Patterico's Pontifications


Rules (and Roles) for the Right

Filed under: General — Karl @ 8:36 am

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.


31 Responses to “Rules (and Roles) for the Right”

  1. One of the problems with trying to apply this stuff to the left, the far left and way over to the Obama left is they do not adhere to any known rules. All that Obama ever says has an expiration date. Sometimes it is only seconds from the time issued. They also talk newspeak. We are going to save by spending. What manner of nonsense it this? The job of the government is not investment. I cannot save money on healthcare by spending billions. If there is a market for alternative energy, let the market develope it. I do not want to pay for development and use.

    Zelsdorf Ragshaft III (e461c0)


    EINSTEIN (e11e52)

  3. Ein, You are correct. The revolution will not be televised, however those participating do not need to watch TV to know what is going on. Communication will not be a problem with cell phone tech. Must ensure the military does not take action against citizens. Trust the pentagon will not back Obama.

    Zelsdorf Ragshaft III (e461c0)

  4. Is it time for Freedom-loving Americans to take on the pre-imminant military power of the world once again?

    AD - RtR/OS (2d0a24)

  5. Karl, I have a question.

    Do you actually believe, personally, that the liberal commenters you occasionally run across even here are paid or directed by the Obama campaign? Like, for instance, me? (Or, if you’re tempted to answer “yes” to me to irritate me because I’m a jerk, use the example of a liberal commenter you hate less). Do you think, rather than say, having clicked on memeorandum because I was bored and shot off my mouth, I – or 90, 75, 50, 30, 15, or five percent of liberal comments on blogs are left by people being paid to leave them? Or, even for free, but explicitly following the orders and direction of some sort of Fearless Leader, as part of some specific plan>

    I mean, we have evidence that the McCain campaign was doing this stuff.. during the campaign. But obviously, most conservative commenters are unplanned acts of humanity. I can only recall suspecting about two out of four thousand conservatives trolls of being hourly-wage astroturfers.

    See, this is what Breitbart seems to be saying in that very link, in what has to be called an incredible combination of self-victimization, paranoia, and self pity. An army of hired liberal trolls engaging in organized fascist conspiracy by posting their comments inside blog comment sections. The idea that actual liberals exist and like to comment on conservative blogs because they disagree, just like conservatives who like to comment on them because they agree, seems not to occur to him. In short, the whole link is either lunacy or, for pushing obviously false pretenses, demagoguery.

    So, back to the original question – you go out of your way to link to this piece of sh*t, but you don’t actually put forth or even mention the arguments therein.
    I’m guessing that’s because you, too, understand on some level that they’re insane.

    So why link to it? Could you have made this point in some other way? Are you engaging in some Alinskyism here, with a goal spreading this kind of paranoid a*shattery to the masses without having to personally endorse it – like, um, Rule #12, I suppose? I’d say the odds are probably low, although for a political operative as self-conscious as you it’s probably not zero.

    So let’s say you just saw the post, was struck by a tangent, and rolled with it. Then, why didn’t it occur to you, if the column you’re linking to is based around demagogic nuttery, to get that across to you readers, even as an aside? You have a responsibility not to lead them into wacky conclusions, right?

    I mean, you wouldn’t push people susceptible to sweeping melodrama to begin with further in that direction, deliberately, because it suits your tactics. Right?

    And what is this “learning from Alinksyism” stuff I hear you saying? Isn’t Alinskyism, which The Left Is Following With Discipline And A Secret Plan or so I hear, exactly something you repeatedly denounce as evil, dangerous, dishonest, and an example of our utter lack of ethics and/or humanity? So.. wouldn’t that lead you not to adopt it?

    And if there’s nothing wrong with Alinskyism (since you want to borrow it for the moment)… where is this Scary Evil Democrat Voodoo vibe coming from when conservatives get into it?

    I actually think you personally enjoy practicing that systematic approach to influence operations (Alinskyism), Karl. If I had to guess.

    glasnost (4ed100)

  6. Point 1) Glasnost chose not to examine the post on which he threw down.

    Point 2) Glasnost assumes McCain = Republican = Conservative when no Conservative accepts McCain as one of their own and large numbers of Republicans want McCain out of the Republican Party.

    John Hitchcock (fb941d)

  7. glasnost, your post is absurdly long. But it’it’s already been demonstrated that some liberal trolls are indeed paid. It’s likely that most of them are just weirdos, but some of them are astroturfing… this is considered a legitimate tactic by Mr. Axelrod for marketing.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  8. We have a couple of things working for us.
    1. Obama’s economic theories do not work. The only way they can be implemented is by force.
    2. Ford may have figured this out already by avoiding bailout money. They can now compete against the Obamamobile which will be small, unattractive and probably looking and running like those East German Ladas.
    3. Next, the stock market will not recover as long as he is chopping heads off. One consolation is that most of these guys, contrary to propaganda, were most likely Obama supporters.
    4. The Obama people will start to move against news media, probably with accusations of racism and the like. The trolls we see might be the crest of the wave if Brietbart is right.
    5. I don’t think Americans are as sheep-like as Europeans. I still think that we are genetically selected to be independent. The folks who were content to be serfs stayed behind and their grandchildren are now voting Social Democrat. Our ancestors took their lives in their own hands and left. Also, the most brave men in Europe all got killed in wars, especially WWI. The cowards hid in the basement and then came out and screwed the women.

