The Other Side of Change: Obama and Saul Alinsky

Change and unity — the two words surely epitomize Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency. Last week’s Democratic Convention extolled change hourly, in a relentless drumbeat. The only relief came when unity was emphasized. What nags at the back of the mind is that the call for “change” and “unity” is not so much an invitation but a command.

I’m a skeptic.

I’ve learned from covering the United Nations that when radicals cannot get delegates to agree to their terms, they change the meaning of thoseterms. Hence, “health and reproductive rights,” though it sounds like innocent pre-natal care, is in reality the UN’s goal to press for abortion on demand — all in the name of doing something noble for the poor and oppressed.

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Obama’s understanding of “unity” has never been spelled out, but his past mentors — and even some of his own comments — paint a worrisome picture.

Obama said last year, “We’re building a grassroots movement . . . [to] unite the country around our shared values” (emphasis added).

And then at a rally in February: “It is a choice not between black and white, not between genders and regions or religions, but a choice between the past and the future.” In the context of the genderless world espoused by the gay lobby that Obama supports, or the Marxist vision of a religion-less world, those remarks about our future take on a different hue. In fact, there’s a strong indication that for Obama, “unity” is part of a broader agenda — a kissing cousin to the Marxist ideal of the undifferentiated collective.

Much has been written about Obama’s career as a “community organizer,” a benign term that was actually the brainchild of Marxist agitator Saul Alinsky, whose writings Obama studied and who founded an organization in Chicago for which Obama worked. Alinsky earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1930 and went to work in the state penitentiary. He came to believe that the “social milieu,” not personal behavior, was responsible for the plight of the inmates — and therefore, a changed society would eliminate aberrant behavior. In1939, Alinsky created his Industrial Areas Foundation, a grassroots agitation organization that found its power in collectivizing working-class poor and idealistic radicals.

Alinsky is well-known for his second book, Rules for Radicals, which begins with praise for Lucifer, a rebel who achieved his own kingdom. The book stressed that activists must be “people committed to change.” (Sound familiar?) He taught his agitators to avoid the “useless self-indulgence” of despising their own middle-class roots, instead exploiting the contempt they feel: “If we are to build power for change, the power and the people are in the big middle class majority.”

He also encouraged radicals to seek “bridges of communication and unity . . . . [V]iew with strategic sensitivity the nature of middle-class hang-ups over rudeness or aggressive insulting profane actions. All this and more must be grasped and used to radicalize parts of the middle-class.” In the name of “the poor and the oppressed,” radicals catapult themselves into power, exploiting the goodwill of the desperate.

Alinsky further instructed: “Moral rationalization is indispensable at all times of action whether to justify the selection or the use of ends or means.” Organizers are to drop the appearance of radical agitators and to don middle-class manners and behaviors so as to blend in while espousing their radical visions of the future — a description that would suit Obama, according to Joseph Biden’s own description of the senator as “mainstream… bright and clean.”

The similarities continue in Alinsky’s view of the middle classes as “fearful people threatened on all sides” who “cling to illusory fixed points” and who are characterized by “bitterness.” Again, this is all familiar: It neatly summarizes the contempt Obama exhibited for the middle class when he derided their values at a swank San Francisco fundraiser by saying, “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them . . . .”

Despite this, Alinsky coached his devotees to work with the lower-middle class to obtain

a series of partial agreements and a willingness to abstain from hard opposition as changes take place. They have their role to play in the essential prelude of reformation. . . . This is the job of today’s radical — to fan the embers of hopelessness into a flame to fight. To say, “together we can change it for what we want.”

As Obama would do 50 years later, Alinsky used churches and people of faith to acquire a legitimate image (and financial assistance). Alinsky tapped Msgr. Jack Eagan for entrée into Catholic Chicago; for Obama, his mentor and pastor was Jeremiah Wright, whose message was never human unity but racial division. Wright is a proponent of liberation theology, a belief that man will save himself through unified political action. Is it reasonable to assume that the young Obama was formed by his 20 years of friendship with Wright? Can the “change” Obama imagines be the same “change” most Americans want?

Obama’s devotion to Wright and radicals like Alinsky is well-known; anyone can pick up Rules for Radicals and read it as Obama’s playbook. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger offered the ultimate warning against such ideology when he wrote in Truth and Tolerance,

[W]here the Marxist ideology of liberation had been consistently applied, a total lack of freedom had developed, whose horrors were now laid bare before the eyes of the entire world. Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes not divine, but demonic.


  • Mary Jo Anderson

    Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and public speaker. She is a board member of Women for Faith and Family and has served on the Legatus Board of Directors. With co-author Robin Bernhoft, she wrote Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (Catholic Answers Press, 2005).

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