The Community-Organizer-in-Chief, Part One: The Alinsky Ethics

The Community-Organizer-in-Chief, Part One: The Alinsky Ethics

“A radical is one who advocates sweeping changes in the existing laws and methods of government.” 

– Hillary Rodham (Clinton) in her 1969 thesis “There Is Only The Fight : An Analysis of the Alinsky Model”

As voters stagger through the long hot summer of the 2012 Presidential campaign, activists who want to defeat President Obama are fighting an uphill battle to help their fellow citizens get an honest assessment of who Barack Obama is and what he believes. The mainstream media are certainly no help in vetting Obama, having proven themselves both as slippery and as shallow as a puddle of bacon grease. 

Obama’s past matters because it isn’t just his past. As author Stanley Kurtz shows in his upcoming book Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities, the President’s background past is relevant today because it leads directly to his wealth redistribution policies and other radical plans to reshape America. 

Because of the Fourth Estate Fail, it’s incumbent on conservative activists and citizen journalists to do the job of explaining to voters the truth about Barack Obama. This article is the first in a series that uses Kurtz’s Spreading The Wealth as a jumping off point to lay out in stark detail how President Obama has practiced distinct brand of Chicago-style politics has had implications for every aspect of his policy, from Obamacare to the housing crisis.

The plain truth is that President Barack Obama has operated in a manner completely consistent with his political roots as a Alinsky-style community organizer. That simple assessment is accurate but useless as an explanation. Most voters have no idea who Saul Alinsky was or even what being a “community organizer” means. Ironically, this ignorance is especially acute among liberals.

The good news is that understanding Alinsky and his profound impact on Obama’s policies & political operation can be simple. 

Alinsky’s manifesto Rules For Radicals lays out the principles of community organizing and the blunt, modern language makes it an easy read. Yes, it’s evil–but it’s seldom pedantic. 

However, I think an even better place to start is the astounding, in-depth interview that Playboy magazine did with Alinsky in 1972. The entire interview at the link is from a political website and there isn’t a NSFW photo anywhere. 

The Playboy interview serves as an excellent introduction to Alinksky. There’s a Greek saying that you cannot truly judge a man until he’s dead. By that standard, the interview is a great way to judge Alinsky because it was conducted literally just a few months before he passed, and he tells you as plain as day what he believes and who he is. 

One thing that’s clear from the interview is that Alinsky was neither an idealist nor an ideologue. This is also an important revelation about Barack Obama; despite all the talk about the morality of social justice, it’s just a whitewash for turning the engine of government into what amounts to a money skimming operation, and gaining power for the sake of power.

The connections between Barack Obama and the methods of Saul Alinsky are clear and well established. The two men never met, of course, but when he arrived in Chicago Obama was trained as a community organizer by people like Michael Kruglik–one of the key figures in Spreading The Wealth–whose online bio says:

(Micheal Kruglik) has been developing grass-roots citizens’ power organizations since 1973 with the (Alinsky founded) Industrial Areas Foundation, the Gamaliel Foundation and Building One America. 


From 1984 to 1998, (Kruglik) was co-director of the Calumet Community Religious Conference, the community organization that recruited and hired Barack Obama as a community organizer. Mr. Kruglik’s role as Barack Obama’s mentor has been chronicled in a number of works of history and periodicals.

What did Obama learn from Alinsky? The New Republic said: 

The first and most fundamental lesson Obama learned was to reassess his understanding of power. (Another Obama mentor) says that, when Alinsky would ask new students why they wanted to organize, they would invariably respond with selfless bromides about wanting to help others. Alinsky would then scream back at them that there was a one-word answer: “You want to organize for power!”


Obama so mastered the workshops on power that he later taught them himself. On his (2007) campaign website, one can find a photo of Obama in a classroom teaching students Alinskian methods. He stands in front of a blackboard on which he has written, “Power Analysis” and “Relationships Built on Self Interest,” an idea illustrated by a diagram of the flow of money from corporations to the mayor.

Both Obama and Alinsky are flinty nihilist power-mongers at heart, but they grasp the power in portraying themselves as moral figures. Alinsky understood the power of image and realized that by occasionally proclaiming the ethical high ground, he’d be given a free pass by a media eager to attack the free marketand embrace central planning.

This liberal Cloak of Moral Invisibility allowed Alinsky to embrace huge contradictions, something blindingly evident in the Playboy interview. At one point, Alinsky tells a favorite story of his that is designed to give him an air of ethical superiority. As he tells it, when he was a kid he got into a fight with some other neighborhood kids and was brought in front of the local rabbi for discipline, who tells him:

“You think you’re a man because you do what everybody does. But I want to tell you something the great Rabbi Hillel said: ‘Where there are no men, be thou a man. I want you to remember it.” I’ve never forgotten it.

This is a great statement of moral courage: do the right thing, even if you must stand up to those around you. In fact, Alinsky used “‘Where there are no men, be thou a man” as one of the epigrams for his book Rules for Radicals.

What’s really interesting, though, is that while Alinsky claims he’s “never forgotten it,” just a few paragraphs later in the exact same interview, Saul Alinsky regales the interviewer with stories showing that he’s actually lived his life with exactly the opposite ethic. Astonishingly, he brags to Playboy about stealing, lying and consorting to murderers. 

