Who the Hell is Saul Alinsky (and Rachel Maddow Jumps the Shark)

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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2010: Return of the Whigs

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I’m well-known for saying that at current rate and speed, the Republican party is on target to be the Whigs of the 21st century. Based on last night’s election results my prognosis may have been premature. Then again, was it? If you listened to the victory speeches of Rand Paul and Marco Rubio you did not hear the defiant declaration of Bush-era Republicans returning to the helm. On the contrary, you heard a rejection of a political party that had lost its way. Rand indicated he was going to make the Senate “deliberate” on a thing or two. Marco reminded his audience that last night was not a vote FOR the Republican party but rather a rejection of the current leadership.

After listening to a good six hours of talking heads (yes I’m obsessive) I came away with a few perspectives on last night’s mid-term results which I shall share in no particular order:

(For the most part) Nutjubs, Racists, and Misfits Need Not Apply

A few weeks ago MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow mourned the demise of the “macaca moment”. It was her assertion that the type of gaffe that could destroy a candidate the way “macaca” destroyed candidate George Allen in 2008, seemed to go unnoticed and completely forgiven in 2010. Alas Rachel was being a bit melodramatic. One thing we learned last night was that if you send pornographic photos via email (Carl Paladino), use blatantly racist campaign ads (Sharron Angle), declare that you are not a witch (Christine O’Donnell), dress up like a Nazi on the weekends (Rich Iott) or can barely complete a sentence in an interview, with a sex-offender accusation pending against you (Alvin Greene) then you are not going to be elected dog catcher by Americans in 2010. I cannot overestimate what a relief this was to me as I watched the results come in last night.

It’s The Economy Stupid

Liberals will burn me in effigy for saying this but if last night taught us anything it was that we wasted eighteen months on health care reform that most of the nation didn’t want when we should have had a full court press on job creation. Before you stick your pin in my voodoo doll, let me distill this for you. I walk up to you and say I am going to ensure that your employer can provide you with health care and that you cannot be rejected for pre-existing conditions. Your reply, “that’s fine and dandy but I don’t have an employer. I haven’t worked in two years. I’m about to lose my house.” And then I say “but I insist it’s your right to have good health care!” Then I wonder why you don’t vote for my ass in the next election.

There are those who say there is never a “good time” to introduce health care reform. That may be but I can damn sure tell you there are some particularly bad times to do it. If Obama presided over a booming economy, he would have still encountered philosophical opposition to HCR but at least he could have made it  a reasonable priority. Whether or not it makes sense, people prioritize earning enough money to keep their home over good health. That is a social and political reality that the Obama administration, most liberals, and I ignored. Yes, I admit it. I fell in love with the Utopian idea of health care for everyone. I did so ignoring my own underemployment. I was a fool. We liberals paid a price for our principles last night and I’m not at all sure it was worth it.

Some Hispanics, Our Youth and Minnesotans Have Got to Go

If you don’t know when you’re being insulted, you deserve everything that’s coming to you. 30% of Hispanic voters in Nevada voted for Sharron Angle after she portrayed them as a criminal threat to law abiding white folks. Guess what 30%? That makes you a bunch of nimrods, oh pardon me, estupidos! Marco Rubio was right to call out Harry Reid when he wondered aloud how any Hispanic could vote for a Republican. Harry should have wondered how any of them could vote for Sharron Angle.

Apparently our young voter count was lower than expected. You know what? All I hear the Tea Party Movement and other conservatives say is how terrible it is to leave all this debt to the younger generations.  Well, I don’t feel one shred of remorse today. They came out in droves in 2008 to vote for the rock star like it was some friggin’ edition of “American Idol”. Now when policy and our future is at stake, they had better things to do. Until the lazy selfish bastards stop texting their BFF’s while watching the latest installment of “Jersey Shore” and get out and do their civic duty by voting, they can choke on my debt.

Finally, Minnesota. What to do about Minnesota? OK I know they like colorful characters. Just look at Prince or Jesse Ventura. And yes I can forgive them for electing Michele Bachmann the first time. But now that we know what a show-boating brain-dead, rhetorically dangerous woman this is, how in the name of all that is good and decent, could she be re-elected? There is only one solution but I will limit this solution only to the sixth congressional district of Minnesota because unlike the average conservative Islamaphobe, I don’t smear the whole with the faults of the few. The solution is that the sixth district of Minnesota must be sold to Canada. I don’t know how much we’d get for it, but it would certainly help bring down the deficit that Ms. Bachmann is so fired up about.

Two Lib Losses that Don’t Upset Me That Much

A good number of our lib heroes survived last night with nary a scratch. Icons like Barney Frank (yeah conservatives … SUCK IT), Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Barbara Boxer and that other boxer from Searchlight, Nevada, Harry Reid. Even that old example of political decay, Charlie Rangel lived to see another day. However there are two losses that don’t have me all that bothered. The first is Alan Grayson from Florida. I have maintained almost from the beginning that Grayson was all show and no substance. In a political climate where there is too much heat and too little light, Grayson generated a lot of the former. Was it great for catharsis? Damn straight it was! Did it move the ball forward in any meaningful way? Not one bit. Grayson was doing an audition to replace Ed Schultz on MSNBC but he was doing it on the tax payer’s dime. I’m not shedding a lot of tears that the audition was canceled.

