The right's strange relationship with Saul Alinsky

Alinsky strictly resisted political labels and affiliations, once explaining “if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated.” But conservatives began invoking his name as something of an epithet to sully the left’s tactics as sneaky, underhanded, unethical — or Marxist.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Alinsky taking a place alongside top contemporary conservative bogeymen like Michael Moore, George Soros and Jane Fonda. His seminal 1971 guide to organizing, “Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals,” became a must-read for a new wave of conservative activists who mobilized — many for the first time — in opposition to the ambitious, big-government agenda pushed by President Obama and the Democratic Congress…

Suddenly, the book was being touted as a way to beat the left at its own game by everyone from 69-year-old former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, whose nonprofit group FreedomWorks has emerged as a leading Washington bulwark for the tea party movement, to 25-year-old James O’Keefe, the self-styled activist investigative journalist who last year became a conservative hero for secretly recording employees of the liberal community-organizing group ACORN apparently offering advice on how to set up a brothel, to tea party leaders seeking to disrupt congressional town halls.

But in the last couple months, there’s been something of a backlash on the right, both as a result of the arrest of O’Keefe and three colleagues during a botched plot to embarrass Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, and because some conservatives are questioning whether Alinsky’s ideas and tactics — and, to some extent, the tea party movement as a whole — are intellectually consistent with American conservatism.