Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lessons from "Rules for Radicals" - How to Fight Dirty

Today I finished reading Saul Alinsky's Handbook for Democrats, otherwise known as "Rules for Radicals." The best chapter of the book, by far is "Tactics." In it he discussed a number of rules for tactics. Some of the best are described below.

Tactics means doing what you can with what you have. As for any other goal in life, you have to make a start and not wait until conditions are perfect or "the time is right." No matter how hopeless the situation may seem, doing something, even small, gives a group energy and purpose and optimism. I think that's why most of us started blogging. We wanted to do something, anything, to help further the cause.

Never go outside the experiences of your people -- they will be uncomfortable and give up the effort. If we conservatives took up the tactic of breaking windows, spraying graffiti and throwing rocks, we would "go outside the experiences of our people." Most of us would not participate.

Go outside the experiences of your opposition. Use tactics that the enemy doesn't expect; it will confuse and panic him. An example might be buying symphony tickets for a group of civil rights workers, feeding them beans, and having them noisily pass gas during the performance. This was actually considered by Alinsky's group.

One tactic he did use against a "slum lord" was to bus blacks into the man's white upscale neighborhood where they picketed with signs that said "Do you know your neighbor is a slum lord?" It worked.

Use tactics that are fun for your group. If your group enjoys the tactics, that definitely makes them more successful. Our recent round of TEA parties did this -- they were fun.

Keep the pressure on. Tactics shouldn't be terminal, once over, quickly forgotten. We must continue the Tea Parties and find new avenues for dissent. Alinsky recommends different tactics and actions, because a tactic can become overused and lose its effectiveness. The Left's old standby of calling everyone on the right "racist" is a good example of overuse. It has become a meaningless epithet and doesn't cause the panic and confusion it once invoked.

Pick a target and polarize it.  Most social or political conflicts are not all black and white but are diffused among a variety of factors, forces, people and circumstances. Reality, however, just won't do if we are to energize our group. To do that we must give them a simple slogan, idea or villain to attack. You must assume that you are 100% right and the opposition 100% wrong and you must personalize the attack and polarize your group. Alinsky explains: "One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other." That leads to his next point, or how to create a target for your group's vitriol.

Choose a villain and make him the scapegoat for everything you oppose. Alinksy writes: "Obviously there is no point to tactics unless one has a target upon which to center the attacks."

The Left did this very effectively in politically destroying Newt Gingrich after the 1994 Republican victories; they made him a scapegoat, a symbol of everything the Left hated, and he became a polarizing figure simply as a result of this propaganda. They tried very hard to do the same thing to George W. Bush and were fairly successful. These men served as the "target upon which to center the attacks."

This was much more effective than merely attacking the Republican Party as a whole; that wouldn't have been adequately personal or polarizing. This tactic is well illustrated by that old canard, "to kill a snake, cut off the head and the body dies as well."

Goad and ridicule your enemy to make him react. Alinsky says that ridicule is the most effective tactic because it causes anger and irrational responses in the opposition. It is in the enemy's reaction that you gain your greatest strength. Akinsky says that the one thing "that is certain to get him to react is to laugh at him. This causes an irrational anger." An angry, irrational reaction can be used to direct bad publicity at the enemy, to further ridicule him, to send him into a humiliating retreat. You gain support while your enemy loses it.

Remember how irrational that Seinfeld comic was when blacks insulted him during a comedy routine? He boiled over and started shouting racial insults at them, and almost destroyed his public persona in the process. If there is one thing we should all learn here is not to lose self-control when ridicule is used against us. Learn not to react, because that's what the enemy wants.

Another thing we should all learn here is to continue using ridicule against the Obama Administration, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat Party. They furnish us with enough ammunition that we should never run out of jokes at their expense.

Pelosi was successful in bringing ridicule upon herself with her transparent attempt to avoid responsibility for waterboarding by claiming the CIA lied to her, "and that they lie all the time." She became angry and irrational, made foolish statements and made herself a public laughing stock. For the time being, at least, her credibility with the voting public is all but shot.

Ridicule helps the enemy destroy himself.

Update: See the RNC video ridiculing Nancy Pelosi's stand on the CIA. This is a good example of an effective use of ridicule against the enemy.

Hoist the enemy on his own petard. Highlight the fact that the enemy will say one thing and practice another. Their great rules of ethics, fair dealing and manners are mainly for show and they will abandon them under the pressure of the fight. Rub it in when they do and make them look like hypocrites. 

Some pertinent, recent examples: Al Gore preaching low carbon emissions while burning an obscene amount of energy is in own home; prominent Democrats who preach raising taxes on "the rich" while dodging their own huge tax liabilities.

Play one party against the other. Alinsky fought corporations by using their competition against them. If they were trying to unionize department stores in Chicago, they wouldn't picket them all simultaneously. They would picket one store, sending many of its customers to its competitors rather than endure the political shouting of a sign-wielding picket line. This tactic has been very succesful. It was used against General Motors, sending a lot of its customers to Chrysler.

There's more. I suggest that every conservative who wants to win the culture war buy a copy of this book. Not only will we be able to recognize the tactics used against us, we will be better able to devise defenses. We can also use the same tactics against them.  It's all about winning, baby. Let's be in it to win.

Update: Stacy McCain of The Other McCain has a related article to this one, "Against the Politics of Niceness." Do read it.

Buy the book!

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