Rules for Radicals – The Catholic Edition

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It’s time to organize, Brothers and Sisters.

There has been a lot of press about the political success of Barak Obama being a result of the application of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. There is a lot of merit to that argument. And the nice thing about knowledge is that it is a tool – like a gun or a hammer, it cares not who wields it. Could there be some merit to learning the tricks of the socialist organizers to create our own base? I am beginning to think that this idea has merit. The following are some quotes from this work. The perceptive reader who has followed the Obama campaign and administration can see that his people know these maxims:

1. “The first rule of power tactics is: power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”

2. “Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.”

3. “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. You can kill them with this. They can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.

4. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also, it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

5. “The threat is generally more terrifying than the thing itself.”

6. “In a fight almost anything goes. It almost reaches the point where you stop to apologize if a chance blow lands above the belt.”

7. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

8. One of the criteria for picking the target is the target’s vulnerability … the other important point in the choosing of a target is that it must be a personification, not something general and abstract.”

9. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

There are problems with Alinsky’s rules – Catholics just don’t do some of these things. But just like you have to thresh the wheat to separate the grain from the chaff, we can glean some of the tactics here for our purposes.

We allow ourselves to be intimidated by those who have differing political and social views. Far too many Catholics I have spoken to have expressed ‘discomfort’ when the secular liberal hits us with mixing religion and politics – and they usually do. After all, this tactic covers several ‘Rules for Radical’ tenets. The most important one in this instance is they are adept in making these people think they have more power – in this case, a better argument – then theirs. In a debate, your opponent has power over you only by your consent. Don’t cede power and control of the debate to them. Don’t let them engage you in such a manner as to push your comfort zone. Use rules 1 and 5 against them – don’t let them do it to you!

One of the classical tenets of Catholicism is knowledge of the Faith. I remember the Baltimore Catechism quite well – unfortunately, the Church seems to have de-emphasized this practice. Catholics need to know their catechism – they need to have a strong foundation in the tenets of the faith and develop the intellectual arguments that support our beliefs. Rule #3 encourages the secular liberal to ‘live up to your enemy’s own rules.’ In fact, he targets Christians as being intellectually incapable of living up to our rules. While it is true we are all sinners, the adept apologist uses the teachings of the Church to illustrate the intellectual argument. Learn our ‘rules’ and you are unassailable.

Sometimes you have to fight. Fighting requires an attitude of being willing to hit hard. One of the misconceptions of Christians is that we can’t play  hard. We can – and should. Christ was stern, Christ was angry, and on one occasion, he actually physically drove the merchants and moneychangers out of the Temple. Conviction requires a certain toughness – you can’t argue if you don’t hit hard. The important issue is that you have to do so out of compassion.

Ridicule is indeed a potent weapon – one we don’t use often enough. An example is the writings of Margaret Sanger. It is easy to find passages in her articles, essays, and books that clearly demonstrate her beliefs in eugenics and racial purity. An interesting article on an exchange between Hillary Clinton and Congressmen Chris Smith and Jeff Fortenberry can be found here. Her only response was “We are now an Administration that will protect the rights of women, including their rights to reproductive health care.”  Reproductive health care? Abortion as health care? This is where the pro-life Catholic (and aren’t we all Pro-life Catholics) can argue about the health risks of abortion… which range from spotting to a perforated uterus and death. Death. Yes, this means that you have to have some facts. Look online, read, talk to people active in pro-life ministries. If you want to argue poverty, immigration, euthanasia, capital punishment, health care … and a slew of other important issues – find an expert and talk to them. I guarantee that you can find someone in your parish who have experience and practical knowledge on any of these ministries. Remember though – ridicule the position, not the person.

Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Pick your fight, and hit it hard. Don’t be sidetracked, don’t let your opponent shift the battleground. If they try to draw you off, bring it back. Personalize the issue. My father is an immigrant who came here with no English, no education. He worked hard, took responsibility for his family, raised his children, and has risen high. This argument personalizes immigration issues and the value of sacrifice, self-reliance, and hard work. Opponents are usually unable to cast aspersions when I use the success of my father’s life. A common tactic a pro-abortion advocate will try to use to support abortion is the ‘what if it was your wife or daughter who was raped?” Statistics over several years are consistent – abortions as a result of rape average 1% or less. Furthermore, does one violent act justify another? This site has personal stories  – people who were conceived as a result of rape. Libertarians for Life have a great argument here. These are examples of polarizing and personalizing an argument.

Far too often, the well-indoctrinated secular liberal have arguments that seem to come from the secular playbook. Learn their arguments. Watch MSNBC and CNN. Skim through liberal newspapers and magazines to pick up their buzzwords – they do. Rule #2 advises you to push your opponent out of their ‘experience’ – essentially their body of knowledge and experiences. This makes women and men who have endured abortion such potent advocates for the pro-life movement. Why? They can ask – and they do – if their opponent has experienced abortion personally. Often the answer is ‘no.’ The pro-abortion advocate has lost momentum, because the survivor can speak from a personal experience that they don’t share.  This is a classic example of pushing your opponent outside of their experience. Liberal are great about arguing about social issues – but not so great at actually doing the work. If you have experience working with the homeless, the needy, the immigrant … these are experiences you can use. Experiences that are a lot more significant than watching Anderson Cooper’s story on the issue. Become an expert. Before you argue, think about the tactics you can employ to push your opponent out of their comfort zone. When you can argue from experience and they can’t – you have a major tactical advantage.

The goal in boxing is to win. In order to win, you have to dominate and control your opponent. A great fighter is one who can goad and push their opponent – this will unnerve them, unsettle them, and make them angry. Angry people don’t think clearly. They will make mistakes, they will drop their guard, they will provide you with openings that a clever fighter can – and will – exploit. Debate is like boxing – the best debaters are one who are relentless in probing and identifying weakness in your opponent. When they find them, they hit – they hit hard and repeatedly. When you make your opponent angry, you have the ability to control the course of the debate and guide them. Think of the Matador and the cape.  What happens when they walk away? Today, I heard a friend share the story of a politician who did exactly that – saying ‘I’m not going to argue religion about a political issue.’ In the future, I advised him to challenge her to argue the politics of their position – and offer to do the same. All too often, the secular liberal will dismiss your argument – and you – on the claim that they won’t argue religion. Don’t let them walk away unchallenged. Goad them. Challenge them. Ridicule them for being afraid to defend their position. If you are in a public forum – do it loudly. Let those around you know that they ran away from you.

Secular liberals are often very combative. Jeanine Garafolo’s vitriolic comments about the Tea Parties is an example. Perez Hilton’s comments about Carrie Perjean is another. They spout their invective and think that it is witty and oh-so-cosmopolitan. In an earlier essay, I ripped her argument – from a position of knowledge and authority. Without calling her names or using vulgar language. The pseudo-intellectual will apply ‘Rules for Radicals’ on the most base level – they don’t understand the power that a more nuanced approach can have. Don’t be mean, don’t be vulgar, don’t throw out the ‘Hell is forever’ comments. That’s crass and ineffective. Do fight hard. Do be relentless. Don’t belittle the person as a person, belittle their position. Throughout history, successful generals chose the high ground to fight from – if you do the same, you have given your argument a strong position.


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