goals, and ideology! Which is why she went to law school, worked for the Children’s Defense Fund, became an advocate for policies to help children and families, and ultimately went into politics.

A woman who ultimately rejected the Alinsky Model, largely because of its opposition to large programs, broad goals, and ideology, is falsely described as a follower of the Alinsky Model, which in turn is falsely described as committed to large programs, broad goals, and ideology. Maybe irony can become more tangled than this, but I honestly can’t imagine how.

Saul Alinsky was an American original and an important contributor to the American democratic and radical traditions. His commitment to organizing the unorganized and consistently siding with the poor and left-behind in their struggles with the powers that be—in essence, his radical faith in democracy, or what he called “faith in people”—inspired many who knew him and many others who learned of his work. It certainly inspired me as a young man and continues to do so.

Hillary Rodham’s 1969 essay on Alinsky reveals a young person who understood and respected Alinsky, but was in the process of choosing a different path for her life. Her core objections to the Alinsky Model—its localism, its philosophical thinness and inconsistency, its constant emphasis on conflict, and its focus on self-interest as opposed to idealism as motives for change—are in my view real, not imagined, and are similar to the concerns that led me to leave community organizing after a few years.

Alinsky was not a Satanist, a crime boss, a Marxist revolutionary, or a socialist schemer. But he was an agitator and a polarizer, and a good one at that. Both in the 1930s, when Alinsky was beginning his work, and in the 1960s, when he was finishing it, the disruptive dynamism and openness to radical thought and action in American political life seemed to be mostly on the Left. Today it seems to be mostly on the Right. So the final irony here is that what I believe is most objectionable about Alinsky—his eagerness to polarize and his teaching that one should demonize one’s “enemies”—remains alive and thriving in America today, on both sides of the political aisle, and especially among those seeking (as Alinsky might put it) to kick Alinsky’s ass. In this respect, we’re all Alinskyites now.

More about Saul Alinsky and Community Organizing

The best sources remain Alinsky’s books, especially Reveille for Radicals (1946), John L. Lewis (1949), and Rules for Radicals (1971). The material on the politics of community organizing is vast. As regards the questions discussed in this essay, in addition to Rodham’s 1969 thesis, I have benefitted from reading or seeing the following:

John Atlas, Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group (Vanderbilt University Press, 2010).

Curtis B. Gans, “For those who feel the American dream has become a nightmare,” New York Times, November 7, 1971.

Sanford D. Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky (Vintage, 1992).

Bonnie Klein (director), Organizing for Power: The Alinsky Approach, A 5-Part Series: “People and Power,” “Deciding to Organize,” “Building an Organization,” “Through Conflict to Negotiation,” and “A Continuing Responsibility” (National Film Board of Canada, 1968).

Mike Miller, “Alinsky for the Left: The Politics of Community Organizing,” Dissent (Winter 2010).

Mike Miller, Community Organizing: A Brief Introduction (Euclid Avenue Press, 2012).

Peter Pearson (dir.), Encounter with Saul Alinsky, Part 1: C.Y.C. Toronto and Part 2: Rama Indian Reserve (National Film Board of Canada, 1967).

Barack Obama, “Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City,” Illinois Issues, August/September 1988. Reprinted in Peg Knoepfle (ed.), After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois (Illinois Issues, 1990).

“Playboy Interview: Saul Alinsky,” Playboy, March 1972.

Aaron Schutz and Mike Miller (eds.), People Power: The Community Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky (Vanderbilt University Press, 2015).

Charles E. Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (Vintage Books, 1964), pp. 308-48.

Nicholas von Hoffman, Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky (Nation Books, 2010).

Michael Walzer, “The Pastoral Retreat of the New Left,” Dissent (Fall 1979).

Both Alinsky’s personality and his approach to social change are brilliantly explored in the two Canadian film documentaries listed above, both of which were produced at about the time that Rodham was interviewing Alinsky. One of the films directed by Bonnie Klein, “Through Conflict to Negotiation,” focuses on Alinsky’s organizing drive in Rochester, New York, an episode on which Rodham also focuses in her thesis.

