Archive for September 21, 2009

The Alinsky Tactics – Rule by Rule Part 2 – Rule #1

September 21, 2009 21 comments

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The First Rule

In the chapter of Rules for Radicals entitled Tactics Alinsky states his first rule as,

“Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have”.[1]

Alinsky places a quotation from Hannibal at the head of this chapter. Hannibal is thought of as one of the greatest military minds in history, and his leadership of the Carthaginian military is the stuff of legends. His exploits included his march towards Rome, taking a Carthaginian army across the Pyrenees and the Alps (Lancel, Hannibal). No small feat in the third Century B.C. The quote reads, “We will either find a way or make one”.[1] Again we see the resolute nature of Alinsky, and his admiration for one who refuses to take no for an answer, but would instead find a way to attain the desired ends.

In describing what he means by tactics Alinsky says, “In the world of give and take, tactics is the art of how to take and how to give. Here our concern is with the tactic of taking; how the Have-Nots can take power away from the Haves”.[1]

He then goes on to compare tactics to the human face. The eyes represent visible power such as is possessed by the ruling class. The ears represent a smaller group who cloaks their lack of size by raising a din that belies their numbers. Finally, he mentions the nose, “[I]f your organization is too tiny even for noise, stink up the place.”[1]

So then the first rule is the art of managing perceptions. He assumes that he is speaking not to the ruling class, but to the smaller, disenfranchised groups that are seeking power. After all, why would the ruling class want things to change at all? And so, since the numbers of the oppressed are small, it is critical to find ways to seem larger than you are; much like a cat which raises its back and its fur when threatened to appear larger and more formidable to its foe.

What can we glean from the first rule that will help us to understand how Alinsky tactics are being used, how to counter them, and how to use them for our own cause?

How Obama has used the first rule.

His entrance into the Presidential race.

Then Senator, Barack Obama used the first rule when first declaring as a candidate for President. As a little known Senator with a fairly undistinguished record to that point Obama was certainly not the eyes, but he was more than the nose. So taking Alinsky’s analogy of the ears we can see that Obama sought to make enough noise that his fledgling campaign would appear larger and more powerful than it was.

The first thing he did was to use symbolism.

He stood before the Old State Capitol building in February of 2007 and declared himself a candidate for President of the United States. An online newspaper described it then in these words,

“The first-term senator announced his candidacy from the state capital where he began his elective career just 10 years ago, and in front of the building where in another century, Lincoln served eight years in the Illinois Legislature.”[2]

With a few thousand followers listening, the young Senator seized upon everything he could to make his movement seem bigger than it was. He mentioned Lincoln several times in his speech, thus melding his vision and the vision of one of our most famous and beloved Presidents. In order to further magnify his voice he spoke about the war in Iraq and how he would bring the troops home. This speech took place in the first few weeks of the surge and in the midst of rising discontent over the war and in the way the war was being managed. He seized upon the issue that was garnering the highest percentage of mainstream media coverage, and married himself to it. Since Mr. Obama was not in the U.S. Senate when the resolution to give war powers to President Bush took place he found himself in the unique position of speaking out against the war in Iraq without seeming hypocritical for having voted for the resolution.[3]

Caucus Methods. Another example of Obama’s use of the first rule is his method for attaining caucus victories. The Obama supporters were routinely louder and more aggressive than the delegates for the opposition. It didn’t matter if he had more delegates at the beginning of the process as long as he had the loudest delegates they would eventually drown out the others and claim the victory, and this is exactly what they did.[4]

According to they obtained a memo that illustrated the main tactics the Obama people used to overwhelm the opposition at caucuses. Here are the main points they brought out:

  1. Individuals arriving all at once in large groups can disrupt the caucus by making it difficult to keep track of sign-in sheets, among other things.
  2. Individuals may arrive who are not registered to vote in a particular precinct with the story that ‘they just moved there.
  3. Supporters for a particular candidate, such as Senator Clinton, have arrived at caucus sites early to decorate and organize and been told that ‘the building was locked. [5]

These are clear examples of power being not only what you have but what others perceive that you have. Obama used groups of loud, rowdy delegates (and possibly non-delegates) to make it seem as though his support was larger than it really was, and by locking the building it not only kept the opposition out it also made Obama’s people appear more powerful than Clinton’s.

