Reveille for Republicans


Over at The Washington Independent, Dave Weigel discovers that conservatives have been reading Saul Alinsky. Not the caricature of the man that's trotted out on right-wing blogs when someone wants to declare the Democrats are doing something "straight out of Alinsky." They're reading Alinsky's actual books, and they're learning from them:

Alinsky has found a thriving and surprising fan club in the modern conservative movement. [Michael Patrick] Leahy is one of many "Tea Party" activists who have latched onto "Rules for Radicals" as a blueprint for a counter-revolution, a campaign of robust challenges to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress that is playing out nearly every day of the August recess in noisy town hall meetings. "Alinsky-cons" have taken the union organizer's "13 rules for power tactics" and "11 rules to test whether power tactics are ethical" and found a strategy that, they believe, is chipping away at the momentum for national health care reform. When they flummox representatives with chants, or laugh out loud at their attempts to explain their votes, many "Tea Party" activists say they're cribbing from Alinsky.

The most obvious beneficiary of the surge of interest in Alinsky has been Random House, which publishes the book through its Vintage imprint. According to Nielsen BookScan, "Rules for Radicals" has sold 15,000 copies since the start of this year—it only sold 35,000 copies from 2000 through 2008. Since the start of August, it has sold 1,000 copies. At Amazon.com, "Rules" is safely nestled in the Top 75 on the retailer's bestseller list, and it's No. 1 in the "radical thought," "civics," and "sociology/history" categories. Most tellingly, the people who snatch up copies of Alinsky's book at Amazon don't go on to buy more liberal texts. Instead, according to the online bookseller, they purchase Michelle Malkin's "Culture of Corruption," Glenn Beck's "Common Sense," and Mark Levin's "Liberty and Tyranny."

The right's interest in Alinsky began when conservatives started worrying that he was an influence on the president. Read enough Alinsky, and you might start wishing he had more of an influence on the president. Saul Alinsky distrusted government planners, and while he was by no means opposed to redistribution in itself he was an acute critic of the welfare state as it functioned in practice. He regularly denounced "welfare colonialism" and in one speech described LBJ's poverty program as "a huge political pork barrel and a feeding trough for the welfare industry, surrounded by sanctimonious, hypocritical, phony, moralistic crap." He argued that effective political action had to be driven by the people directly affected, not by professionals (including professional activists) acting on their behalf. A left that paid him more than lip service would be decentralist and anti-bureaucratic. Sounds like an improvement to me.