For example, Alinsky discusses his college days during the depression. He says he was “hungry.” Not starving, mind you. Hungry. Rather than using his intellect and energy to create value and earn money to feed himself, Alinsky instead figures out an elaborate scheme to defraud cafeterias.

ALINSKY: We got the system down to a science, and for six months all of us were eating free. Then the bastards brought in those serial machines at the door where you pull out a ticket that’s only good for that particular cafeteria. That was a low blow. We were the first victims of automation.

When asked by the interviewer if he “any moral qualms about ripping off the cafeterias?”, Alinsky responds:

Are you kidding? I wouldn’t have justified, say, conning free gin from a liquor store just so I could have a martini before dinner, but when you’re hungry, anything goes — There’s a priority of rights, and the right to eat takes precedence over the right to make a profit — and just in case you’re getting any ideas, let me remind you that the statute of limitations has run out.

So much for “Where there are no men, be thou a man”; Saul Alinsky was actually the one organizing the other students into stealing. Alinsky’s avowed situational ethic won out over the word of Rabbi Hillel which mean that the owners and employees of the cafeteria had no right to profit because Alisnky decided they didn’t–and “to each according to his need” and all that, man.

You could excused for stopping at this point and to draw some parallels to Obama’s domestic policy–but it gets worse.

Alinsky then goes on to boast about his association with the Chicago Mob, including Al Capone and Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, who Alinsky says he called “The Professor.” Alisnky approached the criminals under the guise of doing student research. Nitti and the other mobsters not only accepted Alisnky but actually revealed everything about their operation to him. This included extortion and murder. 

PLAYBOY: Didn’t you have any compunction about consorting with — if not actually assisting — murderers?

ALINSKY: None at all, since there was nothing I could do to stop them from murdering, practically all of which was done inside the family. I was a nonparticipating observer in their professional activities, although I joined their social life of food, drink and women: Boy, I sure participated in that side of things — it was heaven. 

Now there’s a moral precept for you; when there are no men, be thou an observer who shares food, drink and women. 

Alinsky continues:

And let me tell you something, I learned a hell of a lot about the uses and abuses of power from the Mob, lessons that stood me in good stead later on, when I was organizing.

So is revealed the real face of Community Organizing for you: the ethics of Al Capone. 

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that the period when Alinsky was embedded with the Chicago Mob was right around the time that Prohibition was coming to an end. This was a time when organized crime needed to replace illegal booze as a profit center. 

Where did the Mob look for a new business model? The unions. 

If you want to see another reason that the past isn’t really the past, consider this: while Saul Alinsky was observing organized crime, the mob was taking over the modern labor movement, In fact, the SEIU–Obama’s shock troops and the allies of the Occupy movement–grew up in this same era. The tie between criminals and labor is made explicit in the interview.

Alinsky joivially tells a truly appalling story about befriending a criminal youth gang, where he went to a morgue, propped open the eyes of a slain gang member, took a photo and then presented it to the mother of the murdered young man and claimed the dead man had given the photo to Alinsky the week before. It’s a disgusting thing to do, yet Alinsky is clearly still proud of it, decades later. The Playboy interviewer points out the obvious and says the ploy was “cynical and manipulative.” Alinsky’s glee is unabated.

It was a simple example of good organizing. And what’s wrong with it? Everybody got what they wanted. Mrs. Massina got something to hold onto in her grief and I got in good with the kids. I got to be good friends with some of them. And some of them I was able to help go straight. One of the members is now a labor organizer and every time things get hot for me somewhere, he calls me up and growls, “Hey, Saul, you want me to send up some muscle to lean on those motherfuckers?”

That’s Saul Alinsky; the man who had profound influence on both of the two leading Democratic politicians in the 2008 presidential primary, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Think that Obama didn’t learn the Alinsky lesson on presenting an ethical image?  He learned it so well that he learned to distance himself publicly from Alinsky. In early 2007, Ryan Lizza wrote this in The New Republic about the long-shot candidate Barack Obama…

Obama presents himself as a post-partisan consensus builder, not a rabble-rouser, and certainly not a disciple of Alinsky, who disdained electoral politics and titled his organizing manifesto Rules for Radicals. On the stump, Obama makes a pitch for “common-sense, practical, nonideological solutions.” And, although he’s anchored to a center-left worldview, he gives the impression of being above the ideological fray–a fresh face who is a generation removed from the polarizing turmoil of the 1960s. The mirror he holds up is invariably flattering–reflecting back a tolerant, forward-looking electorate ready to unite around his consensus-minded brand of politics. Indeed, if there has been a knock on Obama’s campaign in these early days, it’s that it may be a bit too idealistic for the realities of a presidential race. ith his lofty rhetoric and careful positioning as above politics, Obama in some ways recalls Bill Bradley, another candidate of moral purity–and one whose unwillingness to engage in the rough-and-tumble of modern politics ultimately proved his undoing.

A year and half before the 2008 elections, Obama was being portrayed as consensus-minded and too idealistic for the rough-and-tumble of modern politics. Hillary Clinton learned in the primaries that that image had nothing to do with reality. Now, the entire country knows it.


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