Since Clinton won in the bigger states such as Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida (although Florida did not count at the time) it was critical for Obama to take the caucuses, take them he did. Most believe that the caucuses swung the primary in favor of Obama, and without these tactics Hillary Clinton would have been the Democratic nominee.[6]


The fake Presidential Seal. How many remember the fake Presidential seal from Obama’s meeting in Chicago in June of 2008? It caused quite a stir as people felt that Obama was using a seal that looked far too much like the official Presidential seal. This is another example of perceived power. Candidates have always sought to “look Presidential” but many believe this crossed a line. If they did cross a line, they did so because they were following Alinsky rules, which do not consider anything tricks to be dirty. Instead, moves like this are demonstrations of how committed someone is to their cause. The ends justifies the means methodology of Alinsky can often lead to questionable acts like this. [7]

The Office of the President Elect. In an unprecedented move, Obama chose to set up what he called “The Office of the President Elect”. Of course, there is in fact no such thing as an office of the President Elect, and it was merely an affectation to have him appear more powerful even before he actually had any real power. Few would argue that it was effective for his group, and that no President Elect has ever had more effect on policy while not actually holding the office.

Beyond that, some have opined that the seal used in both instances was in fact a violation of the law. The Weekly Standard explains that it is illegal to use the Presidential Seal when you are not in fact the President of the United States.[8]

How the left uses the first rule.

In general, progressives have a rather unified approach to political dialogue that they feel was finally vindicated with the election of Barack Obama. Obviously we cannot discuss all the ways in which the left uses any of the rules, but we can hit the highlights.

Intellectual superiority. The bourgeoisie find it difficult to believe that anyone could possibly challenge them on an intellectual level. They hold the common man in contempt. There is perhaps no clearer example of this than the way in which the media and political establishment reacted to Sarah Palin. She did not go to an Ivy League school nor does she spend most of her time inside the Beltway schmoozing with the elite intelligentsia. She became the poster child for what the elites see as the proletariat breeders.

One of the key tenets of the intellectual groupthink of the pseudo-intellectual elite is a religious adherence to all things pertaining to the environment in general, and global climate change in particular. This is a discussion too large to address here, but it is important to understand that a vital part of the perceived power of the left is derived from their co-opting of exclusive knowledge of science and that they alone know with certainty that our planet is on the precipice of doom from climate change.

Moral superiority in matters of race. The left is also convinced that they, and only they, are truly egalitarian and transcend traditional racism in America. They paint anyone on the right with the broad brush of intolerance. While they claim to be the ones who are tolerant, and who are the protectors of free speech, it is clear that free speech to many progressives means you are free to speak as long as you agree with them – otherwise you are either mentally deficient and /or a racist.

In fact, the election of an African-American (technically a half African-American) President affords them the unique opportunity to couch everything in terms of racial identity. By paying lip service to the idea of racial equality while using identity politics to build their power structure, the left actually uses and manipulates minorities for what they consider the more important goals of progressivism.

Such claims of mental and moral superiority are ways to exercise Alinsky’s first rule. By appearing smarter or morally superior they are perceived as having more power than they actually do. It is a way to validate their political views as though they are somehow scientifically proven to be true.

Combating the first rule.

There were only two ways to defeat the Obama caucus strategy. One, the opposition could shed enough light upon the tactics being used to create a backlash that would redound to their benefit, or two, they could have fought the opposition with its own tactics. The first approach is dependent upon the ability to raise sufficient interest in the issue and to bring wide scale media coverage to bear on the issue. Senator Clinton actually attempted to combat Obama in this way, but was unable to bring enough light to bear. One of the reasons she failed involves another of Alinsky’s rules. She failed to keep sufficient pressure on her opponent, allowing him to behave badly without being called to account for his actions.

The second approach would be to simply make sure your group was louder and more aggressive than your opponents group. Senator Clinton made no effort to meet her opponents’ ferocity with equal fervor. By acquiescing she simply turned over caucus states to Barack Obama without any significant effort to stop him. Frankly, ‘telling on’ the aggressor is unlikely to yield the desired results even though it is the more noble approach. Often, when Alinsky tactics are used there is simply no other way to win than to beat them at their own game.

