At some point during Monday night's Republican presidential debate it won't be a surprise if Newt Gingrich brings up the name Saul Alinsky.
Gingrich brought Alinsky up three times in his victory speech in South Carolina on Saturday night and discussed him again on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning.
Gingrich said in his victory speech “the centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.”
Gingrich said while he and his supporters “draw our understanding of America” from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, Obama “draws his from Saul Alinsky, radical left-wingers and people who don't like the classical America.”
Who is Saul Alinsky and why does Gingrich seem so fascinated by him?
Born in 1909, Alinsky was a political activist and community organizer who spent his life teaching people in poor neighborhoods in Chicago, Rochester, N.Y. and other cities to organize and protest against pollution, dysfunctional public schools, and other urban problems.
By the late 1960s Alinsky had become nationally famous. As a student at Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis on him in 1969.
After the Detroit riots in 1967, Michigan Gov. George Romney (father of Mitt Romney) consulted with Alinsky on ways to help poor people organize their own economic development efforts. After Romney met with Alinsky, the New York Times reported that George Romney “said he endorsed any legitimate legal movement that was intended to rectify social injustices.”
Obama worked as a community organizer for an Alinsky-inspired group in Chicago in the 1980s before he went to Harvard law school.
According to a 2007 profile of Obama by Ryan Lizza in The New Republic, Obama “taught Alinsky's concepts and methods in workshops” during his days as local politician in Chicago in the 1990s.
In Alinsky’s 1971 book Rules for Radicals he explained the tactics that organizers should use to fire up poor people and channel their anger. Alinsky offers axioms such as “Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear and retreat.”
He urged his followers to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it…. One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.”
Alinsky died in 1972 but, as of Monday, his book ranked number 11 on the Amazon.com’s best-selling political books list, perhaps due to the free advertising Gingrich has provided.
Gingrich’s linking of Obama with Alinsky is not much different from the ridicule that Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin poured on Obama back in their speeches in 2008 at the Republican convention when they used the term “community organizer” as a kind of punch line.
But they didn’t mention Alinsky by name.
Gingrich, on the other hand, has brought up Alinsky’s name in many of his speeches and interviews in the past few years.
In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News on the day Obama signed the health care bill into law in 2010, Gingrich said, “What has surprised me has been the combination of sort of Springfield, Illinois corruption with Chicago machine-style politics with Saul Alinsky's radicalism.”
In another Fox interview on Election Night 2010 Gingrich told Greta Van Susteren that in 2008 the American people had no idea “that what he was going to try to do was move to the left with the Chicago machine-style politics implementing a Saul Alinsky-style of radicalism. And if he had been clear about that, he'd have lost the election of 2008.”