    Mike K (8df289)

  9. “…the McCain campaign was doing this stuff.. during the campaign...”

    Which proves Karl’s point, since McCain is not Conservative (or, conservative).
    It is the Left and their Fellow Travellers that engage in such nefarious tactics/propaganda and agit-prop.
    Seminar callers to RW Talk-Radio did not spring from the evil brain of Karl Rove,
    but have been around since the early days of WJC.
    Does the Right have a secretive web-site/blog for the synchronizing of Teh Narrative?
    Is JournoList the same as The Corner?
    Not hardly!

    AD - RtR/OS (2d0a24)

  10. As we move further in Liberal Fascism, someone on another site penned a good moniker for Duh-1:


    AD - RtR/OS (2d0a24)

  11. Hmmmm…

    “…So, back to the original question – you go out of your way to link to this piece of sh*t, but you don’t actually put forth or even mention the arguments therein.
    I’m guessing that’s because you, too, understand on some level that they’re insane….”

    Why so tense on this topic? Methinks the fellow protests too much. And his style merely reinforces the point.

    Eric Blair (c8876d)

  12. Breitbart writes about the Left’s use of Internet trolls and “seminar callers” to talk radio to spread disinformation

    Oh, right. You did mention it. So, when liberals express opinions, rather than being an example of the First fucking amendment, we represent an example of the “Left’s use” of “Internet trolls” and .. people calling into radio shows.. to spread “disinformation”, apparently in some sort of organized manner.

    See, if I was a conservative, here’s where I would make some kind of

    accusation about your campaign to chill free liberal speech by painting it as a sinister collective conspiracy.

    Instead, I’ll just say: this is dumb. What happens is not the “Left” “using” anything (implied: tactics: campaign: Master Plan), and it sure ain’t Obama, who can’t even be bothered to read liberal blogs, much less conservative ones. I doubt the dude knows who Instapundit is. So what actually happens is liberals read things and comment on them in comment sections prepared for that purpose. Also they call into radio shows. Sometimes, yes, liberal bloggers stoke critical comments by linking to them.. a lot like.. conservative bloggers. But even that is a tiny minority of circumstances. Most of what gives Breitbardt gas is not a twelve-step plan, it’s people reacting to his English language.

    Isn’t it sad – I mean, genuinely tragic and head-shakingly dissapointing – that Andrew Breitbart apparently feels a maevolent danger to Earth by being exposed to liberal blog comments? (and, I imagine, dislike, ridicule, etc). Isn’t it sad to be be threatened by and start crusades against something a) so petty and trivial b) such a basic part of the human experience, being disrespected? Can’t these liberal trolls commenting on his blogs just be asinine, or deranged moonbats, or panty-sniffing chardonnay-drinking frenchmen, rather than some sort of dangerous footsoldiers of Societal Collapse? I mean, to use a metaphor you will no doubt enjoy, when a homeless person shouts something insulting at you in the street, is he engaging in a premeditated plan to personally destroy your blog, or is he just the kind of homeless guy that does that? In short, can’t someone teach B-Bart to suck it up?

    Are you really helping the guy by letting him go on like this, in his orbit? He’s on your team, right? How’s he going to have a career if he repeatedly equates a) disagreement with him personally b) and republic-threatening cancers? That hasn’t worked well for Jeff Goldstein, has it?

    So why are you rolling over in this sh*t, rather than making an attempt to clean it up?

    glasnost (4ed100)

  13. Another big difference between the left and the right is that those of us on the right do not take everything so dam*ed serious and personal.

    William Teach (15b349)

  14. The folks at the Chicago radio stations would disagree with you, glasnost. But do not let facts get in the way of Teh Narrative.

    JD (0ecdbf)

  15. Why so tense on this topic? Methinks the fellow protests too much. And his style merely reinforces the point.

    Yes. You have seen through my glittering web of lies. My demonstration that I find stupid accusations irritating enough to call them stupid, is actually proof that they’re true. Because people who claim that they’re innocent, are actually guilty, as proven by their claim of innocence. You’ve done well in getting me to write four sentences about this. I’m neutralized.

    glasnost (4ed100)

  16. Actually, glasnost, you appear pretty much as you generally do on this blog.

    Eric Blair (c8876d)

  17. glasnost,

    I doubt that there are paid trolls here. However, as JD just noted (#13), the Obama campaign did organize callers to disrupt radio shows and such. My post doesn’t focus on what Brietbart wrote because it seemed focused on a very small part of a much larger picture. Trolls, paid or unpaid, organized or not, engage in particular tactics in a particular role.

