Joe Morris speaks at a joint event of the Illinois Policy Institute and The Heritage Foundation about Saul Alinsky and the Obama Chicago connection

July 31, 2010

The Illinois Policy Institute, together with The Heritage Foundation, hosted an evening with Joe Morris on Thursday, July 29th.  Morris is a Chicago lawyer and president of the Lincoln Legal Foundation.  He also served in several senior positions in President Reagan’s administration.  The topic of the evening was “RULES FOR RADICALS” – AN INSIDE LOOK AT COMMUNITY ORGANIZING.

As one who met Saul Alinsky in the late 1960s and witnessed some of his organizing efforts firsthand, Joe Morris had an interesting tale to tell.

Morris didn’t set out to become an expert on the life of Saul Alinsky. It was a year ago that Joe Morris started to speak about Alinsky’s life and his work, resulting in many people coming forward with valuable information to share.

It was during the 2008 election cycle that Morris realized that one of two political parties was going to elect an Alinsky accolade.

Joe Morris went on to say that Saul Alinsky was a product of Hyde Park (1909 – 1972).  His “Rules for Radicals” was published shortly before his death.  Joe Morris then distributed handouts titled, “Key Ideas in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals,” although Morris cautioned his audience that the handout was no substitute for reading the book itself.

During the 1960’s and early 1970’s Alinsky faced an environment of alienation; there was a sense of revolution in the air.  Sensing this desire for change Alinsky started out initially as a labor organizer.  The tactics and techniques he developed for organizing labor had a clear connection to Obama’s community organizing later on.  People had to be excited to make change.  This was done by first asking individuals what bothered them.  After the complaints were registered, a community leader could then set himself up as the one who will fight for that change, whether social or political.

There was remarkable candor in in the way Saul Alinsky operated.  His was a no-hold, bare knuckles type of action of going for the jugular.  Number 13 of the handout descrbes this tactic as:  “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”   Also reverent was Number 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon, at which time former President Bush was brought into the discussion.

What was unusual about Alinsky is that he was completely alienated from any hopeful vision of where society would end up.  He lived for the fight, not for the belief that the fight would bring about anything worthwhile.

Surprising to me is that Saul Alinsky greatest financial support came from the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago.

According to Joe Morris, Alinsky didn’t accomplish all that much.  Morris challenged the assembled IPI/Heritage members, as he challenges others groups he speaks to, to tell him what Alinsky did to improve the lives of people, such as giving them better economic opportunities.  Unlike capitalism that creates economic opportunity, community organizing does no such thing.

Joe Morris suggested that we read Obama’s Dreams  from my Father (disregarding the question of authorship) to learn about Obama’s community organizing in Chicago’s Southside neighborhood.

As far as the ethical side of Saul Alinksy’s work, in no uncertain terms Morris described it as the end justified the means.  This idea is listed as Number 3 under Ethical Observations:  “In war the end justifies almost any means.”

Other key ideas taken from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals as listed on Joe Morris’ handout include the following  (In all there were 13 Tactical Rules and 11 Ethical Observations):

Technical Rules

  • Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
  • Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
  • Keep the pressure on with different tactics and actions and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.
  • The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
  • If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside.

Ethical Observations

  • Ones concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue.
  • Generally, success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics.
  • You do what you can with what you have and clothe it in moral garments.
  • Goals must be phrased in general terms like “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” “Of the Common Welfare,” “Pursuit of Happiness,” or “Bread and Peace.”

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