In the last 24 hours much has been written about the untimely death of our media hero—Andrew Breitbart. But, here is one testament by James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal that everyone should read and consider as we continue Breitbart’s work—for him and in honor of him.
Taranto suggests that Breitbart might in effect have understood Saul Alinsky better, and used his tactics more effectively than our commander-in-chief ever did.
On the points that Taranto highlights, I would agree, but I wouldn’t go so far as to raise Alinsky’s image by putting him at Breitbart’s level. Indeed, I believe that Alinsky was a fundamentally evil man. Many of his tactics are one’s we can use, but the underlying theme in “Rules for Radicals” was to use those political tactics to continually drive the wedge between the “have-nots” and the “haves.” Creating chaos for chaos sake gave Alinsky joy. It was his religion. He said as much. That, surely, is something Breitbart would have opposed with all his being, while, in fact, it is the underlying goal for almost everything Barack Hussein Obama does.
So, here is how Taranto’s good thought-provoking column begins (hat tip:Judy):
“Humor is essential to a successful tactician, for the most potent weapons known to mankind are satire and ridicule. A sense of humor enables him to maintain his perspective and see himself for what he really is: a bit of dust that burns for a fleeting second. A sense of humor is incompatible with the complete acceptance of any dogma, any religious, political, or economic prescriptions for salvation.”–Saul Alinsky, “Rules for Radicals”
We roll our eyes whenever a conservative rails against Barack Obama for being an “Alinskyite radical.” A radical Obama may be–he himself has described his purpose as “fundamentally transforming America”–but an Alinskyite he is not. As a young man, he worked as a “community organizer,” but as we noted in 2008, he was an utter failure. The quote above helps explain why. It describes something close to the opposite of the dour, doctrinaire, self-important man who currently serves as president.
But the quote is an excellent epitaph for Andrew Breitbart, the conservative activist and new-media entrepreneur who died this morning at 43. “Breitbart was a revolutionary, and I mean that almost literally,” writes Commentary’s John Podhoretz. “He was one of the few people who seemed to understand in his marrow the transformation of the way we would get and understand news and politics–and how that transformation would undercut the ideological narrowness that was the dominating condition of the media in the second half of the 20th century.”
Like Alinsky, Breitbart employed unorthodox and sometimes unethical tactics to expose the corruption of the powerful. His targets were generally representatives of what he called, in an 2009 interview with this columnist, “the Democrat-media complex”: politicians (most notably ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner), journalistic organizations (NPR) and left-liberal advocacy groups (Acorn, the NAACP, Common Cause). Also like Alinsky, he was modest about what he could accomplish: “I’m not looking to slay the dragon,” he told us in 2009, “but I wanted to embarrass the dragon into being a more reasonable dragon.”
One key to understanding Breitbart’s effectiveness is Alinsky’s fourth rule: “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.” He demonstrated tolerance for bigotry at NPR and the NAACP, for violent partisan rhetoric at Common Cause, and for exploitation of the poor at Acorn. And he exposed Weiner, the sanctimonious male feminist, as a concupiscent con artist.
So remember Alinsky’s rules 4 and 5, and 13 (one I especially like) are pretty effective strategies. I definitely think we aren’t using humor and ridicule enough. But, remember too that Alinsky said the ends justify using almost any means, and I hope we all agree that the concept is foreign to how decent and honorable people think and behave.
“The third rule of ethics of means and ends is that in war the end justifies almost any means….”
For Obama, yes! But for Breitbart, I doubt it.