When I learned there was a video of William F. Buckley debating Saul Alinsky, I felt a jolt of electricity accompanied by a whiff of sulfur–almost as if someone had told me there was actual live video on YouTube showing God confronting Satan in the Garden of Eden.
Saul Alinsky, the granddaddy of community organizers, looms large over us now that his apostles are in power. We all know about his rulebook. But to hear the words from his very lips…
The debate took place on Firing Line in December 1967. The opening is classic. Buckley intones:
Mr. Saul Alinsky, who was born in Chicago in 1909, will come to your town as he has to 40 others to organize the poor. That may mean an end to orderly traffic; it might mean sit-ins in city hall; the cultivation of racial animosities. But, Mr. Alinsky claims, that’s the way to get the toilets fixed in the slum buildings and to bring pride and a sense of dignity to the poor people. Something like the sense of dignity, which, presumably, Sitting Bull and his people felt after a massacre.

Alinsky is fuming–literally–as he waits his turn. He has the air of a professor in horned-rims and tweed, licking his lips and expelling cigarette smoke from his nostrils. They joust and Alinsky asks for one or two minutes to speak without interruption; Buckley offers three and Alinsky takes five.

He starts by praising democracy and the Founding Fathers, but it doesn’t take long to get to his real point, which is power, pure and simple. Buckley sensibly asks if, in a democracy, people can’t get their way by voting. No way, says the community organizer. Without the riots in Detroit, city leaders wouldn’t have talked to the leaders of the black ghetto.
Alinsky’s big theme is that "People only do the right things for the wrong reasons…"–in other words, when they’re compelled by force. "I’m not talking about equality, in terms of equal income or anything of that sort, " he explains. For Alinsky it’s not about helping individuals; it’s all about political power.
In contrast, Buckley keeps trying to humanize the conversation. "A lot of people do things simply because they think it’s the right thing to do. I’ll introduce you to some if you like…"
And, "What is the relevant threat when John decides to marry Jane?"
The most revealing exchange occurs when Buckley brings up Medicare as an example of legislation that got passed through reasoned debate. He asks, "Mightn’t Alinsky students have felt that you need to shoot a few doctors or let a few people die for lack of medical attention before you’d have the kind of conflict that’s necessary to midwife Medicare?"
Suddenly things get weird. Alinsky refuses the gambit, saying, "I’m fascinated by your eyes. In previous shows I’ve watched you. Can you look at me and tell me whether you believe what you’re saying?"
Buckley obligingly widens his eyes. He explains that he’s merely giving Alinsky the opportunity to disavow his reputation for relying on force.
This time Alinsky takes the bait. He says:
I don’t want to take a pass on it. I’m saying unreservedly that all progress comes as a response to a threat. The reaction to the threat is where you get progress. All actions of history have come that way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be violence…

There it is. SMACKDOWN. Alinsky admits that community organizing is about making threats and resorting to violence at his discretion. This is mob rule plain and simple. So much for democracy and the Founding Fathers.
Before we cue the strings and woodwinds for the Firing Line theme music, though, we need to assess Alinsky’s legacy. Obviously, from the current vantage point, we can see that community organizers have done well for themselves. One is president, while an Alinsky acolyte waits anxiously in the wings.
But what about the people in the communities? What exactly has organization done for them? If the Detroit riots were a victory, why is that once-proud city now synonymous with failure?
It reminds me of the classic book about the brokerage industry, Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? Written in 1940, the book exposed the fact that bankers and money managers and brokers get paid regardless of whether their customers win or lose.
It’s also worth noting that, since 1967, the S&P 500 is up nearly 2500%.
Over this same period, in Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, Camden, and St. Louis we’ve seen that urban blight, poverty, and lawlessness persist. The labor participation rate is at its lowest since 1978 and a record number of people are on food stamps–even as the Alinskyites prepare to allow 5 million foreign nationals to legally enter the work force.
Truly, it’s a bull market for the poverty industry.
You have to ask yourself: Where are the communities’ yachts? As in Gaza or Cuba or Venezuela or Russia, the organizers have all the benefit and the power, and the devil take the hindmost.
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