Here we go again.
Four years ago, Saul Alinsky, a bespectacled professor who died more than four decades ago, became a post-mortem political football in the presidential campaign, a matter that we here at BillMoyers.com examined at the time.
On Tuesday night, Alinsky came up again in what has become the most buzzed-about speech of Day Two of this year’s Republican National Convention: A Ben Carson peroration in which the neurosurgeon accused Alinsky of being an admirer of Lucifer and, by indirection, Hillary Clinton and the entire progressive movement as well.
“The secular progressive agenda is antithetical to the principles of the founding of this nation,” Carson warned, suggesting that a Clinton victory would mean “God will remove himself from us.”
So exactly who was Alinsky and why is a man who has been in the grave for so long stirring up such deep passions? Here’s what Bill Moyers had to say in 2012, a message that still resonates now:
Carson’s speech can be seen in its entirety here, thanks to C-SPAN’s invaluable video archive. The segment that set off a Twitter-storm of commentary last night (with a number of journalists armed with advance texts of the speeches crowing, “Carson is off script!”) begins at the four-minute mark.
Among conservatives, Alinsky is a particular bête noire, as New York Times writer Nick Confessore noted via Twitter:
I bet if you polled them, you’d find higher Saul Alinsky name recognition among Republican delegates than Democratic delegates.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) July 20, 2016
Carson’s accusation that Alinsky admired Lucifer is based on a passage in the introduction of one of Alinsky’s books Rules for Radicals that delivers what he wrote was “an over the shoulder acknowledgement” of the fallen angel as someone who “rebelled against the establishment… and won his own kingdom.” From there, he makes the link to Clinton through the senior thesis she wrote at Wellesley College, although according to Clinton herself and the account of a journalism student who read the thesis, it was hardly a hagiography.
It should also be noted that Alinsky would not be the first writer to romanticize Lucifer for effect: Satan is by far the most compelling character in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, a pillar of the Western literary canon. It should also be noted that some Republican conservatives have used Rules for Radicals to train tea party activists and that no less an icon of conservatism as William F. Buckley acknowledged Alinksy’s “organizational genius” — Buckley thought enough of Alinsky to grill him on his show, Firing Line.