Hillary Rodham was, famously, a Goldwater Girl in high school. However, as David Brock showed in his 1996 book “The Seduction of Hillary Rodham,” she was a Rockefeller Republican when she arrive at Wellesley College. By the time she graduated, Hillary was a far-left radical.
Brock connects Hillary’s radicalism with the teachings of two extreme left-wingers of the day: Carl Oglesby and Saul Alinsky. Oglesby, a Marxist theoretician who became head of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), wrote for a radical magazine called motive, to which Hillary Rodham subscribed.
In a 1994 article in Newsweek, Hillary said she still had every issue of motive she received. According to Brock, she mentioned a piece by Oglesby that made an indelible mark on her. The piece was called “World Revolution and American Containment.”
In this piece, Oglesby asked, “What would be so obviously wrong about a Vietnam run by Ho Chi Minh [or] a Cuba by Castro. . .?” Oglesby also described the world he believed the U.S. wants:
[A] world safe for the American businessman to do his doings everywhere on terms always advantageous, in environments always protected by friendly or puppet oligarchies, by the old foreign grads of Fort Benning — or if push comes to shove, by the Marines themselves.
We want a world integrated in terms of the stability of labor, resources, production, and markets; and we want that integrated world to be managed by our business people. The United States, that, is an imperialist power.
This was the foreign policy analysis that Hillary Rodham found persuasive in 1966. And it was the analysis that Hillary Rodham Clinton apparently still considered impressive in 1994.
As for domestic politics, Saul Alinsky, leftist agitator and author of Rules for Radicals, was Hillary Rodham’s mentor. As her faculty adviser recalls, she “read all of Alinsky, and she was able to go and see him.”
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Hillary was involved in bringing Alinsky to Wellesley to speak. She also interviewed him for her senior thesis, an analysis of Lyndon Johnson’s Community Action Program. Known as CAP, this was an anti-poverty program based on the idea of the federal government circumventing local politicians to some extent, and empowering radical community activists (or community organizers, if you prefer).
Alinsky’s thinking had inspired CAP. However, he was highly critical of the program because he thought it did not sufficiently empower the poor.
Hillary Rodham’s thesis was under lock and key at Wellesley when Brock wrote his book and, to my knowledge, still is. However, in 1993, she told the Washington Post that “I basically argued that [Alinsky] was right. . . .You know, I’ve been on this kick for 25 years.”
When Hillary Rodham graduated from college in 1969, Alinsky offered her a paid position as a trainee with a new institute he had founded to train activists. Alinsky died in 1972, but his institute would endure, helping to train generations of “community organizers.”
Hillary turned down Alinsky’s offer, opting instead for law school. In an interview with the Chicago Times, she said she agreed with Alinsky about the need to obtain political power with which to push for more radical change than the Great Society envisaged. However, she questioned whether fighting for such power from outside the system would work. As she put it, Alinsky’s approach would not go over well with “the kind of people I grew up with in Park Ridge.”
According to Brock, Hillary believed, instead, that the political power needed to bring about radical change could be seized by working within the system. Events have, I think, proven her correct up to a point.
What are we to make of Hillary Rodham’s radicalism? Plenty of college students in the 1960s flirted with these views. More than a few embraced the anti-Americanism of Carl Oglesby and/or the domestic leftism of Saul Alinsky.
However, Brock demonstrated through Hillary Rodham Clinton’s interviews with Newsweek and the Washington Post that she was still under these influences 25 years after graduating from college. As she said with regard to Alinsky’s critique of LBJ’s left-liberal Great Society, she has been on this kick for 25 years.
Has Hillary Clinton gotten off her left-wing “kicks” in the past 20 years? As a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, she has not behaved as an uber-leftist. But to have behaved that way would have damaged her quest for political power — it would not have gone over well with the people she grew up with in Park Ridge.
Barack Obama’s example seems instructive. Initially, for example, he opposed gay marriage and executive amnesty, almost certainly in order to maintain his political viability. Now, he has shed these positions.
Hillary Clinton is also shedding. For example, she too has flipped on gay marriage and is no longer an avowed free-trader.
Some speculate that Hillary is moving leftward to improve her standing with the Democratic base. That’s quite possible, although she is running all but unopposed for her party’s nomination.
I think it’s likely — and not inconsistent with ascribing a political motive to her leftward tacking — that Hillary Clinton retains much of the radicalism that Hillary Rodham embraced in the late 1960s and that Hillary Rodham Clinton boasted of in the mid 1990s. At a minimum, it’s fair to ask her when she first rejected the thinking of Carl Oglesby and Saul Alinsky, whether the rejection is complete, and what prompted the rejection.
Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton isn’t answering questions more innocuous than these. Lately, in fact, she’s not answering questions at all.
It’s also fair to wonder whether, having compromised on so much over the years — both politically and personally — a President Hillary Clinton would want badly to reassert herself as Hillary Rodham, girl radical.
Brock wrote that because of her compromises, “Hillary’s struggle to preserve her dignity and integrity has become the central drama of her life.” I shudder to contemplate seeing this drama played out in the Oval Office.