The other loss that I almost cheered was that of Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania. When Sestak unseated party-switcher Arlen Specter for the Senatorial nomination he made a huge self-righteous ruckus about how the Obama administration tried to buy him off so he wouldn’t run. Honest-Abe Sestak rejected the “bribes”. All this did was fire up the “impeachment” advocates claiming that Obama had authorized political dirty tricks for which he should be punished. A good Democrat would have kept his big fat mouth shut but no, Joe had to prove to everyone what a virtuous guy he was. I nearly vomited at the time and I found him equally obnoxious in his concession speech last night. By the way, his daughter was obnoxious too …

Most Obnoxious Performance on Election Night

That award goes to Joe Sestak’s daughter Alex. Yes, I know I’ve been beaten up on this blog in the past for prodding at politician’s families but I’m sorry, this kid needed a good swift kick in the ass. As Joe attempted to give his concession speech, not five seconds would go by without Alex interrupting him with some pithy comment. Her mother smiled ear to ear with that look you’ve seen on mothers who mistake their children’s rudeness for “just being precocious”. Joe seemed slightly less amused and I was expecting him any minute to scream “I JUST LOST THE MOST IMPORTANT POLITICAL RACE OF MY LIFE …. WOULD YOU SHUT THE F**K UP?????” Instead, Joe just grinned and carried on. At the end of his speech he lifted his “little girl” up in the air and for a split second, I thought he was gonna throw her into the crowd like Alice Cooper throwing a chicken into a mosh pit. No such luck.

Later in the week, I’ll share my thoughts on where progressives should go from here.


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Thanks and Humility

This week is the week for giving thanks and probably a time for a bit of introspection and humility. Of course, one of the things I’m thankful for are the folks who read my blog, the modest set of folks who follow me on Twitter and the handful of folks who listen to my Internet radio show. As I was finishing off a slice of pumpkin pie last night it occurred to me that eating a couple of slices of humble pie might be appropriate for today’s post.

The first slice involves a topic that I have never written about in the main body of the blog but I have mildly debated it within the comments section. I am one of those who champions the notion of climate change and calls climate change skeptics ignorant neanderthals. So, man did I have egg on my face earlier this week when some emails unearthed by a hacker revealed some shenanigans going on with the data supporting global warming. Apparently the following damning sentence was found in email exchanged among scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.

When scientists use the words “trick” and “hide” it’s natural for us ordinary folks to become a bit concerned. Climate change advocates say the sentence was taken out of context. Climate change skeptics are ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. While I am not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water, this incident does make me reevaluate what government’s role should be in science. I am almost ready to say that our founding principle of separation of church and state should be extended to separation of science and state. I think it ‘s worth investigating whether science becomes contaminated when politicized. I haven’t figured out when is the proper juncture for government to act on the findings of science but I think in the case of climate change it has become uncertain who is the cart and who is the horse. Scientists have always had a problem with pride of  ownership that can interfere with their objectivity, but this is doubly compounded when politicians get involved and the stakes for being wrong get too high. If you think a scientist has a problem being wrong, you haven’t seen anything until you look at politicians.  Clearly the “climate change movement” has taken a bad credibility hit. We need to restore objectivity and get the politicians out of this for a while (do you hear me, Al Gore?).

The second slice of humble pie involves some intellectual dishonesty on my part. Such dishonesty usually comes back to kick one in the ass and this week I did indeed get my ass kicked. Back in September, I published an article about a census taker in Kentucky who was found hanged under mysterious circumstances. I used the event to prove that the evil right-wing was on the march. The worst offense was the following claim:

Much of the media is approaching this story with caution. Clearly, the investigation is just beginning and this could be either a very bizarre suicide or a “prank” homicide completely unrelated to any political agenda. If either case proves to be true, we should still stop and contemplate this moment. Regardless of what really happened, what are many of  us thinking right now and why?

Well, I should have approached the story with much more caution, like not have written about it in the first place. It turns out that the terminally ill census taker staged his own murder so his son could get the insurance.  The best part is when I say that regardless of the facts we should still contemplate what happened. This kind of reminds me of when my buddy Rush Limbaugh found out that an Obama thesis story he had covered was a hoax and then said the fiction was consistent with fact and therefore didn’t deserve a retraction.

Well friends, sometimes emotional fervor interferes with clear thinking. When the facts of the case dictate that some right-wing looney tune has gone off the deep end, then and only then is it appropriate to get one’s bowels in an uproar about it. You probably won’t see Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow say “my bad” about this one, but you will see me say it.

MY BAD and I hope you all had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!


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