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.
"I would point to the fact that that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the President before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality; the power of that dream became a real in people's lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it, and actually got it accomplished."
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:
"For the last thirty years the hope expressed by the Council's motto has often been realized as the carefully nurtured community power in Back of the Yards affected the city, the state, and even the nation. However much of the community's influence is traceable not to its ‘burning passion' but to its most illustrious resident, Mayor Richard J Dailey.
"Mayor Dailey's assumption of political power in the early 1950s curiously parallels the Council's growth in power." (p 21-22)
Describing a compromise worked out between another Alinsky community group known as "TWO" and the University of Chicago over University expansion plans, Hillary enthuses:
"Mayor Dailey's personal tete a tete method of dealing with political crises deserves careful study. Groups war with one another for years until brought together in his auspicious presence in some back room in the city hall. After a few hours of undisclosed activity everyone emerges smiling."
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":
"I agreed with some of Alinsky's ideas, 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. Later he offered me the chance to work with him when I graduated from college, and he was disappointed that I decided instead to go to law school. Alinsky said I would be wasting my time, but my decision was an expression of my belief that the system could be changed from within."
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":
"(Alinsky's) charm lies in his ability to commit himself completely to the people in the room with him. In a shrewd though subtle way he often manipulates them while speaking directly to their experiences. Still he is a man totally at ease with himself, mainly because he loves his work which always seems to be changing -- new communities, new contests, new fights." (pg 53)
In her summary chapter tellingly titled, "Realizing Life after Birth", Hillary writes:
"...both Alinsky and his model are continuing to evolve. Although his basic premises such as the primacy of power and the unavoidability of a relative morality are unchanged, his approach to the problem of redistributing power has shifted since his days as a labor organizer. These shifts are not easily categorized, but they fall into two broad areas; his rethinking the meaning of community and the role of centralized national planning in social change."
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,
"...maintenance and development of that political mechanism which carries the best promise for a way of life that would enable individuals to secure their identity, have the opportunity to grow and achieve being as free men...."
Who is a free man? Alinsky explains:
"The free man is one who would break loose from the terrestrial, chronological existence of security and status and take off into the adventure which is life with its passions, drama, risks, dangers, creative joys, and the ability to change with change." (pg 69)
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:
"They are a people creating a new bridge of mankind in between the past of narrow nationalistic chauvinism and the horizon of a new mankind-a people of the world." (pg. 4)
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:
"There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and new, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
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:
"The Depression demonstrated the feasibility of federally controlled planning and a massive war effort convinced us of its necessity. Now we are no longer so convinced. Cries for decentralization are attacking the roots of the managerial garrison state. They are not easily ignored nor easily interpreted. [....]
"...Decentralization and democracy are not synonyms as those who use the words interchangeably would have us believe. There are still too many inequalities in our system for political scientists or demonstrating students to adopt the ‘doing one's own thing' theory of participation. [....]
"Alinksy, ever consistent in his inconsistency, recently expanded his radical commitment to the eradication of powerless poverty and the injection of meaning into affluence. His new aspect, national planning, derives from the necessity of entrusting social change to institutions, specifically the United States Government. [....]
"If the ideals Alinsky espouses were actualized, the result would be social revolution."
Democrats are not debating the need for any ‘revolution'. The only question put to Democrats is: Which Alinskyite will lead it?