The other day Eric Zorn looked at the weird manner in which Saul Alinsky, well-known in Chicago and in various academic and public-policy circles but hardly a household name, has become a right-wing shibboleth ('Are you an Ephraimite?' If he said, 'No,' they then said, 'Very well, say "Shibboleth"') divorced from his historical and intellectual persona. Among other reasons, he speculated that it's merely "the dark, repetitive intonation of a name that sounds vaguely foreign and Jewish in order to rile folks up."

This caused much commotion in the comments section, with Republicans suggesting that a party as Israel-friendly as the modern GOP would be foolish to stoop to anti-Semitic dogwhistle rhetoric. And I have more evidence against it. The constant use of Alinsky's name isn't meant to play off fears of Jews, it's meant to exploit fears of Satanists (via):

Monica Crowley, for what it's worth, is a Columbia Ph.D and a veteran of Morning Edition and MSNBC. That's her husband [correction: brother-in-law] sitting next to her, resident Fox News liberal piñata Alan Colmes.

Alinsky dedicated Rules for Radicals in his epigraph:

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.

Right after a quote from Rabbi Hillel, "where there are no men, be thou a man." (I suspect the "over-the-shoulder" bit is another mythological reference.) Thus a puckish joke becomes a confused part of our national discourse, and just when I thought it was cool to be an Alinsky-reading conservative.

As a side note, this reminds me of a very silly Buzzfeed essay about Obama, Romney, and the "culture" "wars":

Romney and Obama, after all, were both student protesters. Romney held a sign in favor of the Stanford administration and the Vietnam draft, which he avoided by serving as a Mormon missionary; Obama came of political age at Columbia University during the anti-Reagan nuclear freeze movement, and a decade later participated in protests at Harvard in favor of granting tenure for black and female professors.


The old Boomer wars of culture vs. counterculture wars, submerged for a cycle, are straining to break out again.

Romney is depicted as standing up against "'60s radicals," and Obama as protesting for "preferential treatment of black professors" (my emphasis).

The former isn't quite that exciting:

"He just saw the demonstration, was sympathetic to it obviously, and came up," Coulter said. He added that Romney hadn't made the sign he's carrying in the photograph.


"I don’t recall ever seeing him again," Coulter said of Romney, who spent just a year at Stanford and enrolled after his mission in France at Brigham Young University.

Neither is the latter:

By 1991, student protestors demanding that the school hire more black faculty had staged sit-ins inside the dean’s office and filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination.

Obama spoke at one protest rally but largely preferred to stay behind the scenes and lead by example, recalls one of the protest leaders, Keith Boykin ’92.

Boykin explains:

As I recall, Barack was always supportive and sympathetic to our campaign for faculty diversity. He spoke about it at one of our rallies. But he was not actively involved in the protest movement. Nor did he need to be. As I said, his presence alone made the case. And even if he agreed with the cause of the movement, he didn't need to be involved in the more radical protests we launched because our tactics were controversial on campus.

Both Romney and Obama were gunners, not protesters: closer to Alex P. Keaton than Abbie Hoffman, putting a damper on the culture war flames that off-the-cuff, over-the-shoulder history keeps feeding.