Who the Hell is Saul Alinsky?
Last week, I had two choices for blog topics in my head. One was a pros and cons of Barack Obama and the other was asking who the hell is Saul Alinsky. I chose the former. Then the following Friday night, not one but two left-leaning TV personalities asked essentially “who the hell is Saul Alinsky?” I chuckled to my wife that something must be in the air. What’s putting this Keyser Söze of politics into everyone’s head are the ramblings of GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich who drops Alinsky’s name with the frequency of a thirteen year old girl citing Justin Bieber. According to Gingrich, President Barack Obama is a slave to “Saul Alinsky” and we all must be afraid, be very afraid of “Saul Alinsky liberalism”. These warnings are usually greeted with whoops and hollers from Gingrich’s adoring fans, an ignorant lot who have no better idea of who Saul Alinsky is than I did, but will clap for anything anti-Obama.
So who is this Saul Alinsky? Bill Maher’s summary biography states that Alinsky liked black people, and hence is an enemy of current day Republicans. Of course that greatly oversimplifies things. Alinsky identified with the disenfranchised of all races. He essentially invented community organizing. Of course, Obama having been a community organizer must have inherited all of Saul’s evil traits. To make matters worse, about a year before he died, Alinsky wrote a book called Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. Alinsky believed that you had to do (or threaten to do) outrageous things to get the attention of the establishment. According to the Wiki article on him, he planned to stage at various times in his career, a fart-in and a piss-in. In the former, a mass of baked bean-filled protesters would disperse themselves among a concert audience and unleash a torrent of offensive odor and sound. In the latter, well dressed black men would occupy public urinals and simply refuse to leave until demands were met. Just the mere threat of these shenanigans got the attention of the powerful.
What I don’t get from the little I’ve read about Alinsky is any sense of violence. The dude saw what he thought were disadvantaged people and rejoiced in pissing off their perceived oppressors. He was clearly an enemy of the status quo when the status quo put its heavy foot on the throat of a powerless minority. This, by the way, extended to Richard Nixon’s “silent majority”. He was just as concerned about disenfranchised whites and their vulnerability to wrong-headed leaders who would offer them the politics of hate disguised as hope.
In the context of Newt Gingrich, as Bill Maher ably points out, Alinsky is just another boogeyman designed to make you fear, distrust or outright hate Barack Obama. Nothing more, nothing less.
Rachel Maddow Jumps the Shark
Let me state two things up front. First, I like Rachel Maddow. Second I do believe in dog whistles. With that out of the way, my friend Ms. Maddow took a leap too far last night in her coverage of the Florida primary. During Newt Gingrich’s “concession speech” (Newt never actually concedes) in Florida last night, he suggested that Barack Obama stop singing, stop being the “entertainer-in-chief” and actually do his job. Out of any context, the comment would seem at least nonsensical and at worst some veiled reference to the stereotypical “singing dancing black man” so adored (and simultaneously ridiculed) in our pop culture. But, as always, context is everything.
A couple of weeks ago during a fund-raiser, President Obama sang the first line of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”. I got a major kick out of it. I thought it greatly humanized him particularly when he so often comes across as remote. But let’s be honest here. When you let your guard down and show a frivolous side to America, your opponents will exploit it. Just go back to 1968 and Richard Nixon’s brief appearance on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in” where he said “sock it to me?” It was funny. But Nixon haters certainly like to use it in their “laugh at Nixon reel.” The fact of the matter is Obama DID sing. So for Gingrich to tell him to stop singing and do his job was at worst evidence of Newt having no sense of humor or appreciation for a human moment. It was NOT some example of racism. It did not conjure up images of the minstrel show (as Maddow put it) in any but the most racially paranoid minds.
Former Gingrich spokesperson and current leader of the “not coordinated with Gingrich” Super PAC, Rick Tyler, bless his soul, did battle with Maddow and Al Sharpton last night. To my surprise, Tyler who once wrote the immortal words “But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich”, ably defended his candidate and made Maddow and Sharpton look pretty pathetic.
You know something? As a black man, every now and then I get a little tired of white folks defending black folks … because sometimes they just don’t know when to quit while they’re ahead.
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