    The post does not advocate for the Right to adopt Alinsky’s rules wholesale, even if they could. If there is a subtext, it is that the infighting on the Right is largely about tactics, without adequate consideration of roles — and that if one considers roles, a fair amount of the infighting resolves itself. Some variants of some of Alinsky’s rules may be appropos to various elements of the Right, depending on their roles. And your “secret plan” talk tends to confuse vision or strategy with tactics. The scary vibe comes from the vision, as you undoubtedly feel about the vision of the Right.

    Tactics are another matter. For example, calling the Left on its hypocrisies (see Rule 4) is no more scary than when the Left does it to the Right. And it’s probably healthy. Ridicule and personalization are arguably less healthy, but both sides indulge in it, so there’s nothing particularly radical about it at this juncture. Etc.

    Karl (f07e38)

  18. I, as well, do not think that there are paid trolls, here. I have no doubt that both sides have people that are paid to promulgate talking points amongst the blogs. This idea would less likely to be believed were it not for known groups like Townhouse and Jornolist.

    JD (0ecdbf)

  19. Comment by glasnost — 3/30/2009 @ 11:21 am

    This seems to be rule no. 5.

    Are you claiming categorically that people posting as part of an organized or semi-organized effort don’t exist? That sounds as loony as you try to characterize Breitbart’s piece as being.

    On seminar callers, I can say that having listened for a long time to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk radio, there have been a remarkably large number of callers who start out saying “I’m a conservative Republican and I agree with you 95% of the time, and I voted for Ronald Reagan, BUT I think…” and then spews all the Democrat talking points on something.

    Rush long ago coined the term “seminar callers” to describe these people and is quick to jump on them when they try it, which is probably why that particular opening doesn’t seem to be used much any more. I can’t come up with any other plausible explanation for the phenomenon.

    I don’t see where anyone says to adopt Alinskyism. That’s a straw man. Learning from is not the same as adopting.

    Gerald A (adb85a)

  20. Gerald A – …there have been a remarkably large number of callers
    Agreed, and I think the example to which Breitbart was speaking in his article. However, I would argue that the callers or commenters that engage in the spread of talking points are most certainly not paid. It is unlike the Left to pay for anything. The Left takes, it never gives.

    History has many examples of family members committing murder against their own for political gain. Why is the accusation of propogandizing, loosely or tightly organized, so impossible to believe?

    Apogee (f4320c)

  21. Apogee,

    I agree that most of the people are not paid.

    I think labor unions are one probable source of paid callers and posters. Some may even be employed by the union and dedicate some percentage of their time to it.

    Gerald A (adb85a)

  22. [The following comment is brought to you by the Democratic Leadership Council, the Center for American Progress, and the letters O and Zed.]

    Karl suks.

    SEK (072055)

  23. I KNEW IT!!!

    Karl (f07e38)

  24. The folks at the Chicago radio stations would disagree with you, glasnost.

    If the commenter had an ounce of sense he’d realize that Obama’s people mounted an intense and co – ordinated attack on a commercial radio station operating on the public airwaves, and tried mightily to deny the free speech of a writer who disagreed with their candidate’s policies and background.

    It was a shameful and willful display of the worst kind of totalitarian impluses that the Left increasingly employs in the service of their stated goals to silence any and all opposition. Fairness Doctrine, indeed.

    Dmac (49b16c)

  25. Actually, most of the trolls quite nicely demonstrate the top-down talking points meme generation of the Left. They are educational in that regard, as their attempts at diversion usually point to the new talking points.

    JD (0ecdbf)

  26. haha. breitbart talks about the right’s values. and then talks about david brock’s work…as a left winger.

    imdw (797120)

  27. Ford may have figured this out already by avoiding bailout money. They can now compete against the Obamamobile which will be small, unattractive and probably looking and running like those East German Ladas.

    Which is most likely the wisest course of action they had done in years .

    The Stentorian has a lot of information on the use of propaganda.

    Michael Ejercito (7c44bf)

  28. They continually ridicule Palin without rebuttal and are killing her. Check Salon today and you will find that Beck is getting the same treatment plus hate. Understand that we on the Right have no leadership, no exciting candidates, and no real ideas any more. The Republicans were out of power from 1933 to 1994 (excepting the presidency and a few terms of Senate majorities) and if you will check the only ideas pre-Reagan were anti New Deal, anti-Roosevelt, anti-UN and so on. In order to win we have to have a winning strategy and tactics. Just stopping something is a ticket to hell.

    howard432 (3f8901)

  29. “The Republicans were out of power from 1933 to 1994 (excepting the presidency and a few terms of Senate majorities) ”

    Out of power… except the presidency. And you wonder why people laugh at the likes of beck and palin.

    imdw (017d51)

  30. […] Democratic campaign is easy to figure out — Limbaugh, Gingrich and Cheney all perform valuable roles for the Right, but they generally do so as pitbulls, not as the face of a party trying to appeal to a majority of […]

    The Greenroom » Forum Archive » RNC = Rush-Newt-Cheney? Don’t make me laugh. (e2f069)

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