When William F. Buckley Met Saul Alinsky

posted at 6:47 pm on April 29, 2011 by Ed Driscoll

When William F. Buckley met Saul Alinsky, one of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s biggest influences. Unfortunately, only five minutes of this December 1967 edition of Buckley’s seminal Firing Line program is online the above clip, but you can read a transcript of the entire interview at the Hoover Institute, or buy a DVD of the program for ten bucks from Amazon. At one point, Buckley describes Alinsky’s philosophy:

Look, this is a program of things we want, if you don’t give it to us, we’re going to make it impossible for Chicago to continue commercial or civic life at all.

Alinsky eventually argues:

I’ll put it another way. I said that evolution is a chronological term used by non-participating historians to denote a time sequence of a whole series of revolutions which synthesize into a major change — then they call it evolution.

Change? Say, somebody should use that word as a campaign slogan!

And note this exchange:

ALINSKY: Controversy ranges. It ranges all through various levels of life. I would consider, for example, the same thing on revolution. I think Social Security was revolutionary.

BUCKLEY: Yeah.

ALINSKY: I think Medicare was revolutionary. You see the problem is every –

BUCKLEY: It does seem that we have a semantic difficulty.

ALINSKY: All words in the whole arena of action are all loaded. (Announcer breaks in)

ANNOUNCER: Our debate on these varied issues will continue after this brief pause.

ALINSKY: (Continuing but some of his remarks lost during simultaneous announcement) — gets an idea of blood and barricades, and that sort. And then you say, power — it’s sinister word, you know.

BUCKLEY: But for instance, we got Medicare in this country, and we got it as a result of discussion. Now, mightn’t Alinsky students have felt that you would need to shoot a few doctors, or let people die for lack of medical attention, before you’d have the kind of conflict that’s necessary to midwife for Medicare?

ALINSKY: Buckley, I’ve been fascinated by your eyes in previous shows I’ve watched you on, and will you look at me and tell me whether you believe what you’re saying?

Ahh, the old “do you really believe what you’re saying?”dodge. Also, Alinsky’s hatred of traditional religion becomes increasingly palpable as the interview goes on; something that appears to have carried over to his most famous acolyte and his own, well, shall we say, spiritual issues.

Read the transcript online as a PDF file here — you’ll definitely read quotes from Alinsky that rhyme with more than a few recent events.


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I had never heard Mr. Buckley talk before this moment. It is AWESOME! How come no one talks like this anymore!?!? I wish I had been alive and cognizant of politics when he was around. Yowzer, what a dynamo!

Living4Him5534 on April 29, 2011 at 6:52 PM

Obama smokes like Alinsky too.

Hmmmm.

portlandon on April 29, 2011 at 6:52 PM

BUCKLEY: But for instance, we got Medicare in this country, and we got it as a result of discussion. Now, mightn’t Alinsky students have felt that you would need to shoot a few doctors, or let people die for lack of medical attention, before you’d have the kind of conflict that’s necessary to midwife for Medicare?

Awesome.

On a sad note, NR is shell of its former self. In 2008 they endorsed the creator of Romneycare. Sad.

mankai on April 29, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Great catch! Lord, how I miss Buckley. NR has never been the same.

Terrie on April 29, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Living4Him5534 on April 29, 2011 at 6:52 PM

Oh, but was he wonderful. I really miss him…

OmahaConservative on April 29, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Ah Buckley, the master of the rapier. I sure miss that guy.

crazedarmenian on April 29, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Anyone got a smoke…?

/

Seven Percent Solution on April 29, 2011 at 7:04 PM

Wow! That was really something.

ReneePA on April 29, 2011 at 7:05 PM

portlandon on April 29, 2011 at 6:52 PM

Coincidence? I think not.

ncborn on April 29, 2011 at 7:06 PM

Funny to see people smoking on these old talk shows isn’t it? I’ve seen others where they are drinking what are pretty obviously mixed drinks.

slickwillie2001 on April 29, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Living4Him5534 on April 29, 2011 at 6:52 PM

The “Mid-Atlantic” dialect & accent. See also: Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island.

