Barack Obama and Saul David Alinsky’s Strategy of Community Organization

Alinsky was considered the ideological and tactical “father” of community organizing, and, indeed, developed much of his ideas on Chicago’s South Side, where Obama Jr. started his career as community organizer and, later, politician. It is unclear how much Obama knew about Saul Alinsky’s book “Rules for Radicals” when he initially moved to Chicago.

The Development Communities Project, the Calumet Community Religious Conference and the Woods Fund of Chicago, which were Obama’s initial stomping grounds as community organizer, were all organizations built on Alinsky’s community organizing strategies.

Because of the success of many of his political methods, Alinsky is despised by much of the political right, which often describes his fervor for societal change and his organizational genius without fully recognizing who the man really was. A right wing blog, for example, recently summarized his goals and methods as follows: “ . . .a quiet #Marxist revolution, achieved through people’s organizations by slow, incremental, Machiavellian means that turned society inside out, done by systematic deception, winning the trust of a naively idealistic middle class, and by using language of morality to conceal an agenda designed to destroy it.”

Yet Alinsky, never joined a political party, the+Communist Party  included, and, when an interviewer asked why not, he replied with remarkable candor and clarity: “ I have never joined an organization – not even the ones I’ve organized myself. I price my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether in Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as ‘the ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you’re right.’ If you don’t have that, if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetuated by such religious, political and racial fanatics, from persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide” (Playboy Magazine, March 1972).

Obama Jr. utilized many of Alinsky’s organization strategies not only in his career as a community organizer but also in much more sophisticated social media and outreach strategies during his two presidential election campaigns. In light of the strong influence Alinksy had on Obama,one wonders why Barack Hussein Obama Jr. has been very consistently characterized by inflexibility and dogmatism. What’s more, his speeches are loaded with ideological cliches that have lost relevance to the modern world we are living in.

To align Alinsky’s openness of mind with above-outlined view of him as a scheming, Machiavellian Marxist is, therefore, likely an exaggeration, if not outright false. And other left-leaning politicians have embraced Alinsky: on an interesting side note, @HillaryClinton wrote her senior thesis at Wellesley College about Allinsky, who then offered her a fellowship in his training institute; but Hillary chose to go to law school instead.

Alinsky biographer Sanford Horwitt claimed that Barack Hussein Obama was strongly influenced by Alinsky in his activities as a Chicago community organizer, and utilized his community organizing concepts on a larger scale in his 2008 presidential campaign. In a recent blog in the Huffington Post, Horwitt quoted a blogger who “would not have been surprised if Obama had taken the oath of office with his left hand firmly on the Alinsky bible, Rules of Radicals.”

It is becoming increasingly apparent that while Obama’s influences are clear, he does not always acknowledge them within the limitations of his carefully crafted image.

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