Most of us are wise to the ways of admen, pollsters, speechwriters, and pundits. We know how high-flying words can be deployed in the service of cynical aims, and how the noblest sentiments can be subverted in the name of power, expedience, greed, or intolerance. — Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, p. 8.
During this campaign season, Barack Obama has raised such unprecedented mountains of cash that he has broken every record in the annals of political fundraising. It’s enough to make him appear a veritable money wizard. If his own “high-flying words” are being “deployed in the service of cynical aims,” his contributors don’t seem aware of it, and the cash keeps rolling in.
But just as Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man discovered on their trip down the yellow brick road to Oz, what looks like wizardry to the masses might turn out to be just a little lever-pulling and tricky stunts. Pulling back the curtain on Obama’s fundraising prowess reveals some interesting tactics that could definitely be regarded as shrewd, the kind of tactics known especially by “slick admen.” Wizardry? No. There’s much more cunning here than magic.
Wanting to know what kind of tactics were behind Obama’s amazing fundraising feats, I signed up early to be a “friend” of Obama’s and began receiving his e-mail correspondence almost daily. Obama’s face, of course is ubiquitous; there are always pictures included in the e-mails asking for cash. Many of them also include links to video of the candidate’s latest “personal” appeal for help in defeating the “principalities and powers” that supposedly have a “lock” on America. These visuals, I’m told by my 22 year-old daughter, are essential for today’s youth, who have minimal tolerance for books without pictures. But it takes more than a few video clips to gain the allegiance of a fickle public. What else is at work here?
The Alinsky Self-Interest Doctrine
Self-interest is based a good deal on the law of the jungle, and certainly the survival of the fittest does not lend itself to thinking and acting according to co-operative, and self-sacrificing for-the-other-guy philosophy. Yet this seeming obstacle can be and has been used as one of the most driving motive forces in the development of a co-operative organization. — Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, p. 95
Alinsky coined a name for his self-interest doctrine; he called it “greed for good.” He wrote his first book, Reveille for Radicals, in 1946 and didn’t publish his follow-up manual for the bloodless revolution, Rules for Radicals, until 1971. Much had changed in America during that 25-year interval, and Alinsky had refined his methods somewhat, but he never wavered from his goal of revolutionary “change.”
Every appeal for money that Obama sends out carries the tone of the valiant underdog determined to succeed, not for himself or his own power aspirations, but for the “movement” of the “people.” No matter how many wins Obama racks up, no matter how much cash he has on hand, every single appeal is framed as part of the “people’s struggle.” And he isn’t doing this for himself; he’s not even doing it for America. He’s doing it for them. His audacious candidacy, he tells his followers, is not like the power grabs of a low-roader, attempted for “power, expedience, greed or intolerance.” No, his is “greed for good.” The good of all. And most especially the good of his “partners” in the movement.