Jan 17

Waiting for Alinsky

A picture of Saul Alinsky

And waiting….and waiting….

Saul Alinsky has been a hot topic for the last decade or so. Freedomworks has had seminars on his tactics to stir up the Tea Party. Glenn Beck and other conservative spokes models have waxed eloquently about his devious left-wing philosophy and strategies. He pops up as a frequent topic on Right-wing blogs. And God knows, he’s always referred to by conservatives on Facebook and Twitter.

In fact, the only people who aren’t talking about Alinsky are… most liberals. However, you wouldn’t know it from conservative social media.

Yesterday, a raging right-winger called me an “Alinsky loving liberal” during a debate I was having. He was part of a conservative swarm on Twitter. (They travel in packs like nuns.) Admittedly, he wasn’t arguing with all cylinders – nor were his compatriots. Nonetheless, his name-calling conjured up images of my secret satanic altar to the god, Saul Alinsky –surrounded by flickering commie red candles deep in the dark grotto of my evil liberal lair.

Only problem: I  barely have a passing academic understanding of who Saul Alinsky was and what he’s all about. What I do know leaves me cold. Sometimes, I have to trust Wikipedia and look him up when I hear references to him (references always made by conservatives). I’d hate to have to take a quiz on the man. I’d no doubt flunk. I dare say, most of the many liberals I know aren’t any better educated on Alinsky than I am. None of us probably come anywhere close to having the knowledge those who have attended a Freedomworks seminar on the guy have.

Alinsky is a conservative myth the Right creates to have a canned argument at the ready. Oh, he was real guy and had a real political and activist philosophy. There are surely even some left-leaning adherents to his ways out there in the world even now. But are most of the run-of-the-mill liberals disciples of Alinsky or any of his ideas? No. And, sorry, I can’t make it any simpler for those conservatives who will undoubtedly insist they are. (See conspiracy theories.)

So, if all this Alinsky stuff is a conservative delusion, why waste cyberspace writing about it? Because it’s symptomatic of what is regularly occurring in the current political debate. It represents the classic strawman argument. For those who haven’t been in debate class for a while, that’s where you stack your opponent’s side of the argument with material that is not what he, in fact, believes. You customize both sides of the argument to your advantage, and it makes for an obvious but dishonest win.

As a debater setting up a strawman, you say, “This is what you believe and this is why it’s wrong.” Notice the lack of a question to find out what your opponent actually does believe. In a strawman argument, it doesn’t matter what he really believes. In fact, it’s dangerous to find out. It may not fit your preconceived argument.

Remember the old saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything else  becomes a nail.” If all you have is a ready argument about the deviousness of Alinsky, then  it’s really convenient if all of your opponents happen to be his followers.

We all do it. I have a good friend who is a conservative who I communicate with regularly on social media. He always surprises me by being something other than what my preconception of what a conservative is. It’s a good surprise because I learn something new every time. The biggest thing I learn is not to rely solely on my own preconceptions and to think in terms of questions more than statements.

When my opponent yesterday brought up Saul Alinsky, we had only communicated for probably no more than ten minutes. I had only asked questions and challenged some of the swarm’s facts at that point. He had no real clue about me nor what I believed. It didn’t matter. With the Alinsky reference, he was able to pull up a canned argument (both sides) in his mind and make a decision. There was no attempt on his part to discover anything that wasn’t already occupying the echo chamber in his brain.

His loss.



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