Written by Deborah Small, Jack & Jill Politics
Newt Gingrich has defined his campaign as a “choice between American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky”. Gingrich casts himself as upholding the beliefs and values of the “founding fathers” under assault by President Obama, an agent of the radical left that wants to turn the U.S. into a “European style socialist state”. It’s relatively easy to point out the factual and historical absurdity of this statement, particularly coming from someone who considers himself a great historian, what’s more interesting to me is to examine why the use of the name of this obscure Chicago organizer strikes such a responsive cord among the conservative Republican base. Few have heard of Alinsky or know much about his life and legacy, yet he works as a boogeyman for conservatives in much the same way Bill Ayers played that role in 2008.
In this season of political obfuscation, comedians have stepped up to provide the most honest analysis of what’s really going on, with Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and Bill Maher leading the pack of people calling out the bullshit and reminding us that it stinks. Last week, Bill Maher did a superlative job of debunking the conservative left-wing Saul Alinsky conspiracy theory on his HBO show, Real Time:
If Gingrich wants to assume the role as defender of “American exceptionalism” – I say, let him have it. ‘American exceptionalism’ is a concept that has outlived it usefulness much like ‘manifest destiny’ and temperance. As articulated by Republicans, American exceptionalism is belief the U.S. has a divine right to be the world’s dominant nation; that our system of government is the best democracy in the world; that we are unique in protecting individual freedoms and liberties; and that we live in a just society.
While Republicans remain strident in their defense of ‘American exceptionalism’, this is yet another area where they are speaking to a diminishing audience. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center the belief in American exceptionalism is declining:
[T]he current polling shows the American public is coming closer to Europeans in not seeing their culture as superior to that of other nations. Today, only about half of Americans believe their culture is superior to others, compared with six-in-ten in 2002. And the polling finds younger Americans less apt than their elders to hold American exceptionalist attitudes.
This shift is driven in part by the fact it’s hard to keep believing in something when your experiences undermine that belief. Americans are no longer experiencing upward mobility, we realize this is not a country of ‘equal opportunity’; hard work and playing by the rules doesn’t always pay off and domestic law enforcement is being used to repress those seeking to exercise their constitutional rights. The following discussion with Professor Richard Wolff represents an excellent disquisition on the roots of ‘American exceptionalism and why it’s time has passed. Most importantly, Richard Wolff explains how our attachment to this belief keeps us locked into a cycle of spending and borrowing that is financially and socially crippling.
There’s another reason why Newt Gingrich should think twice about his constant references to Saul Alinsky. Some voters may be motivated to learn about Saul Alinsky and will find on examination that his views were closer to their own than Newt Gingrich. Saul Alinsky described his political motivation thusly:
“[The] eternal search for those values of equality, justice, freedom, peace, a deep concern for the preciousness of human life, and all those rights and values propounded by Judeo-Christianity and the democratic political tradition…. This is my credo for which I live and, if need be, die.”
Alinsky was a radical in the tradition of Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and Franklin – he held firmly to principles – believing that government existed in service of the people and he eschewed all forms of dogma, left or right. In the early pages of Rules for Radicals Alinsky declared the following:
I detest and fear dogma. I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on. That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic. Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The human spirit glows from that small inner doubt of whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world with cruelty, pain, and injustice.
Who do you fear, someone who believes the same things as Saul Alinsky or Newt Gingrich?
This post was originally published by Jack & Jill Politics.
Photo from Fresh Conservative via flickr