Hannibal Smith on April 29, 2011 at 7:09 PM

I bet he wanted to sock him in his goddam face.

flyfisher on April 29, 2011 at 7:12 PM

Living4Him5534 on April 29, 2011 at 6:52 PM

The “Mid-Atlantic” dialect & accent. See also: Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island.

Hannibal Smith on April 29, 2011 at 7:09 PM

…or John F’n Kerry.

slickwillie2001 on April 29, 2011 at 7:12 PM

I used to love Firing Line. In the world of debate, WFB was like a young Cassius Clay in the ring.

TugboatPhil on April 29, 2011 at 7:12 PM

Hannibal Smith on April 29, 2011 at 7:09 PM

New Englander.

Mid-Atlantic is DC, Maryland, East PA, DE and South Jersey.

mankai on April 29, 2011 at 7:15 PM

Likewise, I miss WHB Jr. I watched Firing Line as a kid with no interest or knowledge of politics, but appreciated his vocabulary, intellect, and ability to destroy his guests views in a civilized calm manner, and that killer smile. I campaigned for AuH2o in high school because of him. Never read God and man @ Yale. Wish I had. Oh for him to interview the pseudo intellect Obama!
O is such a dull fool, like Alinsky, and others. WHB would destroy him! Rush has the intellectual resources but lacks the calm infuriating manner, and smile. God I miss him.

I am not a racist on April 29, 2011 at 7:15 PM

I love Buckley. And his accent.

What an epically cool accent.

nickj116 on April 29, 2011 at 7:19 PM

Do not wish Lung Cancer or coronary heart disease on them. I am not a Liberal either!

I am not a racist on April 29, 2011 at 7:21 PM

Ahh, the old “do you really believe what you’re saying?”dodge.

Hmm… ‘dodge’, the link refers to it as a ‘lefty meme’… um… Buckley himself used that pretty famously, and in fact, it’s one of my favorite quotes from him:

“I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.”

Irony that this is considered a ‘dodge’ or ‘lefty meme’ in a story ostensibly praising Buckley. ;)

Midas on April 29, 2011 at 7:22 PM

…or John F’n Kerry.

slickwillie2001 on April 29, 2011 at 7:12 PM

Not the way I remember it, but I’ll admit it’s been awhile since I heard him speak.

Esthier on April 29, 2011 at 7:23 PM

but I’ll admit it’s been awhile since I heard him speak.

Esthier on April 29, 2011 at 7:23 PM

Much to be thankful for…

OmahaConservative on April 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM

I miss the old NR too. I think they should make Mark Steyn the EIC, and give him a show like Firing Line. He’d be great too and even has a funny accent.

Lonetown on April 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM

I miss the old NR too. I think they should make Mark Steyn the EIC, and give him a show like Firing Line. He’d be great too and even has a funny accent.

Lonetown on April 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Yeah, Stein’s brilliant, quick/clever, funny, and does have a great accent.

Midas on April 29, 2011 at 7:31 PM

The weasel in Alinsky shows through clearly.

GarandFan on April 29, 2011 at 7:32 PM

Excellent find…

neoavatara on April 29, 2011 at 7:34 PM

Saul Alinsky was fascinated by William F. Buckley’s eyes.

Disingenuous cretin.

profitsbeard on April 29, 2011 at 7:34 PM

I suspect the closest Buckley ever came to really losing his cool was when he cut into Gore Vidal for calling him a “crypto-Nazi.” Buckley didn’t appreciate that too much.

ncborn on April 29, 2011 at 7:36 PM

Don’t know if Firing Line would still work, meaning gain a meaningful audience. TV news seems to have evolved to allow no more than 45-second spots and a tempo that has to match a game show. Agree that if anyone can do it though, it’s Steyn. Maybe a late-night version? We need competition for the liberal jackasses Leno and Letterboy.

slickwillie2001 on April 29, 2011 at 7:41 PM

Along with the accent, I love the perfect touch of sarcasm and the look of humorous disdain.

Disturb the Universe on April 29, 2011 at 7:45 PM

I just read the transcript. Fascinating stuff.

