The Alinsky that exists in Gingrich's mind -- and now, thanks to him, in the minds of countless Republican voters -- is a socialist, a communist, a Marxist radical, and exactly like Barack Obama. Obama is a Saul Alinsky radical; this election is a choice between capitalism and the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.
The Alinsky that actually existed was liberal, yes, and he fought to give the lower classes more power as a community organizer in Chicago. He also worked with communists on some community-organizing projects. (Anybody who tells you he was active in progressive causes in those days and never worked with the Reds is a goddamn liar, he told Playboy in an interview shortly before his death in 1972.) But he was not a communist. When asked shortly before his death whether he had ever considered joining the Communist Party, he answered unequivocally no, explaining:
Philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide.
And in his best-known book, Rules for Radicals, he wrote this: Those who enshrine the poor or have-nots are just as guilty as other dogmatists and just as dangerous.
But former Republican House Speaker Gingrich would rather voters not know that crucial component of Alinsky's beliefs. He would rather they associate Alinsky with one word only: radical.
And Alinsky was a radical. He embraced that label; that much is obvious from the title of his book. But radicalism is not an ideology. It is a way of promoting an ideology, and it can be applied equally well to the left or the right.
Alinsky applied it to the left. The Tea Party applies it to the right. In fact, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) gives Tea Party leaders copies of Rules for Radicals, and his conservative group FreedomWorks, which works closely with the Tea Party movement, distributes a condensed version to all of its members.
Yes, the Tea Party uses Alinsky's tactics. So does Gingrich himself.
The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a 'dangerous enemy,' Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals. Today, my notoriety and the hysterical instant reaction of the establishment not only validate my credentials of competency but also ensure automatic popular invitation.
If that's not a description of Gingrich's campaign strategy, I don't know what is.
Was Alinsky liberal? Absolutely. But his legacy has always been about the tactics he pioneered, not the causes for which he used those tactics -- and his tactics are incredibly effective, Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, told The Wall Street Journal.
So really, when Gingrich tries to smear Obama with the radicalism of Saul Alinsky, he is not denouncing the radicalism of Alinsky at all -- he is denouncing the ends toward which Alinsky devoted his radicalism. He is not denouncing community organizing; he is denouncing the distinction Alinsky drew between the haves and the have-nots, and his decision to side with the have-nots.
There are so many better examples Gingrich could have picked if he wanted a socialist bogeyman. Bill Ayres, Eugene Debs, the Rosenbergs -- anyone! If Gingrich wanted to compare Obama to a radical socialist, why didn't he compare him to someone who was, you know, actually a radical socialist?
I think it's the name -- and so does David Alinsky, Saul's son.
It's foreign-sounding: Russian or Polish or something Middle European, the younger Alinsky told The Chicago Reader. That kind of folks could never be trusted anyway. He's probably Jewish, and we know all about how those Jews are.
He added that it was almost immaterial whether Gingrich knew how badly he was misrepresenting Saul Alinsky's beliefs, because his beliefs aren't the point. The point is to set him up as a sort of Willie Horton/Swift Boat kind of individual, some bogeyman, some scary thing that goes bump in the night, that'll rape your daughter and eat your children.
I'm not calling Gingrich racist; I'm calling him calculating. I don't blame voters for being taken in by his misrepresentation of Alinsky. I didn't know who Saul Alinsky was, either, and when Gingrich said his name and called him a radical, I assumed he was a socialist or a communist. Gingrich was presenting him as one, and he sounded like he could be one. It was believable. But then I did my research.
In constantly invoking Alinsky's name as the Bogeyman of 2012, Gingrich is banking on the assumption that voters won't bother to do their research.
And as much as it disgusts me, he's probably right.