Home > Alinsky, General > The Alinsky Tactics – Rule by Rule Part 3 – Rules 2 and 3

The Alinsky Tactics – Rule by Rule Part 3 – Rules 2 and 3

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Rules two and three. We will examine the second and third rule together since they are so closely connected. Alinsky states these two rules on page 127 of Rules for Radicals as:

The second rule is: Never go outside the experience of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear, and retreat. It also means a collapse of communication, as we have noted.

The third rule is: Whenever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat. [1]

alinskyWhat the rules mean. Alinsky states that venturing outside of areas where people feel comfortable creates the following problems for the movement: confusion, fear, retreat, and a collapse of communication.

The first three seem to be rather obvious consequences of going outside of one’s comfort zone. For example let’s suppose you were at a teaparty. Everyone around you has generally the same philosophy and concerns that you do. Now suppose instead that you are at a meeting of the Black Panthers and you are the only Conservative there.

How would you behave differently in these two very different situations? It seems obvious that you would feel not only comfortable, but quite bold with those with whom you agree. On the other hand, you would likely feel confused, be a bit fearful and would be anxious to get out of the Black Panther meeting. So the first three responses seem self evident.

But what about the idea of a collapse of communication? Notice Alinsky mentions that it refers to something he has already discussed in the book. Indeed, in the chapter entitled Communication he goes into detail about how going outside of the experience of the group creates a breakdown of communication. Simply put, the idea is that when we behave in ways that are outside of the normal understanding of those with whom we deal it becomes difficult to communicate our ideas and thus to move the organization  forward. Don’t worry if this is not clear at this point, it will become obvious.

How Obama has used rules two and three.

Obama as economic expert. Obama’s supposed expertise in financial matters was largely a matter of illusion. He could point to no record of experience in economics, but he was able to cast his opponent as knowing nothing about the subject. In this regard, Senator McCain provided ample ammunition to his opponent.

First, there was the dismissal of his economic adviser, Phil Gramm. Well, technically he said he stepped down, but we all know what that means. In any case, Gramm was forced to step down after saying that the United States had become “a nation of whiners” and for dismissing the economic crisis as a “mental recession”. [2][3]

As an important aside, I would highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with Gramm’s role in the deregulation, which many believe lead to the financial crisis, including the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that was signed into law by President Clinton.[4]

The following four Wikipedia articles are a good starting point for those who wish to understand some of the Congressional Acts that lead directly to our current financial crisis, as well as how both Phil Gramm and Larry Summers played parts in the deregulation that lead to it.





This will all be the subject of an article in the near future.

Next, there was the matter of whether McCain had in fact admitted a lack of economic knowledge. Again, he provided nothing but fuel to this fire, as the following video demonstrates. This video not only discredits McCain on the economy, which would be the deciding issue of the election, it also discredits him on foreign affairs, which is supposed to be in his “area of experience”.


Therefore, Obama, with a lot of help from McCain, was able to position himself as an economic expert despite the complete lack of any economic credentials. He did this by simply making his opponent look ignorant. He had used this same negative strategy against Hillary Clinton in the primaries. In that case, it was the war in Iraq instead of the economy. Obama did nothing to prevent the Iraq war, but he benefited from having not yet ascended to the United States Senate by 2002 when Congress voted on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. [5]

We should also note here that Barack Obama ran mostly against George Bush and Sarah Palin. His campaign staff spent most of their time tying McCain to the unpopular Bush and personally ridiculing Palin and her family. Again, McCain failed to counter the “McCain as Bush” argument effectively until the last debate. By then it was way too late.presDebMorons


The economy was the central issue of the 2008 election (ironically this was the case because the surge that John McCain had championed had been largely successful in Iraq), and therefor I havecovered these economic aspects of the campaign in a little more depth.

The following are a few very brief synopses of some of the other ways that Barack Obama used the second and third rule during the general campaign in 2008.

Obama as young and brilliant. Obama seized on the comparison of himself as young and hip against that of McCain as old and out of touch. It was commonplace (and still is) for people to refer to Obama as “brilliant” and “a genius”, but there is little evidence given to support this thesis. We don’t have his college transcripts, and he has made many public errors on simple matters. The latter will be a post all unto itself.

What he has been successful in doing, however, is comparing himself to Geroge W. Bush who was widely panned for his public speaking and frequently referred to as stupid (a charge which I submit does not hold up to scrutiny, but that too is for another day), and to John McCain who is not the most thrilling public speaker.

This Obama campaign video is famous for showing McCain as old and out of touch.



Obama as post-racial. During the 2008 Presidential campaign both parties were careful to walk a fine line when it came to race, but Obama held the most advantageous position simply by virtue of the scarred history of America when it comes to race.

He used that advantaged position to launch side-swiping attacks like the following comments he made about McCain:

“He’s spending an awful lot of time talking about me. You notice that?” Obama asked a crowd of just over one thousand seated in a university gym. “I haven’t seen an ad yet where he talks about what he’s going to do. And the reason is because those folks know they don’t have any good answers, they know they’ve had their turn over the last eight years and made a mess of things.”