Especially when you think about how much our public/mass media political discourse as changed over time.

radioboyatl on April 29, 2011 at 7:46 PM

MORE BUCKLEY CLIPS!!!

disa on April 29, 2011 at 7:51 PM

The “Mid-Atlantic” dialect & accent. See also: Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island.

Hannibal Smith on April 29, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Actually, bill Buckley’s first language was Mexican Spanish.

Gawd but I miss Bill. Will there ever be another like him?

JohnGalt23 on April 29, 2011 at 7:53 PM

TV news seems to have evolved to allow no more than 45-second spots and a tempo that has to match a game show. Agree that if anyone can do it though, it’s Steyn

I love Mark Steyn, but he often needs more than 45 seconds to finish a sentence.

Modern tempo sucks. Slow down, people. I can’t even watch a lot of current movies (especially CGI stuff) – it seems as though my brain never gets enough time to absorb the scene, which strikes me as simultaneously cheap and wasteful. I began noticing this style in the early 90′s and found it grating.

disa on April 29, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Buckley had something the talking heads today only aspire to; it’s called CLASS!

GarandFan on April 29, 2011 at 7:57 PM

On a sad note, NR is shell of its former self. In 2008 they endorsed the creator of Romneycare. Sad.

I am less harsh on NR and NRO. These are still great resources. Jonah G. and Mark S. and A. McCarthy and K. Lopez and J. Geraghty (Ed’s ledge report buddy), etc. I have learned a number of things from National Review even after its founder’s passing…. WFB was one-of-a-kind and helped out el-Rushbo (and NRO drove out unfair Limbaugh critics, when Rush was in need of friends). Not a shell.

chaswv on April 29, 2011 at 7:58 PM

Rush dearly loves Buckley and says so. This man was so far beyond what we hear today, no one can come close to him.
L

letget on April 29, 2011 at 8:00 PM

I loved listening to Mr. Fbuckley. It seems so odd to see people smoking doesn’t it? It reminds me of renting several of “Thin Man” movies and being shocked at the amount of alcohol “consumed”.

Cindy Munford on April 29, 2011 at 8:09 PM

Great. This is just going to get more commenters claiming people who disagree with them are using “Alinsky tactics”.

It’s a shame there isn’t more of the interview. Watching Buckley deconstruct an opponent is like watching a master chef carve a turkey.

MadisonConservative on April 29, 2011 at 8:12 PM

As much as I hate to give PBS credit, there use to be a show with ten to fifteen prominent politicians & pundits discussing scenarios offered by a moderator. WFB was on that from time to time also. I have no idea what it was called.

Cindy Munford on April 29, 2011 at 8:14 PM

After Hours, Crossfire, The McLaughlin Group…

OmahaConservative on April 29, 2011 at 8:23 PM

I had never heard Mr. Buckley talk before this moment. It is AWESOME! How come no one talks like this anymore!?!? I wish I had been alive and cognizant of politics when he was around. Yowzer, what a dynamo!

Living4Him5534 on April 29, 2011 at 6:52 PM

Your kidding? Go to YouTube and check out his debates with Chomsky or Vidal, they’re fantastic.

lowandslow on April 29, 2011 at 8:42 PM

lowandslow on April 29, 2011 at 8:42 PM

Oh, Vidal! They could have sold tickets.

Cindy Munford on April 29, 2011 at 8:46 PM

Buckley was truly one of kind. Man, could we use someone that good now who was willing to engage in one on one debate like that.

georgealbert on April 29, 2011 at 8:55 PM

Mark Steyn is pretty good, similar to Buckley

georgealbert on April 29, 2011 at 8:57 PM

I suspect the closest Buckley ever came to really losing his cool was when he cut into Gore Vidal for calling him a “crypto-Nazi.” Buckley didn’t appreciate that too much.

ncborn on April 29, 2011 at 7:36 PM

Yep, it’s a classic. I linked it above:

I bet he wanted to sock him in his goddam face.

flyfisher on April 29, 2011 at 7:12 PM

Buckley also threatened to smash Chomsky’s face, but he did it with a wry grin and glint in his eye. He wanted to rip Vidal’s head off.

flyfisher on April 29, 2011 at 9:00 PM

With his dripping snide arrogance, Buckley manages to make a Marxist revolutionary look reasonable by juxtaposition.

