How Saul Alinsky Taught Obama to Say One Thing and Do the Opposite
For those who have paid attention, President Obama has a knack for saying one thing and doing another altogether: a knack for claiming one position while actually occupying another. We first saw this when he was campaigning for president in 2008 and the Supreme Court struck down DC’s gun ban via the Heller decision. At the time, he claimed to mutually support the gun ban and the 2nd Amendment. (Proving this wasn’t a fluke, when Chicago’s gun ban was struck down 2 years later via the McDonald decision, he again claimed he supported both the gun ban and the 2nd Amendment.)
Perhaps his position on a mandate by which government forces citizens to buy healthcare is an even clearer example. When campaigning for the Democrat nomination for president in 2008, he differentiated between himself and fellow candidate Hillary Clinton by criticizing her plan to use a mandate as an “enforcement mechanism” to “charge people who…don’t have healthcare.” He claimed the use of a mandate for those purposes was something he couldn’t go along with, something that demonstrated a “genuine difference” between himself and Clinton.
However, on April 4, 2012, Obama urged the Supreme Court not to rule against the mandate in ObamaCare because his healthcare reforms cannot survive “in the absence of an individual mandate.”
It’s arguable that there isn’t anything that demonstrates Saul Alinsky’s impact on Obama better than these flip flops and duplicitous positions. For it was Alinsky who spent his life teaching would-be radicals (like Obama) that you can say what you have to say to get over the hump, but once you’re over the hump, you do whatever you want to do. In other words, it’s okay to present yourself as something moderate, even centrist, for the purposes of securing power, and once you’ve secured that power it is perfectly acceptable to revert to who (and what) you really are.
In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky demonstrates this with a look at how Vladimir Lenin was able to overthrow the government in pre-communist Russia:
[Lenin said, “The government has] the guns and therefore we are for peace and for reformation through the ballot. When we have the guns it will be through the bullet.” And so it was.
This is very clear. Lenin talked one way while out of power in order to get into power. And once in power, he used every force available to him—violence included—to maintain the power he had gained.
In another place in Rules of Radicals, Alinsky talks of how he once had the opportunity to take a politician down by revealing aspects of that politician’s personal life to the public. But to the shock of his followers, Alinsky chose not to reveal those things about the politician even though it would have given him the upper hand in the contest. Wrote Alinsky: “The fact that they fight that way doesn’t mean I have to do it. To me, dragging a person’s private life into this muck is loathsome and nauseous.”
But just when his followers thought there might be something noble about the radical, Alinsky instructed them: “But, if I had been convinced that the only way we could win was to use it, then without any reservations I would have used [the information].”
Do you see this folks? There are no fixed norms, nor are there concrete right and wrongs or honest convictions. Rather, there are pragmatic answers given only with a view to gaining or maintaining power. In situation A you don’t do what is right; rather, you do whatever is takes to get to situation B, even if what it takes is telling bald-face lie after bald-face lie. And so the progression goes.
Wrote Alinsky: “In war, the end justifies almost any means.” And for Alinsky, as for Lenin and now for Obama, politics is war. Thus a politician is justified in hiding his intention to ban guns while running for office, and likewise justified in reversing position and working “under the radar” for gun bans once in office. Also, a politician is justified in pointing out the problems with a healthcare mandate while running for office, and also justified in reversing course and pushing a healthcare mandate once in office.
These are the Rules for Radicals.