The Hillary haters’ anthem: “Better call Saul”

     Saul Alinsky a community organizer, in his Chicago office, Sept. 1968, (left) and Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, Sept. 22, 2014 (Larry Stoddard and Mark Lennihan/AP Photos)

    Saul Alinsky a community organizer, in his Chicago office, Sept. 1968, (left) and Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, Sept. 22, 2014 (Larry Stoddard and Mark Lennihan/AP Photos)

    Perhaps the shrinks can explain, in clinical terms, why right-wingers are so obsessed about long-dead community organizer Saul Alinsky. But I can easily explain it in colloquial terms.

    Like the brainwashed citizens in George Orwell’s 1984, who hissed in unison at the image of designated bogeyman Emmanuel Goldstein, denizens of the Republican right have made Saul Alinsky an object of hate. He fills the bill perfectly; after all, his life’s mission was to empower the underdog. Plus, his name sounds vaguely sinister/foreign/Jewish. Just like Goldstein in 1984.

    Every few years, conservatives resurrect Alinsky (who died in 1972) and play a murky game of guilt by association; circa 2007, the game was to link Alinsky to Barack Obama, in the hopes of smearing the latter as a sinister/foreign/radical. During the 2012 primaries, Newt Gingrich briefly revived the game – and got some applause within the conservative cocoon. Outside the cocoon, however, where the vast majority of Amerticans live, voters could not have cared less.

    Yet this week, the game is back! The aim this time is to tie Alinsky to Hillary Clinton. The gist of the story, reported/insinuated by the Washington Free Beacon, is that Alinsky was a radical who corresponded with Hillary, therefore she was a radical, therefore she is still a radical, a veritable Saul Alinsky sleeper cell.

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    Fans of the show Breaking Bad are eagerly awaiting this winter’s prequel series, Better Call Saul. But within the cocoon, those three words have an entirely different meaning. The Free Beacon has breathlessly unearthed an exchange of 1971 letters between Alinsky and Hillary, a 23-year-old legal intern at the time. Hillary had written her college thesis about Alinsky (we’ve known that for decades; the thesis was opened to the public 13 years ago), and they stayed in touch sporadically. She had admired his goals, but wrote in her thesis that some of his methods were “unrealistic.” He had offered her a job, but she had turned him down, favoring law school.

    Anyway, the Free Beacon (and other cocoon outlets) have gotten really excited about Hillary’s ’71 letter to Alinsky – starting with the fact that the letter was “paid for with stamps featuring Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” Is that hot stuff, or what! Aren’t there photos somewhere of FDR sitting with commie Joseph Stalin at Yalta? But let’s move on. Let’s get to the smoking gun: Hillary tells Alinsky that she still has a “zest for organizing” and a “commitment to a free and open society” and she says: “Let me know if there is any chance of our getting together.”

    Wow, that’s even hotter than the revelation about the FDR stamps! – at least according to the cocoon thermometer.

    Nevertheless, the purported hotness is cooled by Hillary’s closing line: “Hopefully we can have a good argument sometime in the future.” That line suggests that she was no acolyte, that she disagreed with some of his views and was willing to dispute him. Yet for some reason (gee, take a guess), the Free Beacon story failed to quote the line.

    Seriously, is this the best the Hillary haters can do? The Alinsky thing is so old it has cobwebs; seven years ago, the Washington Post mined this topic in an exhaustive article, and non-cocooners didn’t care then, either. It’s tiresome to even state the obvious: that the ties she has forged in her long public career are more relevant. As a senator, she forged alliances with the likes of John McCain, LIndsey Graham, Trent Lott, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich. Presumably they were unperturbed by the possibility that she had called Saul for celestial instructions.

    The thing is, you’d be surprised to learn who has indeed called Saul – often, as a source of inspiration.

    Conservative prankster/activist James O’Keefe has said, “Alinsky has had a huge influence on me.” Dick Armey, the ex-conservative House leader and tea-party founder of FreedomWorks, has circulated copies of Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, to his fellow activists. And a prominent Republican once said to some friends (according to the Republican’s biographer), “I think you ought to listen to Alinsky. It seems to me that we are always talking to the same people. Maybe the time has come to hear new voices.” So said George Romney, ’60s governor of Michigan and father of Mitt.

    If we really want to play guilt-by-association, maybe we should be asking Mitt what he knew and when did he know it.



    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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