Nathan Sass

A Battle For the Ages in Wisconsin

In 2012 Elections, Politics, Saul Anlinsky, Scott Walker, Sun Tzu, WI Budget Battle on January 6, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Wisconsin unbelievably has been the center of the political universe for the last year. Starting with the election of Scott Walker as governor and the GOP taking control of both houses of the state legislature, my home state has been the focus of an epic struggle between two very different philosophies.

No, not liberal and conservative, although that is part of it. The two sides at war with one another are far larger than that.

On one side you have the disciples of Saul Alinsky. For those who do not know, Alinsky is the author or Rules for Radicals and the father of the modern protest movement (Occupy Wall Street, etc.). His Rules for Radicals is the playbook for the modern socialist left in their efforts to take the reins of power and change society in their image.

On the other you have followers of the teachings of Sun Tzu as described in his epic work entitled The Art of War. (If you have never read it, I highly suggest you take the time to do so. It may take a few passes but it will change the way you look at the world forever.)

Sun Tzu’s writings are used in instruction in US military academies, and were the guiding force behind the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. They have also been adapted by others for use in business, and many other fields as they describe the best manner to deal with any conflict, armed or not.

For people unfamiliar with both schools of thought, much of what has happened in Wisconsin in the last year seems random and frustrating. Every day brought new news of more political fighting, protesting and silliness.

But if you have taken the time to understand these two authors’ teachings, things tend to come into a bit more focus and seem much less chaotic.

Alinsky’s teachings in a nutshell describe the way to sway the public to your side by sowing chaos and discord, and then pinning the blame on your chief rival(s). The more discord you create, the more those in power respond, and the more sympathetic converts you ultimately win. Force your opposition into drastic responses to make them the perceived villains and gain public sympathy.

Sun Tzu’s teachings however are the perfect antidote for these tactics, and what has happened thus far in Wisconsin is bearing that out. Sun Tzu tells us that we must know our enemies, ourselves, and plan before we act. We must understand our strengths and weaknesses, our opposition’s strengths and weaknesses, and use this knowledge to devise a strategy for victory BEFORE (and this is important) we actually start the conflict.

Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature appear to have done just that. Before a single bill was proposed to deal with the $3.6 Billion deficit in WI, they surveyed the battlefield. They took stock of their opposition, determined their strengths and weaknesses, and used this knowledge to help predict what the response of the opposition would be.

They had to know that as soon as the issue of removal of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers was raised a firestorm would erupt. They had to know that the unions would not sit quietly and watch while their golden goose was slaughtered. They also knew that those in control of the unions were disciples of Alinsky and that meant their responses were very predictable.

First the unions would stage massive protests. They would bring in people from all over the state, and the nation, to the state capital to chant and march. The group HAD to be huge so that the public would perceive that this was a movement of more than just a few people. When this pressure did not deter the legislature from going forward with Act 10, the chaos would then need to be escalated.

In order to allow the chaos to continue and provoke a response from Walker, the Alinsky-ites needed to slow the bill down. The only way to do that was to have the entire Democrat caucus in the state senate flee the state to prevent a quorum. This gave the protests time to grow and become more vocal, in the hopes that the general public would sympathize with them and turn on Walker when he moved to quell the uprising.

The unions expected Walker to take a firm hand against them. This is a core assumption of Alinsky-ites. They believe that those in power will over-react to the protests and chaos and use their power to squelch it.

The unions were wrong. Walker remained calm, never used law enforcement or the National Guard to restore order and allowed the protests to continue for weeks almost unobstructed.

To some he looked weak, but to me he looked like a genius student of Sun Tzu.

All warfare is based on deception.

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought.

Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Walker allowed an easily riled opponent to work themselves into a frenzy, and continue to escalate their actions and never once showed a reaction. (“If your opponent is choleric of temper seek to irritate him”)

He feigned weakness in order to give the protesters time to make themselves unsympathetic to the public. (“Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.”)

The longer the protests went on, the more the public grew weary of hearing about it, and the more the public saw the protesters as unsympathetic tantrum throwers.

Then when the time was right, the GOP removed several provisions from the bill and passed it without needing a quorum. (“When we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away”)  They could have done that immediately, but they chose to wait.

Changing and passing the bill too soon would have not allowed the public to tire of the protests and then breathe a sigh of relief when the bill was ultimately passed. Most people probably said “I’m just glad that is all over now.” thinking that the protests and antics would now stop.

