The Hillary Clinton Quarterly has been keeping up with Hillary's career since 1992 when she became First Lady. As Secretary of State, Hillary carries out the President's foreign policies through the State Department and the Foreign Service of the United States. She was sworn in as the 67th Secretary of State of the United States on January 21, 2009.
By Donna Schaper with Rake Morgan and Frank Marafiote contributing.
Edited by Frank Marafiote for the Internet.
(To read a PDF copy of the thesis, click here.)
With Hillary Clinton poised to win the Democratic nomination for president, questions about her intellectual and moral education abound. One of the major intellectual influences – perhaps an emotional one was well – was radical social philosopher and activist Saul Alinsky. As this story shows, Alinsky was both the ladder Hillary climbed to gain new perspectives on society – specifically the poor – and then, once there, a ladder she tossed aside when she no longer needed it.
Americans who graduated from high school in 1965 and college in 1969 were not just part of a population bubble — the “baby boomers” — but a cultural one as well. The children of the Sixties combined the typical young adult developmental cycle with a unique cycle in the life of this nation. They were not only trying to learn about dating, but also about foreign policy, ethics, and racism.
As we search for social influences on the First Lady, we have to begin in this context, in the unique mix of the public and private that served as her environment as a young woman. She was as marked by her chronological age and the Age of Aquarius as most Sixties people were — and she is probably where she is today because she was even more influenced by it than the rest of us.
It is no
accident that she chose to write about Saul Alinsky for her
senior thesis at
“Power to the people” is a phrase coined by him as much as by Stokeley Carmichael. Like the headband, Hillary abandoned much of what influenced her back then. But still this heavy identification with her age and THE age continued in bold form right after she completed her senior thesis.
people stood to applaud Hillary Clinton’s commencement
speech — the first one given by a student at
literal order of approval is important to our understanding
of Hillary Clinton. And surely it is one of the reasons
she’s shifted from her Sixties image to a more up-to-date
one. She learned early on that people interpret things by
their age. No one needs the tag of the Sixties any more. Her
repudiation of the tag is one of the reasons that
Probably because she had enough ballast psychologically and religiously from her family and church, she did not “drug out” during the Sixties. She was not one of the period’s casualties. But most Americans, including the younger ones, don’t understand this distinction yet about the Sixties. Say Sixties, and people today think, “drugged out.” Say Sixties, they think unshowered. Perpetual bad hair days. Hillary can’t afford the negative image of the Sixties. Thus she needed to leave as much of the Sixties behind her as possible. This repudiation of the Sixties began early in her life.
It’s the confusion in the public’s mind — not hers — that accounts for the distance she’s put between herself and her formative period. Alinsky’s thought has been badgered at the image level since the sixties. Say Alinsky and people think radical, that American word that now has a bad reputation.
Alinsky thought of himself as a radical in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey, Thomas Payne. He personified the American theory of pragmatism in his commitment to power. “Whatever works to get power to the people, use it.” That didn’t mean violence but rather serious attention to matters of power. Pact the meeting. Fill the streets. Flood the office with post cards. If that doesn’t work, find something that does, including humor.
point to gain attention from the
met Alinsky through the pastor at her high school church,
understand how Hillary developed her skills as an activist
we have to first understand her religious back ground. One
of 110 young people confirmed at the church at age 11, she
had an unusually rigorous religious preparation. It was
public instead of personal. That simple shift in perspective
was the key foundation for her, as a Goldwater activist
throughout high school and the daughter of a Republican. It
allowed her to have an open heart to the suffering she saw
Hillary acquired Alinsky ‘S pragmatism and his focus on strategy more than the humor and irreverence as a source for her own politics.
That she did, under the auspices of Rev. Jones, made not only the introduction to Alinsky possible, it also meant that she could hear firsthand what he had to say in a context that probably spoke louder than his words.
poverty she saw in
In a sense, she’s still in a conversation with Alinsky, who believed that the poor could be organized on their own behalf. Hillary Clinton still seems to believe that the middle classes can do things to make life easier for the poor, and that is the lever she pulls most often. Her decision about the best way to create change ultimately led her down a path that made her a senator; had she made the other decision — to organize the poor — she would not be in government, but rather in that place where she learned so much — the “streets.”
moderated the decisions she made, particularly since it was
based in the suburban world of
manipulation of both the poor and the church is the most
often repeated accusation against him. Nevertheless, Hillary
Clinton’s exposure to his ideas took place in a relatively
open setting, as a by product of the
Alinsky frequently used similar methods of experiential education — what Paolo Friere calls the”pedago - guey” of the oppressed. Here the oppressed were the teachers of those who were not oppressed. It was vintage Alinsky, borrowed by a young seminarian. Here we see the reason she eventually left behind both Alinsky and the Sixties. Her experience taught her to go other places. That the Sixties, Alinsky and religious faith taught her to learn from experience is the deeper and more enduring social source of her behavior.