Bravo Mr. Buckley!

AshleyTKing on April 29, 2011 at 9:19 PM

Cindy Munford on April 29, 2011 at 8:14 PM

Ethics in America. Fred W. Friendly hosted it. Excellent television.

ncborn on April 29, 2011 at 9:55 PM

What I find clear in this video is the corrupt Chicago political style that was Alinski.

While this might seem normal in Chicago, the rest of the country finds it quite detestably dishonest.

Freddy on April 29, 2011 at 10:03 PM

I love how they all smoke cigarettes–haha

Dollayo on April 29, 2011 at 10:05 PM

Oh, if only they had someone who could do an intelligent discussion show like that. No yelling, no screaming, just questions and allowing the person to answer them.

Is there anyone around who can do that again? I’ve seen decent interviewers, like Greta, who will ask the pertinent questions and allow her guests to answer, but she’s not on the intellectual level of a William Buckley. Oh well, there’s always hope.

That was truly interesting and just think, as a country we elected one of his admirers to the Presidency. Hopefully, we’ll survive the experience.

bflat879 on April 29, 2011 at 10:48 PM

Dr. Zero writes like Mr. Buckley debates; with precise sarcasm, rapier wit, and always a factual foundation.

We miss you, Doc.

hillbillyjim on April 29, 2011 at 11:03 PM

I recently read “Rules for Radicals” and was astounded that there isn’t more discussion concerning the way Barack Obama channels Saul Alinsky. Here are some examples;

Page 2; “I will argue that man’s hopes lie in the acceptance of the great law of change; that a general understanding of the principles of change will provide clues for rational action and an awareness of the realistic relationship between means and ends and how each determines the other.”

Page 7; “Here I propose to present an arrangement of certain facts and general concepts of change, a step toward a science of revolution.”

Page 7; “All societies discourage and penalize ideas and writings that threaten the ruling status quo. It is understandable, therefore, that the literature of a Have society is a veritable desert whenever we look for writings on social change.” Page 7; “Except for Thoreau’s limited remarks, our society has given us few words of advice, few suggestions on how to fertilize social change.”

Page 10; “THE IDEOLOGY OF CHANGE. This raises the question: what, if any, is my ideology? What kind of ideology, if any, can an organizer have who is working in and for a free society? The prerequisite for an ideology is possession of a basic truth. For example, a Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists.”

Page 18; “CLASS DISTINCTIONS; THE TRINITY. The setting for the drama of change has never varied. Mankind has been and is divided into three parts; the Haves, the Have-Nots and the Have-a-Little, Want Mores.”

The word “Change” is used hundreds of times, throughout the book. “Hope” also shows up often.

Page65; “Here and there are organizers who are outstanding in their chosen fields and are featured by the press as my trained “protégés,” but to me the overall record has been unpromising.”

Page 66 “Then there were others who learned to be outstanding organizers in particular kinds of communities with particular ethnic groups but in a different scene with different ethnic groups couldn’t organize their way out of a paper bag.”

Star20 on April 29, 2011 at 11:15 PM

I have to read Hitchens and Buckley with a dictionary or google window open at all times. It is paintakingly slow.

Buckley and Alinsky debate in shorthand without finishing their thoughts because the other gets the point and immediately repostes. Tough to keep up.

In the transcript, Buckley accuses Alinsky of sounding like Ayn Rand. Later, Buckley accuses him of solipsistic reasoning. Inconsistent philosophies. They sometimes look similar but Rand is frequently falsely accused of having promoted solipsism. It shows the venerable practice of rejecting Rand by misstating and oversimplifying her philosophy. If Buckley did it even when he wasn’t trying, you can hardly blame Maureen Dowd for doing it on purpose.

An Objectivist on April 29, 2011 at 11:22 PM

ncborn on April 29, 2011 at 9:55 PM

Yes, that’s it…..thanks so much. It was good stuff.

Cindy Munford on April 29, 2011 at 11:24 PM

Here is an interesting outtake from Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.”

