Hillary Clinton: Past And Present
(All emphases by Always On Watch)
This is a long read, so settle in.
On Friday, May 25, 2007, the Washington Post carried the story of the two recent books about Hillary Clinton in a front-page, above-the-fold article.
Two new books on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York ["A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton" by Carl Bernstein and "Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton" by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.] offer fresh and often critical portraits of the Democratic presidential candidate that depict a tortured relationship with her husband and her past and challenge the image she has presented on the campaign trail.Read the entire article here.
The Hillary Clinton who emerges from the pages of the books comes across as a complicated, sometimes compromised figure who tolerated Bill Clinton's brazen infidelity, pursued her policy and political goals with methodical drive, and occasionally skirted along the edge of the truth along the way. The books portray her as alternately brilliant and controlling, ambitious and victimized.
The Clinton campaign has nervously awaited publication of the books for fear they would include a bombshell revelation or, at the very least, revive memories of less-savory moments in the couple's rise to power. The books, both by longtime journalists and both obtained by The Washington Post yesterday, include a number of assertions and anecdotes that could confront her campaign with unwelcome questions....
But even before the Washington Post released the above article, this Newsweek column by Anna Quindlen [Bio here; you may recognize her as the author of another kind of material as well] mentioned another problem with Hillary's electability.
Excerpt from Ms. Quindlen's recent column:
The truth is that Senator Clinton has a woman problem, but it's not the one we all might have envisioned decades ago....In the first Republican presidential debate, moderator Chris Matthews asked the contenders how they would feel about having Bill Clinton back in the White House. In a single sentence he turned the Democratic front runner into the Little Woman, a mere adjunct to her husband.In her editorial, Ms. Quindlen criticizes how American voters have made their choices in the past, particularly that of our current President. She maintains that voters base their votes on something else:
...In her case the machine is so well oiled and she is so polished, so practiced, that authenticity seems to have fallen by the wayside. The fantasy was that the first woman president would be someone who would turn the whole lousy system inside out and upside down. Instead the first significant woman contender is someone who seems to have the system down to a fine art.
...Her human traits are too seldom on display. At political events, women speak of what it was like when they met her—at a small fund-raiser, in a school auditorium. How personable she was, how she really listened, how she knew everything about the issues that concerned them, from services for the aging to autism. The great conundrum of Hillary Clinton has always been this disconnect between the woman with the bright eyes and the deep belly laugh and the polished debater with the Sermon on the Mount posture and the tight mouth....
Recent elections suggest that Americans are often interested in something quite different in a candidate than they ultimately require in a president. That's how the country wound up with a commander in chief chosen because he was the kind of guy people wanted to have a beer with, a Dude Prez who finds it appropriate to give the female German chancellor a surprise shoulder massage in the middle of a world summit.Ms. Quindlen ends her commentary with this sentence:
But perhaps this time around, no matter who runs and who wins, Americans will figure out that they are electing a president, not a drinking buddy.In her pointed style, Ms. Quindlen has managed to issue quite an insult to American voters and has found a way to explain the election of candidates whom she herself did not support. Also, she has managed to imply that if Hillary Clinton doesn't receive the nomination, an injustice will have been done to the political leader whom voters should elect. In effect, her column is plea to women voters to give up an attainable fantasy as to what a woman running for the office of President should be:
It wasn't supposed to be like this. When we were parsing the possibility, dreaming the dream, cruising past President Barbie in her jaunty tricolor accent scarf in the aisles of Evolved Toys, we imagined the endgame: a woman at the podium and the distaff side of the aisle going nuts, seeing decades of slow, steady progress embodied in a single individual. Good morning, Ms. President.It is, of course, too early to know who will be running on either Party's ticket in 2008. My best friend, who typically votes Republican but is quite objective in her discernment of the political scene, doesn't believe that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party candidate in 2008. My friend's reasoning: "Hillary is toxic." My friend is primarily referring to Mrs. Clinton's lack of charisma, but she's also referring to Hillary's political views, which upon close scrutiny are further left than Ms. Quindlen's assertions that Hillary is centrist and pragmatic.
The moment has arrived when a woman could well be the Democratic nominee: Hillary Rodham Clinton, smart, experienced, sure-handed. "Help make history!" her Web site says. So how come the response has been so guarded? Where are the cheers and the confetti?
...[I]n some weird fashion, the woman thing, as we like to call it, is playing a larger role among her natural supporters than her opponents. When we imagined a woman president we imagined a new day, a new strategy, a new vision and new tactics. Even when we said it was unfair to hold women to a higher standard than their male counterparts, in our hearts we did, whether they were running companies (more family-friendly policies and humane workplace conditions), editing newspapers (human-interest and service stories) or practicing medicine (patient contact and engagement)....
This May 29, 2007 story indicates that Hillary's views are not centrist:
Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton outlined a broad economic vision Tuesday, saying it's time to replace an "on your own" society with one based on shared responsibility and prosperity.[Read The City Troll's commentary on the above article. He's done quite a dissection with his rant!]