So how can we battle them on their pet issues of mental and moral superiority? First, regarding intellectualism it is often quite easy to poke holes in the arguments of the so-called intelligentsia. One way to do this is to use common sense. Frequently, the left over-thinks (or is it really under-thinking?) things to the point of absurdity, and claims pseudo-science to be scientific fact. You must call them on it when you see it.

Some examples of the absurdity of pseudo-scientific claims by the Left

Four months to avert irreversible changes in our climate:


We have just four months. Four months to secure the future of our planet. If we fail to act, climate change will intensify droughts, floods and other natural disasters. Water shortages will affect hundreds of millions of people. Malnutrition will engulf large parts of the developing world. Tensions will worsen. Social unrest even violence could follow. — –UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, 11 August 2009

I guess we’re down to three months now. This is obviously ludicrous. In a world where it is impossible to predict the weather with any certainty even a day ahead of time it is ridiculous to think we can predict the long term fate of our climate is predicated on a four month window for action.

For those of you who enjoy math and mathematical proofs as I do, I would encourage you to consider Heisenberg’s principles of chaos and their application to complex systems such as the earth’s weather. Additionally, a review of Godel’s proofs would be in order. Mathematical models of weather systems that are capable of producing provably correct results simply do not resist, and there is ample evidence that the mathematical proof that they cannot exist is correct.

Four years for the President to Save the earth.

The declared without a hint of irony, “President ‘has four years to save Earth’ US must take the lead to avert eco-disaster.” The article states,

“Barack Obama has only four years to save the world. That is the stark assessment of Nasa scientist and leading climate expert Jim Hansen who last week warned only urgent action by the new president could halt the devastating climate change that now threatens Earth. Crucially, that action will have to be taken within Obama’s first administration, he added.”[9]

Placing questionable environmental concerns above human life.

Those of you who watched recent coverage by Sean Hannity of the Government caused drought in the San Juaqin Valley in California will be familiar with what the refers to when it says,

“The state’s water emergency is unfolding thanks to the latest mishandling of the Endangered Species Act. Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued what is known as a “biological opinion” imposing water reductions on the San Joaquin Valley and environs to safeguard the federally protected hypomesus transpacificus, a.k.a., the delta smelt. As a result, tens of billions of gallons of water from mountains east and north of Sacramento have been channelled away from farmers and into the ocean, leaving hundreds of thousands of acres of arable land fallow or scorched.”[10]

Species go extinct every day. It is a part of the evolutionary process, which progressives hold so dear. There is no way to save species destined to go extinct, and doing so is often our arrogant intrusion into the evolutionary process. Yes, there are times when we must use all the science at our disposal to save the environment, and certain animals, but we cannot and should not seek to save them all.

Perhaps this quote from can offer some context:

While it is not necessary to question the good intentions and sincerity of the overwhelming majority of the members of the environmental or ecology movement, it is vital that the public realize that in this seemingly lofty and noble movement itself can be found more than a little evidence of the most profound toxicity. Consider, for example, the following quotation from David M. Graber, a research biologist with the National Park Service, in his prominently featured Los Angeles Times book review of Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature:

“Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line–at about a billion years ago, maybe half that–we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.[11]

Absurd, over the top claims for animal rights.

Recently, President Obama chose Cass Sunstein as his new Regulatory Czar. There have been numerous quotes from Sunstein that have given rise to serious questions about his beliefs and understanding of science and the Constitution. Perhaps the wildest is this quote:

“We could even grant animals a right to bring suit without insisting that animals are persons, or that they are not property. A state could certainly confer rights on a pristine area, or a painting, and allow people to bring suit on its behalf, without therefore saying that that area and that painting may not be owned. It might, in these circumstances, seem puzzling that so many people are focusing on the question of whether animals are property. We could retain the idea of property but also give animals far more protection against injury or neglect of their interests.”–Cass R. Sunstein, Martha C. Nussbaum. Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004). P. 11 [12]

Past radical claims:

Newsweek claims in 1975 we face a certain ice age.

“There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now.”

“To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.”[13].

The Washington Post also made such claims.

