All errors should be reported to

Friday, February 03, 2017

Alinsky's rules fail

Saul Alinsky's 13 Rules for Radicals have beguiled American lefties for nearly a half-century. The valedictorian of Wellesley '69 gushed at the end of her senior thesis:
If the ideals Alinsky espouses were actualized, the result would be social revolution. Ironically, this is not a disjunctive projection if considered in the tradition of Western democratic theory. In the first chapter it was pointed out that Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio/political philosophy. As such, he has been feared—just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embrace the most radical of political faiths—democracy.
But I find scant evidence that Alinsky's rules work.

The valedictorian of Wellesley '69 was Hillary Clinton. She wrote her thesis two years before Random House published Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals," but she had studied him and corresponded with him.

His book was part of a then-popular genre of melodramatic attempts at pamphleteering by American socialists and communists, such as "Prairie Fire: The Politics of Anti-Imperialism" by the Weather Underground in 1969.

These manifestos and the bombings that went with them led to a 40-year stretch where no truly liberal Democrat served as president.

We had four years of Carter and eight of Bill Clinton squeezed among Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and two Bushes. Clinton's big achievement was handing the House back to Republicans for the first time in 40 years after his wife -- the valedictorian of Wellesley '69 -- failed to get a Democratic Congress to pass Hillarycare.

So let us look at those 13 Rules for Radicals to see why they fail to elect presidents.
1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
Lifted from Sun Tzu but the general understood something that the community organizer did not; there are times when it is best to be underestimated. Reagan, Bush 43, and Trump understood that.
2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” 
3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
These are good maxims. No. 2 is why Trump keeps his campaign speeches extemporaneous. He needs to test what his followers know, so he can how far he can lead them that day.

Other presidents have. Lincoln wanted abolition without compensation to slave owners. But he had to take it slowly and "evolve" on the issue because most people were not where he was in 1860. FDR did the same on World War II, and Obama did so on gay marriage.

Now comes the biggy:
4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
Time has shown that it has limited value because once you apply their rules, the rules becomes yours. Trump learned this the hard way when he went after Bill Clinton only to be caught in that Billy Bush tape.
5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
Not really. Despite the best efforts of Chevy Chase, Jerry Ford nearly won election in 1976 despite a bad economy and the Nixon pardon. If anything, Chevy humanized Ford.

Reagan, both Bushes, and Trump were savaged by late night comics. Between the four of them, they won six of seven presidential elections. A weapon that works only 14% of the time is useless.
6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
The pussyhats amused the Women's Marchers who were either menopausal or overweight, but not the rest of us were. Political masturbation is unappealing.
7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
8. “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
These are contradictions that show Alinsky really had not thought through his list. Logic holds that if you do 6 and 8, you cannot be saved by 7.

Here's what I mean: the left keeps employing tactics that only the lefties enjoy (6) -- which keeps the pressure on (8) -- but that also means the lefties never drop the tactics when they become a drag (7).
9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
It works. Not because Alinsky said it but because Sun Tzu -- who actually won a war or two -- came up with it 2,500 years ago: "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."
10. "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition."
No retreat.

That's a good way to lose an army in Russia in winter.
11. “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”
That's pretty good advice. After a while, Bush 43 just called himself Dubya as his distractors had, and served two terms as president.
12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
This has been modified by the left from "a constructive alternative" to a feel-good alternative that is easier to sell. It works.

13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
Todd Akin, Sarah Palin, and Christine O'Donnell can attest to that.

But going back to that 2011 White House Correspondents Association dinner, the radical left has tried to isolate and ridicule Donald Trump to no avail.

As far as Alinsky goes, he has 13 rules, and most of them are losers.

Which is why the first liberal president since Johnson -- Barack Obama -- ignored them.

Obama won largely without these rules. He won by making himself mainstream, and not some freak in a pussyhat.

That worried me until the Left returned to its old Alinsky ways when the Tea Party showed up.

The Left loves Rule 6 -- “A good tactic is one your people enjoy” -- so much that they are oblivious to how others see it merely as the Left pleasuring itself.

And two weeks into the first 208 weeks of Trump's first term, they have not let up.



Please read "Trump the Press," in which I skewer media experts who wrongly predicted Trump would lose the Republican nomination. "Trump the Press" is available as a paperback, and on Kindle.

It covers the nomination process only. The general election is covered in a sequel, "Trump the Establishment," which will be published in paperback on Tuesday.

For autographed copies of either book, email me at

Be deplorable. Follow me on Twitter.


  1. Hillary/Alinsky/Lefties' theme song: "Friend of the Devil." - Elric

  2. Alinsky Fails! Film at 11! Or is it Alinskyites have overstepped themselves, big time? I think the latter.

  3. those rules appeared to work because gop pols were in fact working hand in glove with the dems. it was all kabuki theater. against Trump, not so much.

  4. Very interesting analysis...

    They sure believe the mythology, mainly because team red is so petrified of it.

    Too bad legacy prime movers like Abbie Hoffman and the other members of the infamous seven minus 1 didn't benefit from the publication. Or, maybe they were just the beta pre-release version.

    I'm sorta betting that they will all show the normal half-life of protest/celebrities once they grow up, eventually ending up like Mr. Hoffman "assum(ing) room temperature/ living in a turkey coop converted into an apartment."

    [ ]

  5. Interesting. I think tactical effectiveness depends on the tactic being appropriate for the situation. Take ridicule. Someone mentioned The Knights by Aristophanes recently. The subject of the ridicule in that play went on to be elected to an archonship after it was performed and if I recall correctly, was able to retire from his political career without incident. Most of his supporters never even showed up for the performance, or so it is thought. Either because they didn't care to see it or they couldn't afford to as many of his supporters were poor, like those of Trump. And here's the kicker. He was blond, too.

  6. Trump has only one rule, but it's a lulu.

    "I ❤️ Conservatives, but I ♣️ Progressives."

  7. I don't think you can say absolutely these rules work or they don't work. Like most rules they are brief statements of more complicated principles to which some exceptions exist. When used wisely in the appropriate circumstance they can work, when used foolishly in inappropriate circumstances they won't work. And outside conditions also influence their application, some goals are impossible, some are easy. A perfect rule applied perfectly won't accomplish an impossible task. And some things will occur naturally even though your efforts to bring them about are incompetent.