Page 100; “The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a “dangerous enemy.” The word “enemy” is sufficient to put the organizer on the side of the people, to identify him with the Have-Nots, but it is not enough to endow him with the special qualities that induce fear and thus give him the means to establish his own power against the establishment.”

This paragraph ends with “Now the organizer has his “birth certificate” and can begin.”

Star20 on April 29, 2011 at 11:43 PM

I kept thinking that smoke was wafting up from hell, what with Alinksy being such big fan of Lucifer and all that.

Buy Danish on April 29, 2011 at 11:43 PM

That’s one sweet clip.

ButterflyDragon on April 30, 2011 at 12:13 AM

1. So, Alinsky believes that equality and wealth distribution can’t come from the top down (as that is just another version of Bourgeois pandering in order to placate the Masses?), but must be demanded from the bottom up. Can’t say why I’m surprised at that…oh, wait, maybe it’s because Obama and the other Leftists resort to dumping money onto the projects and creating Gov’t programs, rather than “organizing” people to lift themselves up by working within the same system that has managed to work well for the vast majority of other citizens.

Typical Marxists-they can never seem to decide on whether wealth and equality should be conferred from above or “reclaimed” from the slums and alleys. But they ignore so much about the mentality of the people who choose to live in the slums. What argument can they make about those who chose to live in Whitechapel during the Industrial Revolution while their white relatives lived healthier lives in the country, small towns and cleaner boroughs within London?

They also pay little attention to those who don’t live in the slums, but don’t live on Nob Hill, either…the superfluous Middle Class, Outer Party Members who are little more than capable sheeple who prop up the power elite in exchange for table scraps and a warm place to lie at their master’s feet by the hearth.

2. Alinsky got cut off at the end of the show and began to answer Buckley’s question about the justification of violence, though Alinsky seemed to agree.

3. I didn’t get why Alinsky was thrown off by quotes Buckley threw at him from previous interviews? All I can surmise is that Alinsky felt these quotes weren’t enough to fully explain his philosophies…basically full of himself and thinks that his philosophies are really so deep they require mental gymnastics to fathom.

4. As a side note, Ted Sorenson was still alive until late last year.

Dr. ZhivBlago on April 30, 2011 at 12:15 AM

Buckley was born to an Irish oil baron in NYC. He then was raised in Mexico, Paris, and London. He was fluent in Spanish and French and didn’t get his Connecticut accent until later in life. That’s why he sounds so unique.

di butler on April 30, 2011 at 1:17 AM

How I wish Stanford would release the Frontline archives to the public. Why keep it behind closed doors?

toliver on April 30, 2011 at 2:21 AM

My friends and I in the AP class in High School used to watch Buckley all the time. It was an era when debate was civilized, all ideas were worthy of debate, and there existed issues upon which reasonable men could disagree. Americans younger than 45 have no idea of the degree to which their intellectual freedom has been destroyed by the marxists.

ahem on April 30, 2011 at 4:54 AM

Before I ever heard of John Galt, I used to watch Buckley on Firing Line. One of my favorite parts of the show, was when a liberal columnist or pundit would act as a “designated challenger,” and take on Buckley on any number of issues. Buckley would sit in his chair, just as nonchalant as you see him here, and take on his challenger point by point. (One of the regular challengers was Michael Kinsley, by the way.) It was a great show to watch, and with his passing, an era of spirited-yet-civilized debate in politics came to an end. We could use this type of public forum, now more than ever.

manwithblackhat on April 30, 2011 at 11:24 PM

Can we get off of “Romneycare?” Conservatives are the ones doing the flip-flopping here. http://conservativesamizdat.blogspot.com/2010/04/truth-behind-costs-of-romneycare.html

flataffect on May 1, 2011 at 2:59 AM

Alinsky OWNED that fool Buckley the closet Liberal, any Ayn Rand Capitalist would have eviscerated that Progressive Liberal Socialist

mathewsjw on May 1, 2011 at 4:20 AM

Of *course* I believe that leftists will kill to achieve their political goals, and I can give you a couple hundred million examples over the last century.

What a stupid question.

Merovign on May 1, 2011 at 5:09 PM