Who’s Afraid of Saul Alinsky?


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.


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Photo from Fresh Conservative via flickr


Annmari Lundin
Annmari L6 years ago

Of course, the repukes should be afraid of the legacy of Saul Alinsky. He was successful in his organizing of the poor, powerless and common people. Anyone using his ideas would soon have a popular uprising against the sleezebags in power. Be afraid, repukes, be very afraid!

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S6 years ago

It's almost worth shelling out the money for HBO just to watch Bill Maher. He's so spot-on in his assessments. Thank goodness we have a few outspoken Dems to help drown out the constant babble of nonsense from the right wing-nuts.

Charli Stubbs
Charlotte S6 years ago


Women remember what our Great Grandmothers and grandmothers went through to get us the vote and we need to educate our kids on the importance of voting. Don't like the electoral college then vote so that you can work to get rid of it.

There is no good excuse for not voting.

Charli Stubbs
Charlotte S6 years ago

Those of us who believe that all Americans should be able to live their lives as they want need to register and vote in the next election. I'm not thrilled with the Democrats (I'm a compassionate Libertarian) but they are less frightening then the far right. I'd like to see someone who believes the government needs to get out of our lives but still provide safety nets for those who can't take care of themselves. I'd like to get rid of the Nanny state that will outlaw fatty foods but allow a company like Monsanto to destroy our planet. I think that each law should allow the most freedom but not allowing the rights of others to be abused. After all, your rights stop at my nose. We obviously need to make some big changes in our country. bills need to be one item only so that no one can say they didn't have time to read it before they voted. Laws like the Patriot Act (which I like to call the UN-patriot act) needs to be repealed. We need to follow our founding fathers beliefs about torture (G Washington would not torture British soldiers. Look up his statement about it..pretty interesting). We need REAL election reform. Those of us who don't believe the far right should rule us need to vote in this upcoming election otherwise they WILL win. It's a crime that only 33% of us vote. The number of voters in countries where they may lose their life for voting is higher. Women remember what our Great Grandmothers and grandmothers went through to get us the vote and we need to

Theo C.
Theo C6 years ago

I am really going to have to find out about Saul Alinsky. If the ultra-right wing Republican Party is afraid of him, he must genuinely challenge their world view. That makes him important all by itself.

And the Bill Maher piece is priceless and dead-on accurate! The fantasy life of the far-right has long bemused me.

Michael Carney
Michael C6 years ago

Republicans, and Right Wing Tea Partiers, who are too narrow minded, to live in the real World, so they live in their closed minded Society that they're trying to force on all of us...Viva Saul Alinsky!!!!!

Robert H.
Robert H6 years ago

Ginrich is simply chandelling his inner Beck. Much of the right hated Alinsky because he taught the poor and downtrodden that this was THIER country too. And the people that have the power surely do NOT want the poor to realize they have power too. Thats why they want to crush unions too. ANYTHING that empowers the people THEY are trying to control, is the enemy. You people down there, just be still so we have a steady platform for us to stand on…..mainly your backs

Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago

Lol. Why is it Republicans make their people read Saul Alinsky to teach them how to organize. Funny how they lie about everything they do. Not.

Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago

The Republicans are Alinsky worshipers.

Charli Stubbs
Charlotte S6 years ago

Newt Gingrich is a cheat and a liar. The perfect GOP candidate.

Watch his latest wife sometime. Notice she doesn't leave him alone for a minute. That's because he married her after cheating on his 2nd wife who he cheated with on his 1st wife. Is this really the best the Christian Right can do?

If he can't be faithful to his wives then how can he be faithful to the constitution?

The fact he picks on Saul Alinsky shows just how stupid he is. Because people have looked the man up and when placed beside Newt, Saul wins hands down.l