  1. Hillary D. Rodham, “There is Only the Fight…”: An Analysis of the Alinsky Model (Wellesley College, May 2, 1969).
  2. My previous articles on polarization published by The American Interest include “Why Polarization Matters” (December 22, 1015), “The Seven Habits of Highly Depolarizing People” (February 17, 2016), “In Defense of the Practical Politician” (May 25, 2016), and “Listening to Trump Voters” (September/October 2016).
  3. Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (Vintage Books, 1989; first published 1971), pp.130, 134. Alinsky said “In order to organize, you must first polarize”—which Rodham cites in her thesis—in Gerald Astor, “The ‘Apostle’ and the ‘Fool,’” Look, June 25, 1968.
  4. “What Ben Carson said about Hillary Clinton, Saul Alinsky and Lucifer,” Politifact, July 20, 2016.
  5. David Horowitz, Barack Obama’s Rules for Revolution: The Alinsky Model (Freedom Center, 2009), p. 18.
  6. Dinesh D’Souza, “Profiteering Off Social Justice Scam,” WND, December 6, 2015. The community-organizing-as-organized-crime thesis is developed at greater length in Dinesh D’Souza, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party (Regnery Publishing, 2016) and in the 2016 documentary film of the same name. Speaking of the documentary on ABC TV’s “This Week” program, D’Souza said: “The point we make in the film is that…there actually is a bridge connecting Hillary to Barack, and that bridge is Saul Alinsky.” See Scott Greer, “D’Souza Declares a Strong Connection Between Hillary and Obama: It’s Saul Alinsky,” The Daily Caller, July 6, 2014. A side note on D’Souza’s research methods. After Saul Alinsky graduated with honors from the University of Chicago in 1930, he won a fellowship to pursue an advanced degree in criminology. For his doctoral thesis, he chose the topic of crime gangs in Chicago, and, as a part of his thesis research, he sought out, and got to know, some leaders of a Chicago gang, acting as what he called (and what other graduate students in analogous situations often call) a “non-participating observer.” Alinsky quit graduate school after two years, his thesis unfinished. He then took a job with the Illinois State Division of Criminology, working with juvenile delinquents. His next job, also as a state employee, was working as a criminologist at the state prison in Joliet. Three years later, he left Joliet to take a job with the Institute for Juvenile Research, returning again to the study of juvenile delinquency and working with youthful offenders. In 1938, by then generally viewed as an expert in criminology, he was offered a job in Philadelphia as the city’s director of probation and parole, along with a lectureship in criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. He turned down the offers, and instead began working on his own as what he called a “community organizer” in the Back of the Yards area of Chicago. In his lengthy description of Alinsky as a hardened criminal who used his experiences in organized crime to develop another way to steal, this time through political radicalism in the form of community organizing, Dinesh D’Souza fails to mention even a single one of these facts. One more side note on method: Today D’Souza reports in a book and in a documentary that Obama’s presidency is inspired by Al Capone, a Chicago criminal; but yesterday he claimed that it was inspired by an inebriated African socialist: “Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father’s dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost.” See D’Souza, “How Obama Thinks,” Forbes, September 9, 2010.
  7. “The O’Reilly Factor” (transcript), January 24, 2012.
  8. Brad Knickerbocker, “Who is Saul Alinsky, and why is Newt Gingrich so obsessed with him?” Christian Science Monitor, January 28, 2012. Bill Moyers, “Newt’s Strange Obsession with Saul Alinsky,” ALTERNET, February 5, 2012.
  9. “Monica’s Manifesto: How to be a Happy Warrior,” National Review, July 13, 2012. Monica Crowley, “The Left Gets the Band Back Together for 2016,” Washington Times, March 16, 2016. In the National Review interview, Crowley adds: “Obama doesn’t run around wearing a Carrie Bradshaw-esque nameplate necklace that says, ‘Socialist.’ But his policies, actions, words, background, and associations speak louder than any ID necklace ever could.…He employed those revolutionary tactics as a Chicago community organizer and then moved on to pull more formal levers of power. Once he seized the brass ring in 2008, it was ‘Katie, bar the door.’” In The American Spectator, Peter Ferrara, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations, asks: Do we want the America of the Declaration of Independence? Or the America of radical Marxist revolutionary and social manipulator Saul Alinsky?…President Obama is not only a follower of Saul Alinsky, and literally a practitioner of his strategies and tactics for the radical socialist takeover of America. After graduation from Harvard Law School, Obama was an instructor of fellow Marxist comrades in the Alinsky philosophy and methodology of social manipulation for the radical Marxist organization ACORN. Peter Ferrara, “Gingrich Frames the Debate,” American Spectator, January 25, 2012.
  10. David Brock, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham (Free Press, 1996), p. 286.
  11. Stanley Kurtz, Radical-In-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (Simon & Schuster, 2010), p. vii.
  12. Kurtz, pp. 10, 19.
  13. For Hofstadter, the paranoid style exhibits “the feeling of persecution,” is “systematized in grandiose theories of conspiracy,” and is expressed in language that is “overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic.” The paranoid style, says Hofstadter, is transpartisan and global: He presents examples of it on both the political Left and the political Right and in diverse countries around the world. He also mentions those writers—David Horowitz, whom I discuss in this essay, is an obvious example—who move over time “from the paranoid left to the paranoid right, clinging all the while to the fundamentally Manichean psychology that underlies both.” (Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays [Harvard University Press, 1996; first published 1965], pp. 4, 35.)
  14. The two phrases are from an article by Mike Miller, a prominent practitioner and student of community organizing. In this regard, he writes that community organizing’s “focus on building organizations and changing power relations frustrates observers and analysts who want to know about ideological correctness.” But for the Alinsky community organizer “that’s the wrong question to ask.” See Mike Miller, “Alinsky for the Left: The Politics of Community Organizing,” Dissent (Winter 2010).

This article originally appeared in The American Interest on October 11, 2016.