The Corner

The Full Alinsky

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, what’s going on in Washington and across the country is the Full Alinsky, brought to you by the same malcontents who have been awaiting this moment for more than 40 years. It’s been a long time wandering in the desert for the Sixties Left, but this is their moment, this is their time, as somebody or other from Punahou once said. 

The Great Man himself was already there, agitating and “organizing” for two years by the time I got to Rochester, N.Y., in the fall of 1967 to attend the Eastman School of Music. His target was the Eastman Kodak Co., and his human battering rams were members of the city’s black community, which had exploded in a riot in 1964. In the wake of the unrest, Rochester was already visibly on the slide when Alinsky got there, whipsawing both the black neighborhoods (which had largely been the old Jewish neighborhoods) and the useful idiots of the Rochester Area Council of Churches to hack away at the city’s then-prosperous business community and its WASPy leadership.

Alinsky rode into town on a one-trick pony that the Left has since turned into its warhorse: Agitate one side’s grievances, and appeal to another side’s decency and gullibility in order to provoke the establishment, whose reaction will unite the other two. Then the community organizer charges in on his nag-turned-steed and proceeds to set the rot in motion under the banner of “progress.”

It is the very devil’s work, and Alinsky certainly made a splendid devil: unctuous and whiny at the same time, and always casting himself as the real, heroic victim standing for progress, when in fact he was a particularly nasty, cowardly kind of cultural vandal. Here he is, talking to Playboy about his days in Rochester:

ALINSKY: In the aftermath of the riots, the Rochester Area Council of Churches, a predominantly white body of liberal clergymen, invited us in to organize the black community and agreed to pay all our expenses. We said they didn’t speak for the blacks and we wouldn’t come in unless we were invited in by the black community itself. At first, there seemed little interest in the ghetto, but once again the old reliable establishment came to the rescue and, by overreacting, cut its own throat. The minute the invitation was made public, the town’s power structure exploded in paroxysms of rage. The mayor joined the city’s two newspapers, both part of the conservative Gannett chain, in denouncing me as a subversive hatemonger; radio station WHAM delivered one-minute editorial tirades against me and told the ministers who’d invited me that from now on they’d have to pay for their previously free Sunday-morning air time. A settlement house that had pledged its support to us was promptly informed by the Community Chest that its funds would be cut off if it went ahead; the board retracted its support, with several members resigning. The establishment acted as if the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan was camped on its doorstep.

If you listened to the public comments, you’d have thought I spent my spare time feeding poisoned Milk-Bones to seeing-eye dogs. It was the nicest thing they could have done for me, of course. Overnight, the black community broke out of its apathy and started clamoring for us to come in; as one black told me later, “I just wanted to see somebody who could freak those mothers out like that.” Black civil rights leaders, local block organizations and ministers plus 13,000 individuals signed petitions asking me to come in, and with that kind of support I knew we were rolling. I assigned my associate, Ed Chambers, as chief organizer in Rochester, and prepared to visit the city myself once his efforts were under way.

PLAYBOY: Was your reception as hostile as your advance publicity?

ALINSKY: Oh, yeah, I wasn’t disappointed. I think they would have quarantined me at the airport if they could have. When I got off the plane, a bunch of local reporters were waiting for me, keeping the same distance as tourists in a leper colony. I remember one of them asking me what right I had to start “meddling” in the black community after everything Kodak had done for “them” and I replied: “Maybe I’m uninformed, but as far as I know the only thing Kodak has done on the race issue in America is to introduce color film.” My relationship with Kodak was to remain on that plane.

Most of this is self-aggrandizing hokum, of course, designed to stick a papier-mache halo atop Old Nick’s horns. The Gannett Rochester Newspapers — the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, for which I worked as a police reporter, federal-court reporter, and classical-music critic from 1972 to 1977, and the Times-Union — were harmless, inoffensive white-guy, country-club publications. They did some excellent journalism (the T-U won a Pulitzer in 1972 for its coverage of the Attica prison riots), and a whole bunch of folks graduated from Rochester and went on to great things. The notion that Rochester reporters would treat Alinsky like a leper is a typical leftist mendacity.

Setting the template, Alinsky “organized” a front group called FIGHT (the martial imagery so beloved of the peaceful and tolerant Left always makes me laugh) — Freedom, Integration, God, Honor, Today — and then induced guilt-ridden white liberals to join the “Friends of FIGHT” to finance the scam; the reference to “God,” coming from the man who in part dedicated Rules for Radicals to Lucifer, was a nice touch. 

But the key to Alinskyism is the whipsaw, a constantly shifting “moral center” that can argue both sides of an issue at the same time. Thus Alinsky’s love child, Barack Obama, can boast of being rich and siding with the “99%” simultaneously; attack him as one and he’ll say he’s “really” the other. Just look what the Obama administration is doing now, claiming to suspend the “CLASS” act of Obamacare while the president swears to defend it. Intellectually absurd — but emotionally pitch-perfect: Barry as the eternal outsider, battling dark forces inimical. For Alinsky always needs a villain, even if the villain is Alinskyism itself. But what do you expect from a political philosophy that claims up is really down, in is really out, and black is really white?

Alinskyism forces the Right to always be on defense, shadow-boxing in a hall of mirrors against a foe whose moral turpitude it refuses to credit. If Alinsky stood for anything, it was, like Lucifer, destruction; the Left’s rage is animated by its lust for demolition, and the sooner the Right stops accepting its pretensions, the quicker the real battle can finally be engaged.

Take Rochester today. Once a glorious monument to hard work and creativity, the city that gave the world Kodak, Xerox, Bausch and Lomb, Ragu spaghetti sauce, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, George Eastman, the country’s best pizza, Genny Cream, and Nick Tahou’s garbage plate is just another post-Alinsky ruin, shorn of its heritage and condemned by its weather. If you want to see the future of America under the shade of Saul Alinsky, Rochester is a good place to start.

As for Alinsky, somebody should turn the tables, and instruct the Right how to use his principles against him. It’s the only way to beat his ghost — and his hate-filled love children.

Michael Walsh — Mr. Walsh is the author of the novels Hostile Intent and Early Warning and, writing as frequent NRO contributor David Kahane, Rules for Radical Conservatives.


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