Both sides knew, though, that this was just the first battle in a longer war. The unions were now even more enraged, as I am sure Walker expected them to be. This meant even MORE radical actions as per the Alinsky playbook.

The unions became increasingly thuggish and brutal.

They turned their anger on to private citizens and businesses with even the slightest connection to Walker. Local shops who may have given Walker $100 once, an entire chain of gas stations (Quik Trip) and every other entity with any minor connection to Walker were made targets, protested and their employees and customers were harassed.

Worst of all they began to ratchet up the harassment of members of the legislature. Death threats were (and still are unfortunately) common. Imagine a child red faced with rage and having the most almighty of fits and you get the idea.

And still Walker refused the bait. He did NOT react, and neither did the rest of the GOP. They sat quietly and watched it unfold. They pointed out the actions and condemned them, but made little effort to actually stop it.

When election time came, and a majority making seat to overturn Act 10 in the WI Supreme Court was at stake, the unions fully expected the public to join them en masse and vote for Kloppenburg and stop Act 10.

She, and they, lost. (If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”)

It was close, but she lost. At the height of the controversy, when the energy of the protesting unions was at its maximum, they STILL lost because the public never fully sided with them. They had alienated much of the public, and Walker had actually allowed them to do it.

Not to be deterred, the Alinsky playbook was opened again and recalls were brought against anyone in WI with an R after his or her name. The campaigns were vicious. No holds were barred and the unions were certain they would regain control of the state senate to slow Walker down.

They failed.  Again. (If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”)

They did win 2 seats back, but both victories were as much due to problems with the candidates as they were to do with Act 10. One had cheated on his wife, and the other was in a strong Dem district to begin with. Neither win was unexpected.

The one senate race the unions and democrats most targeted saw the Republican win by more than she did in the original election in 2010. They managed to LOSE ground in their prize race. The public was turning more pro-Walker every day.

While the unions and democrats were scurrying around trying to recall everyone in sight, the GOP quietly completed the redistricting process and all but assured WI of GOP majorities in the legislature for the next 10 years. (When using our forces, we must seem inactive”)  The Democrats were so preoccupied with the recalls that they barely even said a word about it.

You would think after defeats like this, the unions and democrats would have stepped back and surveyed the battlefield.

Unfortunately for them, Alinsky’s philosophy never calls for this. It assumes from the outset that the left’s case is superior and the public will naturally accept it once given the chance.  This arrogance is the glaring weakness of Alinsky’s tactics. There is no concept of strategic retreat, only ever escalating actions in support of their obviously superior political philosophy.

So off they went on their effort to recall Walker, and all the Republicans in WI, right down to town dog catcher. They have been boasting that they would gather 750,000 signatures on their recall petitions. They were so sure that it was a slam dunk that they couldn’t stop talking about who they would run, not if they could even pull it off.

But I have noticed something strange occurring.

Only once since the effort started have they given an estimate of signatures, and that estimate was less than the minimum required amount. Furthermore, reports of individuals signing as many as 80 times probably make that number even smaller.

For something so certain 2 months ago, it seems odd that they a) don’t already have the signatures they need and have turned them in showing the popularity of their cause and b) continue to have to have people out begging for signers even on Black Friday, Christmas Eve and every other big day.  They even sent people to the Rose Bowl in CA to get signatures.

They fail to see how many people are growing annoyed with the anti-Walker movement because of the constant badgering (no pun intended).  Everyone knows where to sign if they want to, and likely anyone that did want to has signed already.  Yet they still pester people and get in their face about it.

That reeks of some desperation on their part, doesn’t it?

Honestly, I would be shocked if they don’t get the signatures they need. They may already have enough, for all we know.

But I can also tell you that this whole affair gets worse for them every passing day. They are now generally seen as whiney, petulant, angry, mean and unlikable people while Walker has never responded in kind. He looks so much better, more reasonable, and kinder by comparison.

Walker will win in a recall election, perhaps by more than he did in 2010. Walker will win because Sun Tzu has taken Alinsky to the woodshed for a right sound beating.

Some commentators on the right have advocated using Alinsky’s tactics to advance conservatism.  I disagree.  Alinsky’s tactics are seriously flawed and easily countered by the proven strategy advocated by Sun Tzu.

I hope that the GOP in DC has been taking notes. (I’m looking at you John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.)

The current occupant of the White House only knows Alinsky, and he can be defeated just as soundly by those who know, understand and practice Sun Tzu’s Art of War in Politics.


  1. […] A Battle For the Ages in Wisconsin – 1/6/2012 […]

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