Radical rules a way of life

In the age of polarized politics and government shutdowns, an old playbook has been dusted off and is now embraced by all sides of the political spectrum.

In 1971, Saul Alinsky wrote the book “Rules for Radicals,” a guidebook for grassroots organizations to get the better of government and corporations. Known as the “father of modern American radicalism,” Alinsky was not bothered by using any means to attain his end. He referred to people who were overly bothered by means-ends justification as “Non-Doers.”

Among the rules you may recognize in general political use today are these:

RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”

RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”

RULE 12: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

As Craig Miyamoto pointed out in an article in the 2000 Third Quarter issue of Public Relations Strategies, corporations and governments are hamstrung by their own sets of rules and are sitting ducks for organizations (or politicians) using Alinsky’s tactics.

Of RULE 5 about ridicule, Miyamoto writes “There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.”

Of RULE 12, Miyamoto summarizes it by saying it means to “Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.” Cruel, but effective.

While Alinsky’s tactics were designed for use to promote leftist causes (the have-nots vs. the haves), they have been adopted by both left and right today. Why? Because they work and they are easy to use.

It is easier to ridicule an opponents than debate them; far simpler to demonize someone on the other side than to defend the ideas of yours. Our president has proved that name-calling is effective.

In fact, a simple summary of the new rules of our politics is that the winner is the one who stays on the attack. The loser is the one who pauses to consider the other side’s point of view.

(A version of this editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.