Activists from the 1970s will feel a sense of familiarity with the Bernie Sanders’ campaign. It’s more than loaded words like “revolution” and “establishment,” those hot coins of counter culture. It’s more than the scent of socialism with the bugaboo Marxist roots. No. If you look closely and follow chronologically, it’s the very structure of the campaign that rings a bell.
Bernie Sanders is incorporating the power tactics of Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals, into his campaign operations.
Saul Alinsky was an outside agitator par excellence, whose Rules was first published in 1971. His influence stretches from civil and workers rights’ movements of the time to community organizers and political coalitions of this era, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and right wingsters.
That Sanders would adopt Alinksy’s Rules is no surprise, considering its popularity during his youthful days. It also befits a campaign with small numbers, and in its perception, in a struggle against an evil machine (Hillary Clinton’s campaign).
Below are the first of Alinsky’s power tactics as described in his handbook. There are 13 altogether, most inter-related to form a modis operadi for activism.
I have selected ten which are most closely aligned to Sanders’ campaign techniques. Online users will recognize the similarity between these and the noise coming from the online organization of the redux revolution known as “Bernie.
First Rule of Power Tactics:
“Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
This is one of the most conspicuous of Sanders’ maneuvers, seen in social media and naively portrayed in mainstream media as fact. The digital ocean is a perfect vehicle for creating a presence, whether legitimate or not. It accounts for thousands of Twitter and Facebook users along with a corps on Reddit, who proclaim Bernie’s infallibility as an alternate presidential choice.
However, a painstaking look at these online entities will show duplicates, bots and just plain fakes. Nonpartisan and commercial accounts are requisitioned for the cause as seen in a sample Twitter list called “Bernie Supporters.” This holds nearly 4,000 users, each manually added by the list owner. Travel through this list, and one will find supporters for Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton. There are people living outside the U.S., spam accounts, business and university accounts, comic book, gamers, techies and anime aficionados. A core of genuine Bernie followers does exist but these are padded by the hundreds of appropriated users.
As can be seen, the illusion of an enormous presence is easy to accomplish in the online world. Padded lists on Twitter and triplicate presences in every predominant social media outlet create a false effect of power.
One of the first and perhaps, best best investments made by Bernie Sanders was purchasing the services of Revolution Messaging, a company equated with successful online campaigns. It represented then-Senator Barrack Obama in his first Presidential campaign. Listed among its former clients is MoveOn, the behemoth organization that helped drive Obama (and many other Democrats) to victory. Revolution Messaging provides a number of apps and tools to magnify presence in a coordinated online effort. Twitter storms, coordinated fast response tweets and inflated poll results are evidence of this effort.
- See this link for a closer look at Revolution Messaging and its clients.
- Check out this HuffPost story on Revolution Messaging and the Sanders camp
Second Rule of Power Tactics:
“Never go outside the experience of your people.”
The message of Bernie Sanders is perfectly melded to the “experience” of his base. It is crisp, simple and anti-Establishment, though not necessarily anti-authoritarian. Were he to engage in nuanced argument or concede to the rightness of an “Establishment” act, he would violate their expectations.
Consider that the Sanders coalition is a mix of Independents, Greens, Libertarians, first-time voters, the Occupy Movement, portions of Move On, individuals who identify as Anonymous, Edward Snowden/Wiki Leaks allies and young white males. This is not an alliance that will tolerate softness or concession to the evil power structure.
So when Bernie is asked if he supports fracking in a debate, his one word answer is “No.” When Hillary Clinton elaborates on her reply, she is attacked for her distinctions. Nearly every debate response will invoke a tirade on “Wall Street” or the “corrupt political system” and Bernie’s fans cheer wildly.
The experience of Bernie’s base demands a simple, either/or approach and he does not fail them.
Third Rule of Power Tactics:
“Wherever possible, go outside the experience of your enemy.”
Yellow Dog Democrats have seen this tactic invoked time after time. It produces incredulous confusion and rage. Take the fact that Bernie, a registered Independent, applies to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to run as a Democrat in the presidential race. Shortly after, his campaign is caught stealing voter data from Clinton’s camp. When confronted and punished, Bernie’s camp expresses outrage. It immediately files suit against the DNC. Simultaneously, his followers call for a hatchet job on the DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. These are just the early days of the campaign.
As the Sanders’ operation coalesced, the attacks started. Clinton, organizations and individuals who endorsed her, individual supporters, the Democrat party and its elected officials, including such luminaries as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. John Lewis – all were and are subjected to a barrage of vitriol by Bernie’s online team. The personal insults are extreme. Base name-calling, trolling and online harassment were – and are – the soup du jour of the “Bernie Bros”.
None of this is characteristic of the mild-mannered, typically polite Democrat. None of this resembles the usual Democratic primary race.
Sanders recruited individuals like Cornel West, whose notorious insults to Barack Obama date back for years; Killer Mike, who equated Clinton to her uterus; Nina Turner, former ally to her mentor Clinton, and now turncoat; and Tulsi Gabbard, who resigned from the DNC to champion Bernie.
Keep in mind that the candidate went on record to run a clean campaign at the start of these attacks, a pledge that either puts him at odds with his campaign or reveals his duplicity. The recent online assault launched against Senator Warren gives the impression that Sanders is complicit. The tweet below, posted after his loss in Massachusetts, includes him in its distribution list. Sanders was aware that the spiteful attack was planned and did not avert it.
— Grace Laine (@TAW3343) March 7, 2016
These first three tactics achieve two objectives: freak-out mainstream Democrats and embolden Undecideds who believe there’s a “revolution” of amazing magnitude. What’s important to keep in mind is that the Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is bouyed by “tactics” rather than policy. The intentional manipulation of digital media conveys a false sense of presence and popularity. The known dynamics of “herd mentality” apply to the online world just as they do in the real world.
Recognizing how the Sanders’ camp is deploying its forces and sending out its message provides a key for Clinton followers. There are three options: 1) take the bait and wrest with tactics; 2) counter it or; 3) ignore it. This Democratic presidential primary is all about strategy.
This is only the start of the Alinsky effect on Bernie’s machine and the Clinton operation.
- For a full list of Alinsky’s power tactics, visit this link.