January 17, 2008
Hillary's Choice: Political Power and AlinskyBy Andrew Walden
Hillary Clinton's praise for LBJ over Dr. King as a deliverer of civil rights reflects her own decision more than three decades ago to forgo a career as a Saul Alinsky organizer. Criticism from the camp of fellow Alinksy disciple Barack Obama may contain hints of irony, given his subsequent choices.
Speaking to FOX News correspondent Major Garrett, Clinton said
Analysts and critics fell all over Hillary's remarks. Some said she appeared to compare herself to Johnson and Senator Barack Obama to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Her seeming to give Johnson primacy over King is producing a backlash among black voters. Polls indicate a surge in support for Obama.
Many questioned whether Hillary's tears were real or contrived. They should read Hillary's 1969 Wellesley College Senior thesis. Kept under lock and key during her years as First Lady, Hillary's Wellesley College senior thesis has until last summer only been readable in person at the campus library and in a single microfilm copy made available to individual researchers on inter-library loan.
(Read Hillary's thesis in full on line here.)
Saul Alinsky, labeled "that rare specimen, the successful radical", is the subject of Hillary's thesis. Alinsky (1909-1972) was one of the nation's foremost community organizers, publishing several books and creating organizations which continue today. He gave a wide ranging Playboy Magazine interview shortly before his death. In it he gives a detailed description of his 1930s life as a communist fellow-traveler.
But what Hillary concluded from her study of Alinsky is that the power of elected officials is the key to radicals' victory -- exactly the point she made in New Hampshire about Johnson.
Describing Alinsky's Chicago "Back of the Yards Council" Hillary writes:
Describing a compromise worked out between another Alinsky community group known as "TWO" and the University of Chicago over University expansion plans, Hillary enthuses:
Ironically Barack Obama actually went to work as an Alinsky-style community organizer in Chicago, an opportunity which was offered by Alinsky to Hillary. She balked, instead choosing law school to prepare her career as an insider. She appended her blank application for Alinsky's "Industrial Areas Foundation" at the close of her thesis. Between the choices made by the two are the life paths of many leftists who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s-or in Obama's case, the 1980s.
As Hillary explains in her autobiography, "Living History":
No wonder Bill Clinton calls Obama's rhetoric a "fairy tale" -- Obama chose what Hillary rejected. The Clinton theme of "rhetoric vs. reality" flows directly from Hillary's choices 39 years ago.
She is The Great Helmswoman who creates "freedom" for the unenlightened by stirring up, from on high, as much continual political agitation as possible in the American version of cultural revolution. No wonder she is the most polarizing figure in American politics. When she says, "It took a president to get it done" she is merely reiterating her point.
Hillary almost seems to describe Bill Clinton -- whom she had not yet met -- when quoting The Economist magazine description of Alinsky as "Plato on the Barricades":
In her summary chapter tellingly titled, "Realizing Life after Birth", Hillary writes:
These "basic premises" and "broad areas of approach" lead Hillary directly to her decision to reject low-level community organizing and instead go on to law school, hook up with Bill Clinton and finally prepare for the life which culminates in her current run for the White House.
One need not wonder why the ill-defined concept of "change" is the touchstone of both Democratic Presidential contenders. For Hillary, Obama and Alinsky "change" is "life after birth".
Hillary quotes Alinsky's 1967 speech, "Is their life after birth?". She explains: The central problem in the late twentieth century according to Alinsky was the,
Who is a free man? Alinsky explains:
For Hillary as Alinsky, freedom and even life itself is defined as full time political activity.
In Hillary and Alinsky's eyes, the rest of humanity is not free and perhaps does not even qualify as "alive." This perhaps explains why leftist radicals openly describe themselves as "conscious, enlightened, and progressive" and others as "ignorant."
What is a radical? Hillary quotes Alinsky:
Hillary titles her thesis, "There is only the fight"-logical since "the fight" is the essence of "life after birth". She takes the line from the TS Eliot poem "East Coker" excerpted on the inside cover page.
Eliot's poem reiterates the theme Hillary interprets as equating political struggle with life itself and even disassociates struggle from its usually disastrous results:
The point of contention between Clinton and Obama is a farcical version of the difference between Johnson and King. Clinton and Obama merely studied and dabbled in what Johnson and King and even Alinsky did -- yet those studies and dabblings are what the electorate is invited to choose between. One writer commented to The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, "The principal difference between Hillary and Obama is not race or gender at all, but Saul Alinsky." Not exactly.
The real difference is that Hillary was earlier to discern that the power of elected officials is the key to radicals' victory. By running for public office, Obama now implicitly agrees. Whether as street corner agitator, Senator or candidate, they both embody ideology as a substitute for life.
For years they have been playing out the roles which they chose in youthful decisions to join or not join Alinsky's organization. They are both arguing about the slightly different paths of their "life after birth" -- even as both have come to the same conclusion.
Hillary sums up her decision to become a national political leader in the closing paragraphs of her thesis:
Democrats are not debating the need for any ‘revolution'. The only question put to Democrats is: Which Alinskyite will lead it?