Belmont Club

Boyd versus Alinsky

Actors make movies. Attack pilots make history.Classical Values has a wonderful post which examines the performance of Barack Obama’s campaign in the context of Saul Alinsky’s famous Rules for Radicals. Classical Values attributes the decline in BHO’s recent poll numbers to John McCain’s application of John Boyd’s OODA loop strategy. He writes:

Well he has gone after McCain in particular AND the Republicans in general. McCain blunted the attack, and counter attacked. Republicans are not buying it at all.

McCain, the fighter pilot, has gotten inside Obama’s OODA loop. Something the Navy teaches fighter pilots to do.

The OODA Loop, often called Boyd’s Cycle, is a creation of Col. John Boyd, USAF (Ret.). Col. Boyd was a student of tactical operations and observed a similarity in many battles and campaigns. He noted that in many of the engagements, one side presented the other with a series of unexpected and threatening situations with which they had not been able to keep pace. The slower side was eventually defeated. What Col. Boyd observed was the fact that conflicts are time competitive.

Elections are nothing if they are not time competitive. Evidently the “freezing of the opponent” that Alinsky recommends has not worked on McCain. He was not frozen. Once that happened McCain was operating inside Obama’s decision loop.

Evidently Boyd is beating Alinsky. Or to put it another way. The fighter pilot is beating the community organizer. As a Navy man myself, I’m not surprised.

I have a slightly different evaluation and it is explained below. Fundamentally, it begins with a heresy: despite his claims to the contrary, Barack Obama is not a “community organizer”. Alinsky’s Community Organizing model was above all a response within the Left to the Cult of Personality. Rules for Radicals is founded on the principle of “letting the people decide”, and while it does not dogmatically discount the influence of leadership it fundamentally rejects the idea that a “vanguard” intellectual elite can lead the “masses”. Those who don’t remember Alinsky’s famous rules can read them below and instantly grasp the spirit behind them. Nearly every one of them has been shredded by Barack Obama.

RULE 1:”Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.

RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”

RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”

RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”

RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”

RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”

The ideal organizer never takes personal credit for success. He finds existing currents and empowers people to free themselves from oppressors in culturally familiar ways. Organizers may provide background support for the popular activity — often doing the hard, dangerous stuff behind the scenes — but the people must always see achievements as being due to their own effort. Finally an organizer fades away. The ambition of a great organizer is to ride into the sunset like Shane, leaving a people’s organization that will persist after he is gone. An example will make this clear. The most successful Alinsky style organizing campaign in modern history, and perhaps all history, was run by General Petraeus in Iraq. The Anbar Awakening, the Sons of Iraq, the MTTs, the purple fingers, the deployment of troops among the people to protect them from terrorist intimidation. It’s a classic application of an empowerment process versus al-Qaeda and the beauty of it is that the Iraqis think they did it themselves. If Barack Obama had any idea of what an organizing campaign really was he would have hired David Petraeus not Wesley Clark to advise him. Petraeus understands “we”; Clark is much more comfortable with “I”. Obama truly doesn’t seem to understand the principles behind the Surge. His solution to international problems seem to revolve around personal interventions: visits to enemy capitals, understanding, healing. He’s a man of the limelight, not an organizer behind the scenes.

Barack Obama’s first and most grievous mistake was to make the campaign about himself. The “people” became the mere backdrop for his mass rallies. No real organizer mints a Presidential seal, describes himself as the symbol of a generation, believes he is the One and makes himself the object of ridicule. No real organizer insults the masses as gun-toting, Bible-clinging ignoramuses at a fundraiser attended by billionaires in San Francisco. Not a single experienced mass agitator would ever dream of extolling the values of arugula and upbraid the workers for their ignorance of tire pressures. What kind of Alinsky-style organizer reminds people of his sacramental nature, repetitively, monotonically and deadeningly? Memo to Obama: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”

A real organizer works in small settings, amplifying, exhorting, putting others on the stage. He doesn’t work in front of large crowds and from the front pages of newspapers. And if it is objected that nobody can become President of the United States that way, the answer is that community organizers don’t want to become Presidents. They want to be organizers.

John Boyd was a genius of a different sort from Saul Alinsky. Boyd’s great insight was that the fighter pilot’s ability to turn inside the enemy’s radius applied not only to manuevering aircraft but strategically. I don’t know how Boyd versus Alinsky would look, or even if they would want to fight. But McCain the old attack pilot is on Barack’s six and BHO’s no Alinsky.


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