Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, Rick Santelli and Jim Cramer owe much of their 15 minutes of fame to Saul Alinsky, a Chicago Marxist who died in 1972.
Mr. Alinsky is considered to be the father of "community organizing" as the path to social revolution. A year before his death he published a book, "Rules for Radicals," which distilled what he had learned from his experiences, his reading of Marx and Lenin, and from his associations with crime boss Al Capone and labor leader John Lewis.
Rule 11 is: "Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don't try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame."
In other words, engage in character assassination. Your opponent is not someone with whom you disagree. He or she is an enemy who must be destroyed.
Democrats have been following Mr. Alinsky's rules. Mr. Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. "Joe the Plumber," came to our attention when candidate Barack Obama approached him in his yard in suburban Toledo and gave an impolitic answer to a question Mr. Wurzelbacher asked. The fault was Mr. Obama's, but it was Mr. Wurzelbacher who was calumnized. His divorce was hashed over in the newspapers and Obama supporters in the Ohio state government improperly searched and made public his tax records.
Rick Santelli is a CNBC reporter whose criticism of President Obama's mortgage bailout plan sparked the various "tea parties" that have been springing up around the nation. This prompted a personal attack from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Jim Cramer hosts CNBC's popular "Mad Money" show. He is a Democrat who supported Barack Obama. But his criticism of how the president has been handling the economic crisis also earned him a personal attack from Mr. Gibbs.
Democrats are in power now in large part because of how successful they and their allies in the news media were in demonizing President George W. Bush. But with Mr. Bush headed back to the ranch, a new villain had to be found. The White House chose radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh because Mr. Limbaugh is unpopular with people who do not listen to his program.
"Presidents throughout history have kept lists of political foes," said former Bush strategist Karl Rove. "But the Obama White House is the first I am aware of to pick targets based on polls."
White House adviser David Axelrod acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times that he'd authorized the attacks on Mr. Limbaugh. The ostensible reason was Mr. Limbaugh's expressed desire that President Obama "fail." Listeners to his program know Mr. Limbaugh meant he hopes the president's efforts to take over large segments of the economy fail, but Mr. Axelrod's minions spun it as if Mr. Limbaugh were hoping America would fail.
This was the pot calling the kettle black. In a 2006 Fox News poll, 51 percent of Democrats surveyed said they didn't want President Bush to succeed. Democratic strategist and CNN "news analyst" James Carville has been among the loudest critics of Mr. Limbaugh's remark. But in a television interview on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 (before the attacks on the World Trade Center), Mr. Carville said of President Bush: "I certainly hope he doesn't succeed."
The assault on President Bush worked in part because he made a lot of mistakes, in larger part because Mr. Bush didn't fight back.
None of this applies to Mr. Limbaugh. To describe him as "only" a radio talk-show host is like saying Babe Ruth was only a baseball player. But Mr. Limbaugh makes no claim to be a leader of the Republican Party.
Mr. Limbaugh's already impressive audience has ballooned since the attacks on him began. But, said Obama supporter Camille Paglia, the attacks on Rush have "made the White House look like an oafish bunch of drunken frat boys."
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The (Toledo) Blade ( firstname.lastname@example.org , 412 263-1476).