The Democratic senator said what the Bush administration touts as an ownership society really is an "on your own" society that has widened the gap between rich and poor.
"I prefer a 'we're all in it together' society," she said. "I believe our government can once again work for all Americans. It can promote the great American tradition of opportunity for all and special privileges for none."
That means pairing growth with fairness, she said, to ensure that the middle-class succeeds in the global economy, not just corporate CEOs.
"There is no greater force for economic growth than free markets. But markets work best with rules that promote our values, protect our workers and give all people a chance to succeed," she said. "Fairness doesn't just happen. It requires the right government policies."
Clinton spoke at the Manchester School of Technology, which trains high school students for careers in the construction, automotive, graphic arts and other industries. The school highlighted one of the nine goals she outlined: increasing support for alternative schools and community colleges.
"We have sent a message to our young people that if you don't go to college ... that you're thought less of in America. We have to stop this," she said.
Beyond education, Clinton said she would reduce special breaks for corporations, eliminate tax incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas and open up CEO pay to greater public scrutiny.
Clinton also said she would help people save more money by expanding and simplifying the earned income tax credit; create new jobs by pursuing energy independence; and ensure that every American has affordable health insurance.
Beyond education, Clinton said she would reduce special breaks for corporations, eliminate tax incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas and open up CEO pay to greater public scrutiny.
In 1965, the average corporate chief executive earned 24 times as much as the average worker, she said. By 2005, it was 262 times as much. In the last six years, productivity has increased, but family incomes have gone down, she said, leading to rising inequality and pessimism in the work force.
"It's not as if America hasn't been successful these last six years, but the measure of success does not relate to what's happening in households across our country," she said. "It's like trickle down economics, without the trickle."
Hillary Clinton's senior thesis, written when she attended Wellesley College and locked away from public access until recently, is another indication, albeit an early one, that she holds views not in line with American views. Excerpt from this source:
The senior thesis of Hillary D. Rodham, Wellesley College class of 1969, has been speculated about, spun, analyzed, debated, criticized and defended. But rarely has it been read, because for the eight years of Bill Clinton’s presidency it was locked away.
As forbidden fruit, the writings of a 21-year-old college senior, examining the tactics of radical community organizer Saul D. Alinsky, have gained mythic status among her critics — a “Rosetta Stone,” in the words of one, that would allow readers to decode the thinking of the former first lady and 2008 presidential candidate.
Wellesley's president, Nannerl Overholser Keohane, approved a broad rule with a specific application: The senior thesis of every Wellesley alumna is available in the college archives for anyone to read -- except for those written by either a "president or first lady of the United States." So far, that action has sealed precisely one document: Hillary Rodham’s senior honors thesis in political science, entitled " ‘There Is Only the Fight...’: An Analysis of the Alinsky Model."
Many authors on the long shelf of unsympathetic Clinton biographies have envisioned the thesis as evidence of Marxist or socialist views held by young Hillary — or conversely as proof of her political agnosticism, a lack of any ideology besides a brutal willingness to attack opponents and accumulate power in the Alinsky style.
David Brock, in his 1996 biography, "The Seduction of Hillary Rodham," called her "Alinsky's daughter."
Barbara Olson, the conservative lawyer and commentator, used an Alinsky quote to open every chapter of her 1999 book, "Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton." Olson, who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, had charged in her book that the thesis was locked away because Clinton "does not want the American people to know the extent to which she internalized and assimilated the beliefs and methods of Saul Alinsky."
The confident young student took her thesis title — “There Is Only the Fight...” — from T.S. Eliot:
"There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again."
She began with a feminist jab at the clichés of male authors: "Although I have no ‘loving wife’ to thank for keeping the children away while I wrote, I do have many friends and teachers who have contributed to the process of thesis-writing.” She thanks particularly “Mr. Alinsky for providing a topic, sharing his time and offering me a job.”
Hillary Diane Rodham already had covered a great deal of ideological territory when she sat down to assess Alinsky's tactics.
She grew up as a Goldwater Republican, like her father, in the middle-class Chicago suburb of Park Ridge. By the time she was a freshman at Wellesley, when she was elected president of the College Republicans, her concern with civil rights and the war in Vietnam put her closer to the moderate-liberal wing of the GOP led by Nelson Rockefeller. By her junior year, she had to be talked by her professor into taking an internship with Rep. Gerald R. Ford and the House Republican Caucus. In her senior year, she was campaigning for the anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy.
"I sometimes think that I didn't leave the Republican Party," she has written, "as much as it left me."
Elected president of the Wellesley student government, she worked closely with the administration to increase black enrollment, to relax rules on curfews for the Wellesley girls and to give students more freedom in choosing their courses.
Saul David Alinsky would have thought that tame stuff. The old Jewish radical was famous as a community organizer from Chicago's Back of the Yards, the home of stockyard workers made famous by Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." From the late 1930s until his death in 1972, Alinsky crisscrossed the country, stirring the have-nots — poor whites and blacks — to demand power from the haves.