told Donnie Radcliffe in
A First Lady for Our
Time that his goal with the youth group was “not just
about personal salvation and pious escapism, but also about
an authentic and deep quest for God and life’s meaning in
the midst of worldly existence.” Thanks to Jones’ emphasis
on the public aspect of religion, Hillary had the chance to
meet Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as Alinsky. Jones made
arrangements for his group to meet King after King preached
at the Sunday Evening Club in
We unfortunately know very little about Jones’ cohort at the church, Rosalie Benziger, the Christian Education director. Surely she had prepared even deeper ground for the encounter with Chicago, Alinsky, King and poverty in the curriculum used during Sunday School. What we do know about Benziger is that she was concerned about the students’ reaction to the Kennedy assassination, and that she sent a letter to the entire 3,000 member congregation hoping that they wouldn’t begin finding Communists under every rock. “We knew that the children would be traumatized....” she had said. Benziger was right. These children were traumatized for longer than a generation. What’s significant in terms of Hillary Clinton’s development is that few Christian Education directors at the time reacted in this way, with a both political point to protect and a pastoral concern for children. The childrens’ safe world had been invaded by a larger life, and it would continue to be throughout the Sixties.
would not have appealed to the Methodism in Hillary ‘s
personality. He was much too profane, cursing a blue streak,
smoking non-stop, and insulting many people who were as
earnest as she was. The
Sixties person can see some of these tendencies in Hillary.
Back then she would have been considered very serious, a
“straight arrow.” Alinsky would have excited these serious
tendencies with his own equally serious attention to matters
of strategy and tactics, and by his own serious streak,
which was a red hot concern for the poor. “Poverty is an
embarrassment to the American soul,” he said over and over
again. That was probably his only religious statement and it
was enough to make him serious allies with the church in
Hillary Clinton and Alinsky disagreed over the issue of localism. She did not believe the local was a large enough context for political action. For a suburban girl who already had a national candidate (Goldwater), that viewpoint was not surprising. For the poor that Alinsky loved, even a few blocks was too much. There were aspects of her middle class up bring that shaped her under standing of Slinky and his ideas.
to Allan Schuster, professor of Political Science at
Green, then professor of biblical history at
the two major influences on Hillary — religion and community
organizing — her biographer Donnie Radcliff has it about
right: religion probably meant more to Hillary than
organizing. It was public religion that integrated the
Sixties context and Alinsky’s focus on the poor and their
suffering. The principle of public religion was also
ratified by the
says that Alinsky recognized her talents as an organizer
Schecter also confirms Donnie Radcliffe’s belief that Hillary turned Alinsky down because her senior thesis convinced her that his methods were not “large” enough. She believed, according to Schecter’s interpretation of the thesis, that Alinsky’s tactics and strategies were useful at the local level, but that even if an activist were successful in local organizing, systemic policy matters on the national level would prevent actual power from going to people. She chose to work at the macro-level of law rather than the micro-level of community because of this analysis. Many Alinsky disciples acknowledge that this is a serious and frequent argument made against him.
Clinton went to law school in order to have an influence on
these larger and more difficult issues. Her motivation may
have been religious in that uniquely public way that Jones
taught her. She was not satisfied with the “right personal
faith” and was far more serious about finding a way to put
that faith into action. The
young woman to turn down this extremely macho man, and to
stand against him in theory as well as in practice, is
astonishing, particularly given the times and her young age.
Her assertion to Alinsky that confrontational tactics would
upset the kind of people she grew up with in
Perhaps this exchange explains why so many people find Hillary too assertive and aloof. She emulates Alinsky in the seriousness with which she accepts her mission — thus embodying his best teaching — and at the same time she distinguishes herself with her own point of view. As Schecter pointed out, she understood early on that poor people needed not just participation, but also structure and leadership. That she thought Alinsky could not provide that is surprising, but that is what she thought at that time. To have much more political sophistication in an 18 year- old would have been scary. Her thesis concluded that “organizing the poor for community actions to improve their own lives may have, in certain circumstances, short-term benefits for the poor but would never solve their major problems. You need much more than that. You need leadership, programs, constitutional doctrines.”
analysis ultimately led to law school and not back to the
example in a real political context shows her legal and
activist mind at work. Marshall Goldman, a
speech she made at her