“They know that you’re not real happy with them and so the only way they figure they’re going to win this election is if they make you scared of me,” Obama continued, repeating an attack from earlier in the day. “What they’re saying is ‘Well, we know we’re not very good but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency, he’s a got a funny name.’”[6]

And again:

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama said on Friday he expects Republicans to highlight the fact that he is black as part of an effort to make voters afraid of him.

“It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy,” Obama told a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Florida. “We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid.

“They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”[7]



Such attacks allowed Obama to use race against his opponent by staying within an area where he held the advantage and experience. He essentially challenged McCain to enter the arena of race knowing that perceptions would never allow for a white man to be seen as a victim of racial politics when he was engaged with an African American. He stayed within his own area of experience and advantage while trying to lure McCain into an area where he would have to fight with a clear disadvantage. This is textbook use of the second and third rules.



There are many other examples to demonstrate how Obama used these rules, but let me mention just two others and move on. John McCain challenged Obama to a series of Townhall events, but Obama never even officially responded. He didn’t say he wouldn’t, he just never did them. The reason? Obama knew that such events are McCain’s forte, and he wasn’t willing to take the chance of being shown up in these events. Obama is now legendary for his use of the teleprompter, so it makes sense that this would haobamaElectedve been wondering outside of his “area of experience”.

And finally, Obama constantly spoke in soaring rhetoric with little policy substance. He sought to appear ascendant. By way of contrast, the Obama campaign pointed out McCain’s less effective public speaking skills. Since Sarah Palin was able to stir crowds as effectively as Obama, if not more effectively, they chose to use a different rule on her, and we will discuss that in depth in a future article.


Recognizing and dealing with rules two and three.

The change of subject approach. You will often see people use rules two and three by trying to lure you away from an area where you hold the advantage and into an area where they feel they hold the advantage.

This is quite common on twitter. You may be making a point, and winning an argument, and your opponent will then try to change the subject gradually  moving you away from areas where you are strongest. If you recognize this you can use it to your advantage.

Obviously, it is more desirable to use this method as a defensive measure. In other words, you are not intentionally trying to steer people away from their points to yours, but instead you simply demand that they stay on subject.

The failure to communicate. Perhaps the least obvious of the points in the second and third rules is Alinsky’s point that when you venture oFollow AlinskyDefeater on twitterutside of the expertise of your people it will result in a collapse of communication.

This is covered in a separate chapter by Alinsky in Rules for Radicals and so we will only touch upon its most basic meaning here. The point Alinsky is making is that by going outside of the expertise of your people a breakdown in communication is inevitable. For example, if I start discussing Ohms law with you in the middle of this article, it is likely that you are going to lose interest and become confused unless you have a background in electrical engineering.

The point is that leaders of organizations have to consider the abilities and interests of the people working for them in order to maximize their potential.

The Rules on twitter. Twitter offers an opportunity for different people to use it in different ways. Some are good at engaging with those whose opinions differ from theirs, others are better at presenting information or news. Still others might be good at helping to reinforce and encourage those with whom they agree and others are good at using humor or wit. It is possible to venture out of your safe zone in this regard, but generally speaking you should find your strength(s) and stay within that framework. The converse of this would be to attempt to draw the other side out of their area of expertise and into yours.

What comes next? We will continue with the rules, and after we have covered them all we will double back and cover the book chapter by chapter.

The next rule we will cover is:

· Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.

Go to part two.

Go to part four.

Works Cited
[1] Alinsky, Saul Rules for Radicals. Toronto: Vintage Publishing 1971
[2] McCain Co-Chairman, Under Fire, Steps Aside – NYTimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/19/us/politics/19mccain.html?_r=1 [Accessed October 11, 2009].
[3] Gramm quits McCain campaign – The Boston Globe. Available at: http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2008/articles/2008/07/19/gramm_quits_mccain_campaign/ [Accessed October 11, 2009].
[4] Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. Available at: http://banking.senate.gov/conf/ [Accessed October 11, 2009].
[5] Search Results – THOMAS (Library of Congress). Available at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:H.J.Res114: [Accessed October 11, 2009].
[6] Hot Air » Blog Archive » Obama: McCain’s message is that I don’t “look like the other presidents on the currency”. Available at: http://hotair.com/archives/2008/07/30/obama-mccains-message-is-that-i-dont-look-like-the-other-presidents-on-the-currency/ [Accessed October 11, 2009].
[7] Hot Air » Blog Archive » Who’s playing the race card? Update: Audio added. Available at: http://hotair.com/archives/2008/06/21/whos-playing-the-race-card/ [Accessed October 11, 2009].
Categories: Alinsky, General Tags: , , ,
  1. January 29, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    This site does just what conservatives need to do to win our Country back. Educate! I firmly believe “most” democrats are not voting for socialists and progressives. I live in rural Tennessee and the little old ladies and men that live here will always say they are democrats, but they have absolutely NO IDEA what a progressive is. If we know the rules, we can win the game! Thanks!

  1. October 12, 2009 at 12:35 am
  2. October 12, 2009 at 12:40 am
  3. January 10, 2011 at 12:24 am
  4. January 10, 2011 at 6:44 pm
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  6. April 8, 2011 at 12:34 am
  7. April 8, 2011 at 1:11 am
  8. April 18, 2011 at 8:48 pm

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