The Upshot

Who is Saul Alinsky?

The Upshot

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(Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich)

Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential candidate on a roll right now, has been invoking a little-known name in his criticism of President Obama: Saul Alinsky. As a result, the 20th-century community organizer has caused a surge of searches on the Web.

After winning the South Carolina GOP primary, Gingrich said in his victory speech, "The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky." Which seemed to have the effect of viewers nodding, then thinking, "Who?" On Yahoo!, lookups included: "who is Saul Alinsky," "saul alinksy newt gingrich," "saul alinsky obama," and "saul alinsky rules for radicals" -- the name of the activist's book.

Alinsky has been dead for 40 years, and became known on campuses in the 1960s for his organizing tactics, along with a guide to the powerless (think the 99 percent) to grab control from those in power.

Born in 1909 in Chicago to Russian-immigrant parents, the writer is known as the founding father of community organizing. He worked his way through the University of Chicago, then got a job in the slums of Chicago as an organizer.
Of his book, "Rules for Radicals," Alinsky wrote: "'The Prince' was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. 'Rules for Radicals' is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away."

If the Occupy Wall Street movement is aligned with Alinsky's teachings, so is the tea party. Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, told Bloomberg News, "The tea party has understood how to mobilize their anger and turn it to political results, which is the underlying motif of Alinsky."

Saul Alinsky's name came up in the last presidential campaign, when it was noted that Hillary Clinton, who was a candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries, had written her college thesis on the agitator back in 1969.

Other Republicans have sought to link Obama to Alinsky, since both were community organizers in Chicago. But, as CNN points out, Obama was just 10 when Alinsky died, and he has never publicly mentioned the man.

The organizer himself would certainly appreciate the storm of controversy his name has generated of late. He said it best himself: "First rule of change is controversy. You can't get away from it for the simple reason all issues are controversial. Change means movement and movement means friction, and friction means heat, and heat means controversy."

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