The hell-raiser's witty provocations were famous. One of his threatened “actions,” to unsettle the upper-crust audience at the Rochester symphony, was to have protesters buy 300 to 400 tickets, but first to gather for a big baked-bean dinner. He called the idea a "fart-in." It never happened, according to biographer Sanford D. Horwitt, though Alinsky loved to tell the story as if it had.
But Alinsky was no mere showman. He was a sometimes brutal seeker of power for others, schooling radicals with maxims such as "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it."
Rodham opened the thesis by casting Alinsky as he cast himself, in a “peculiarly American” tradition of democrats, from Thomas Paine through Martin Luther King. “Democracy is still a radical idea,” she wrote, “in a world where we often confuse images with realities, words with actions.”
And yet, she continued, “Much of what Alinsky professes does not sound ‘radical.’ His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them and recognizes the necessity of changing the present structures of our lives in order to realize them.”
In her paper, she accepted Alinsky's view that the problem of the poor isn't so much a lack of money as a lack of power, as well as his view of federal anti-poverty programs as ineffective....
In formal academic language, Rodham offered a “perspective” or muted critique on Alinsky's methods, sometimes leaving unclear whether she was quoting his critics or stating her own opinion....
Rodham closed her thesis by emphasizing that she reserved a place for Alinsky in the pantheon of social action — seated next to Martin Luther King, the poet-humanist Walt Whitman, and Eugene Debs, the labor leader now best remembered as the five-time Socialist Party candidate for president.
“In spite of his being featured in the Sunday New York Times," she wrote of Alinsky, "and living a comfortable, expenses-paid life, he considers himself a revolutionary. In a very important way he is. If the ideals Alinsky espouses were actualized, the result would be social revolution. Ironically, this is not a disjunctive projection if considered in the tradition of Western democratic theory. In the first chapter it was pointed out that Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio/political philosophy. As such, he has been feared — just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths — democracy.”
Hillary Rodham (who wasn't the valedictorian of the Wellesley class of '69, no matter what Wikipedia has said since July 9, 2005) was indeed an honors student and received an A on the thesis after her oral defense of it that May, recalls professor Schechter, who was one of the three graders.
Her options after graduation were attending law school at Harvard or Yale, traveling to India on a Fulbright scholarship, or taking the job with Alinsky's new training institute, which would have allowed her to live in Park Ridge with her parents, Hugh and Dorothy Rodham, and commute into Chicago.
“His offer of a place in the new institute was tempting,” she wrote in the end notes to the thesis, “but after spending a year trying to make sense out of his inconsistency, I need three years of legal rigor.” She enrolled at Yale that fall, a year ahead of a charming Rhodes Scholar from Arkansas.
“I agreed with some of Alinsky's ideas,” she explained in “Living History,” her 2003 biography, “particularly the value of empowering people to help themselves. But we had a fundamental disagreement. He believed you could change the system only from the outside. I didn't.”
Clinton's friendly biographers, without being able to read the thesis in the 1990s, have downplayed the Alinsky connection. Judith Warner's "Hillary Clinton: The Inside Story" managed to describe the thesis without once mentioning Alinsky, whose name appears on every page. Gail Sheehy's "Hillary's Choice" gave the thesis a benign new title, “Aspect of the War on Poverty,” describing it as merely an examination of federal anti-poverty programs in Chicago.
Can a college research paper really be the Rosetta Stone to deciphering a candidate's politics or character?
“It's a moronic statement,” said Hillary Rodham's thesis adviser, Alan Schechter, now an emeritus professor at Wellesley, as well as a friend and campaign contributor to Sen. Clinton.
“The notion that a 21-year-old idealist somehow remains a 21-year-old idealist their whole life — she's not a radical at all. I think she's very mainstream. She's a pragmatist. She's a much more thoughtful, cautious, careful, pragmatic person — she's been burned so often.”
Still, the fact remains that Hillary D. Rodham's senior thesis was locked away by special exception to Wellesley's own rule. If Mrs. Clinton no longer believed in what she wrote, why didn't she just say so and chalk up some of the statements she made long ago to youthful idealism?
In her campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination for the 2008 National Election, Hillary Clinton is currying the American public for votes, including but not limited to the women's vote. But she is what she is in her personal history, and her political views are what they are, even now and independent of what she wrote in her senior thesis at Wellesley. As I see it, the Democratic Party will ultimately be reticent to nominate her for President, even though Mrs. Clinton has obviously spent much of her adult life and a great deal of money in preparing to govern from that chair behind the desk in the Oval Office.
Note: The above article from MSNBC contains the following paragraph:
A decade later, another political science major started out on the path that Hillary Rodham had rejected, going to work for a group in the Alinsky mold. That was Barack Obama, now a U.S. senator from Illinois and her leading opponent for the Democratic nomination. After attending Columbia University, he worked as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago for the Developing Communities Project. Obama and others of the post-Alinsky generation described their work in the 1990 book “After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois,” in which Obama wrote that he longed for ways to close the gap between community organizing and national politics. After three years of organizing, he turned to Harvard Law School and then the Illinois legislature.Odd how Alinsky's name keeps coming up.
Additional reading: Wiki on Alinsky