Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote a baffling column today (1/24/12) praising part of Newt Gingrich's political persona–not the bad stuff, but man"of big ideas," as he put it (italics his). Cohen gives one example:
Out of nowhere, he has exhumed Saul Alinsky, whose fame is limited to university sociology departments, and yet whose name is so perfectly evocative of old-style radicalism, vaguely European in sound, that it fits Gingrich's recent formulation, "people who don't like the classical America." Who dat, Newt?
The reference, although a tad obscure, is nevertheless intriguing. It shows that Gingrich is familiar with the late father of community organizing who died in 1972, and who by occupation and residence (Chicago) is suggestive of Barack Obama. Alinsky was no communist but he was a radical, and to have his name mentioned by a presidential candidate is just plain thrilling–also chilling. This is the bright and the dark side of Gingrich. He knows his stuff and often can't stop from showing off.
Out of nowhere? Using Alinsky to bash Obama has been a staple of right-wing media for at least the past four years. Alinsky was regularly included in Glenn Beck's shrill conspiracy theories. Linking Obama to Alinsky doesn't prove Gingrich knows his stuff–it means he listens to a bit of radio, or perhaps watched some Fox News Channel over the past several years.
Doubly unhelpful to Cohen's argument is the presence of this Post news article today:
If it's a Republican debate night, it's time for a Saul Alinsky reference.
Alinsky, as anyone who has paid close attention to community organizing, Fox News or presidential politics in the past four years knows, is a liberal hero and conservative villain, best remembered for his theory of empowering the disenfranchised.
I guess Richard Cohen hasn't been paying attention to politics.
But still, why does Cohen go so far to praise someone whose views he largely finds repellent? Because he hopes Gingrich will move Obama to the right:
He's an unscrupulous man, a one-car demolition derby, but if he goads Obama to unaccustomed bravery and other Democrats to rethink outdated liberal dogma (affirmative action, etc.), then he will have done his nation a great service.