The Washington Times gives Andrew Breitbart’s latest op-ed the somewhat misleading title, “Rules for Conservative Radicals.” Breitbart writes about the Left’s use of Internet trolls and “seminar callers” to talk radio to spread disinformation, but he does not produce any “rules” for conservative radicals.
Of course, the title is a play on the “Rules for Radicals” promulgated by Leftist community organizer Saul Alinsky, so it may be useful to list them:
- RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood. (These are two things of which there is a plentiful supply. Government and corporations always have a difficult time appealing to people, and usually do so almost exclusively with economic arguments.)
- RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone. (Organizations under attack wonder why radicals don’t address the “real” issues. This is why. They avoid things with which they have no knowledge.)
- RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)
- RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules. (This is a serious rule. The besieged entity’s very credibility and reputation is at stake, because if activists catch it lying or not living up to its commitments, they can continue to chip away at the damage.)
- RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. (Pretty crude, rude and mean, huh? They want to create anger and fear.)
- RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones. (Radical activists, in this sense, are no different that any other human being. We all avoid “un-fun” activities, and but we revel at and enjoy the ones that work and bring results.)
- RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news. (Even radical activists get bored. So to keep them excited and involved, organizers are constantly coming up with new tactics.)
- RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. (Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, regroup, recover and re-strategize.)
- RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (Perception is reality. Large organizations always prepare a worst-case scenario, something that may be furthest from the activists’ minds. The upshot is that the organization will expend enormous time and energy, creating in its own collective mind the direst of conclusions. The possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.)
- RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog. (Unions used this tactic. Peaceful [albeit loud] demonstrations during the heyday of unions in the early to mid-20th Century incurred management’s wrath, often in the form of violence that eventually brought public sympathy to their side.)
- RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. (Old saw: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Activist organizations have an agenda, and their strategy is to hold a place at the table, to be given a forum to wield their power. So, they have to have a compromise solution.)
- RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)
Alinsky may be an ideological touchstone for both Pres. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but Alinsky did not believe in working within the political system, whereas Obama and Clinton clearly do. This means that the Obama Administration’s use of these tactics will tend to be covert, rather than overt — White House talks with partisan operatives and friendly media figures, White House authorized media attacks, messaging coordinated by the Sorosphere, preemptive attacks on rising GOP stars, etc. It is a fair bet that Obama does not spend time analyzing reports on Internet trolling.
Conservatives or Republicans may be able to draw lessons from Alinsky’s rules, but the Obama example should suggest that roles can be as important as rules. For example, having constructive alternatives will be more important to Republicans working inside the system than to activists organizing “tea parties” outside the system. Ridicule will be more important to conservatives and libertarians in talk radio and the blogosphere than to Republican officeholders and party functionaries trying to appeal to the apolitical middle. Storytelling can be valuable to a range of groups and blocs. Recognizing that there will always need to be a variety of approaches, replacing “fun” tactics when they start to lose their punch, is also important.
Now that the Right is a low ebb in national politics, it is not surprising that its various factions are jockeying for position and quarreling over strategies and tactics. The Right does not have (and by nature is not inclined to have) the sort of organized effort the interest groups of the Left can muster. But the current competition just getting underway on the Right speaks to the fact that the Right generally believes in competition. A competition of ideas and leadership should be part of the path back to a majority.
The current factionalism also should remind us that the Right — contrary to The Narrative — has an appreciation for complexity. For example, most on the Right believe in federalism, as opposed to a system where the national government effectively commands and controls state and local government in addition to regulating the private sector. Similarly, the Right’s path back to majority will require a mix like that suggested above, with insiders and outsiders employing different strategies and tactics in the service of common objectives.
Eventually, these areas of competition and cooperation will become easier to see. Until then, it should suffice to recognize that the disagreement among factions of the Right are generally smaller than their collective disagreement with the agenda of the Left. In opposing that agenda, there is a role for everyone.