One of the axioms taught by famed radical organizer Saul Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicals was to “make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
In today’s Democratic Party, left-leaning progressives are following this same playbook. The only problem is they’re using it against each other. The story of the 2020 primary campaign, so far, involves Democrats holding themselves—and one another—to their own standards.
Consider the case of Joe Biden, who stands accused of inappropriate behavior by a Democratic politician. “I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified,” former Nevada Assemblywoman (and current Bernie Sanders supporter) Lucy Flores wrote. “He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn't process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
Punishment is selectively meted out in the #MeToo moment (compare Al Franken’s exodus with Keith Ellison’s victory in Minnesota), so it’s unclear if this accusation will be a bump in the road or utterly crippling. Indeed, Biden appears to be calling in the reinforcements.
But such an allegation might just convince Uncle Joe—an old white man who is still apologizing for his handling of the Anita Hill testimony—to opt out of running.
As the former Republican congressman Joe Walsh put it, “It would be pretty ironic if the Democrat’s ‘wokeness’ knocked out the guy who touched women’s shoulders and reelected the guy who grabbed women’s genitalia.”
Of course, this is merely the latest example of a trend that could weaken Democrats’ chances of beating President Trump by preventing the best candidates from entering the race, or weakening whoever does emerge from the scrum.
Consider that Beto O’Rourke has been forced to apologize for “white privilege,” and that Pete Buttigieg—who would be the first openly gay president—was recently greeted with a headline from Slate, asking: “Is Pete Buttigieg just another white male candidate, or does his gayness count as diversity?” Hey, they’re just asking questions, right?
Meanwhile, not even Kamala Harris is immune from criticism. Most recently, she has grappled with left-wing criticism of her prosecutorial record.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to self-imposed litmus tests impeding Democrats’ chances. Another danger is that living up to your own rules involves unilateral disarmament.
Consider Elizabeth Warren, who has sworn off high-dollar fundraisers. As liberal Bill Scher writes, “By making ‘Big Money’ appear to be inherently corrupting, and small money a formal measurement of a campaign’s success, Warren and the DNC have made it more difficult for the rest of the candidates—including herself—to compete with the fundraising juggernauts of [Bernie] Sanders and [Beto] O’Rourke.”
Meanwhile, Bernie’s campaign has unionized, which—should he win the nomination—may put him at a competitive disadvantage against Trump. If Sanders’ staff decide en masse to stop their door-to-door canvassing at 5 p.m., he may risk acquiescing to their demands (or having them on TV criticizing their own boss).
Rush Limbaugh has often joked that the way America can compete globally is to “export liberalism.” His point was that America could fare better if other nations had to deal with the same regulations, unions, and taxes, etc., as America. In a sense, this is what is happening in the Democratic primary.
So why is this afflicting the Democratic Party at this moment? Part of the reason Alinsky advocated making the enemy live up to its own standards was that his enemy was often a group of religious people who already had pre-existing high standards. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity,” Alinsky wrote.
Today’s progressivism—which stresses (among other things) a new sort of prudishness—is more or less a secular form of religion with its own high standards. As Andrew Sullivan has written, “…we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical.”
Joe Biden, who served as Barack Obama’s veep for eight years, is arguably the most electable Democrat with the best chance of beating Donald Trump in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Yet it is entirely possible that Biden’s past sins will render him a heretic, thereby precluding him from winning the Democratic nomination. The only good news for Biden is that nobody is safe.
They’re apologizing for being white, letting their staffs form labor unions, and hamstringing their own campaigns. What’s next, you have to be a vegan to be the Democratic nominee?
Eventually, the revolution devours its own.