In this June 6, 2020, file photo, Black Lives Matter protesters rally on the steps of Portland City Hall just before 1 a.m. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.

Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” captured the popular imagination during the Obama administration.  

Then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama described himself as a “community organizer” during his presidential campaign. Alinsky’s tome was intended to be a guidebook for those pursuing the path trod by Obama in his early years.

Alinsky’s 13th and final rule was: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

Some folks in our state are taking that advice to heart.

Example  No. 1 is the newly elected member of the Portland Charter Commission Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef. Less than 24 hours after the election results came in, she called Portland City Manager Jon Jennings a “white surpremacist.” Six times.

Shiekh-Yousef was chosen by Portlanders, no doubt. Prior to the election, she was a leader with the Black Lives Matter organization, evolving into a group known as “Black P.O.W.E.R.”

She wrote an opinion piece claiming that the existence of the city manager position is a vestige of “white supremacy.” However, like most politicians, she emblazoned her campaign website with the aspiration tagline: “Portland for all.”

Who would be against that?

Yet, before the sun set the following day, she descended into direct, personal accusations against the individual holding the title of city manager. She found her target, froze it, personalized it and polarized it.

When Mayor Kate Snyder and City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau — who is also Black — spoke out against Shiekh-Yousef’s defamation of Jennings, Shiekh-Yousef responded by calling them “puppets.”  

It is telling that Sheikh-Yousef did not directly demonize Jennings in this way before ballots were cast. The resounding rebuke that has followed might jeopardize her candidacy.

There is plenty of debate to be had around the structure of municipal governments.democratic socialists have been attacking Portland’s “council-manager” form of government as a legacy of the Ku Klux Klan.  

I’ve noted previously that the “council-manager” form of government exists in just about every Maine city. So, unless democratic socialists are willing to take the logical step and accuse Bangor, Lewiston, Biddeford and Eastport of also having “racist” charters, the argument appears inconsistent, at best.

Example No. 2 appeared in the Bangor Daily News back on June 3. The so-called Pine Tree Power Co. proposal has engendered a lot of passion. Opponents believe Maine’s existing utility regime remains viable; proponents seek to remove Central Maine Power and Versant Power in favor of a new, nonprofit quasi-governmental authority.

It should be fertile ground for robust, in-depth policy debate. However, it too has fallen from that lofty perch. Sam May’s June 3 column insinuated former Gov. John Baldacci, Tilson Technology CEO Joshua Broder and Carlise McLean, a former commissioner on the Maine Public Utilities Commission, all oppose the “Pine Tree Power” proposal because they are on the utilities’ dole.

There is a reason “ad hominem” attacks are a logical fallacy. They don’t engage with the substance of an idea; rather, they attempt to discredit by attacking the motives or character of proponents. It’s exactly why Alinsky came up with “Rule 13.”  

Homo economicus is a Platonic — or Stoic, or Vulcan — ideal where individuals always react logically to information and events. But that isn’t real life. We have emotions, experiences and biases that inform our thoughts on policy matters. Playing to our nonrational side can be politically advantageous.

Yet, as Americans, our calling is to overcome these base attributes and do the hard work of deep thought. Name calling and ad hominem attacks should not have a place in our public discourse. No matter who does it.  

Let’s abandon “Rules for Radicals” in favor of “Rules of Reason.” God gave us intellect. He expects us to use it.

Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.