“The world could be as little as 50 or 60 years away from a disastrous new ice age, a leading atmospheric scientist predicts. Dr. S. I. Rasool of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Columbia University says…”[14]

The New York Times printed several such articles.

In May of 1975 the New York Times predicted an imminent return to an ice age.n [15]



These are just a few examples of how wrong the elite intelligentsia can be while smugly cloaking themselves in their supposedly rational belief in pseudo-science. It should be noted that the left has been promoting some version of climate change that will lead to a lack of food and/or water for decades. It is worth asking who would gain, and what they would gain from this push of pseudo-science, but that discussion is for another time.

Dealing with the Left on issues of Race.

It is quite easy to goad the left into making errors in the area of race. I firmly believe that racism is the purview of the left more than the right. If nothing else, their constant obsession with it would seem to indicate that they are overcompensating. The recent remarks of former President Jimmy Carter are a perfect example of this. While claiming that Americans who oppose the policies of President Obama are in a large part racist he speaks the code of old southern racism, and his history demonstrates a less than stellar record on civil rights. He has used the image of African-Americans to paint his opponents in a bad light, and has a long history of what many would consider anti-Semitic beliefs and comments.[16]

dambisaLessons learned from Dambisa Moyo. I would encourage all of you to learn the work of Dambisa Moyo and her work for Africa. In a nutshell, she demonstrates that state aid to countries in Africa may be well intended, but it creates nations that are corrupt, financially disparate, and dependent upon outside aid. She is not talking about donations to people, she is referring to state aid. This is an important distinction for the importance of her work.

The analogy this provides us is quite remarkable. What clearer demonstration could there be that those who seek to treat people as though they cannot do for themselves are in fact condescendingly practicing a thinly veiled racism that traps and enslaves people rather than liberating them?  Clearly, this is the same way in which Liberals use identity politics and promises of hand outs to keep minorities and the poor dependent upon them.[17]


We have seen that the first Alinsky tactic is a matter of perception, and that it has been used by the Obama Administration and by the Left in general to make them appear more powerful than they really are. This perception then allows them to co-opt actual power if their methods are not revealed, and their claimed “facts” go unchallenged. With each of the tactics we must learn to recognize it when we see it, and with many of the tactics we must learn how to use them as well or better than our opponents if we wish to succeed.

Next time we will cover rules two and three, which go hand in hand. Rule two says, “Never go outside the experience of your people.” Rule three says, “Whenever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy.” That’s next time.

Got to Part One.
Go to Part Three

Works Cited

[1] Alinsky, Saul Rules for Radicals. Toronto: Vintage Publishing 1971

[2] Obama Declares White House Candidacy. Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[3] ny-times-1975-05-21.pdf (application/pdf Object). Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].ny-times-1975-05-21.pdf (application/pdf Object). Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[4] Vichy Democrats: Breaking News: Clinton Claiming Widespread Fraud By Obama, Ramping Up Legal War To String Out Primary. Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[5] Another Report of Improper Obama Caucus Tactics – TalkLeft: The Politics Of Crime. Available at: [Accessed September 21, 2009].

[6] Caucus Strategy Bolsters Obama’s Bid for White House – Watching Washington Blog : NPR. Available at: [Accessed September 21, 2009].

[7] The Great Seal of Obamaland? – The Caucus Blog – Available at: [Accessed September 21, 2009].

[8] The Weekly Standard. Available at: [Accessed September 21, 2009].

[9] President Obama ‘has four years to save Earth’ | Environment | The Observer. Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[10] CA Political News | show. Available at: [Accessed  September 18, 2009].

[11] The Toxicity of Environmentalism. Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[12] Sunstein quote file.pdf (application/pdf Object). Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[13] Newsweek on the cooling world. Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[14] U.S. Scientist Sees New Ice Age Coming. Available at:
U.S.+Scientist+Sees+New+Ice+Age+Coming[Accessed September 18, 2009].

[15] ny-times-1975-05-21.pdf (application/pdf Object). Available at:

times-1975-05-21.pdf [Accessed September 18, 2009].

ny-times-1975-05-21.pdf (application/pdf Object). Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[16] Jimmy Carter’s racist campaign of 1970 | Washington Examiner. Available at: [Accessed September 18, 2009].

[17] Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa. Available at: [Accessed September 21, 2009].

Categories: Alinsky, General