Essay — From the November 2014 issue

Stop Hillary!

Vote no to a Clinton dynasty

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Hillary Rodham grew up in the affluent Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois. In her child-rearing manual, It Takes a Village (1996), she recalls that her family “looked like it was straight out of the 1950s television sitcom Father Knows Best.

Hillary has a long history of being economical with the truth.2 One can forgive her reticence about sharing the traumas of her childhood, which included her father cutting down his brother’s corpse from a noose. But it was not the stuff of sitcoms. As Gail Sheehy reports, Hugh Rodham was an “authoritarian drillmaster,” a reactionary who demanded austerity, discipline, and self-reliance. Displays of emotion were regarded as signs of weakness. Her mother, Dorothy Rodham, fought loudly with her husband — but ultimately put up with him, as Hillary would with her future husband.

2 Discussing her voluminous but minimally informative memoir Living History (2003), Carl Bernstein noted that it was mostly valuable for its “insight into how Hillary sees herself and wants the story of her life to be told. It is often at variance with my reporting, other books, and with newspapers and periodicals as well.”

Hillary absorbed the conservatism of her father and her surroundings. In junior high, she fell under the influence of a history teacher, Paul Carlson, a frothing McCarthyite. As Carlson told Sheehy, the young Hillary was “a hawk.”

Soon after, though, she found another guru, one she would stick with for years — a young minister at the First Methodist Church of Park Ridge named Don Jones. Jones was a dashing intellectual who helped open Hillary’s mind. He got the church youth reading D. H. Lawrence, listening to Bob Dylan, and talking about Picasso. He took them to the South Side of Chicago to meet with black and Latino teenagers. In January 1963, Jones upped the ante further and brought Hillary to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Chicago — and escorted her onstage to meet him. She was moved, but not enough to stop her from campaigning for Goldwater in 1964.

Then she was off to Wellesley, where she eventually began to feel alienated from what she called “the entire unreality of middle-class America.” Still, Hillary was not about to become a student revolutionary: identifying herself as an “agnostic intellectual liberal [and] emotional conservative,” she stayed away from the protests and picket lines.

Hillary wrote her undergraduate thesis on the founder of community organizing, Saul Alinsky. Her academic adviser, Alan Schechter, told Bill’s biographer David Maraniss that she “started out thinking community action programs would make a big difference,” but later dismissed them as “too idealistic and simplistic” and compromised by their dependence on outside money and help. There’s an interesting hint of Hillary’s future in her characterization of Alinsky’s thinking: “Welfare programs since the New Deal have neither redeveloped poverty areas nor even catalyzed the poor into helping themselves. A cycle of dependency has been created which ensnares its victims into resignation and apathy.” While there’s an element of truth to this, Alinsky’s remedy was for poor people to claim political power on their own behalf. Hillary, as we have already seen, would instead support welfare “reform” in the 1990s, leaving single mothers at the mercy of the low-wage job market.

During Hillary’s senior year, a movement arose to have a student speaker at graduation, and she was universally seen as the one for the job. Her remarks, though enthusiastically received, were meandering. What stands out, however, is this remarkable passage:

We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty. But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living.

3 Bill, another pragmatist to the core, hit a similarly emotional note during a 1993 speech to the National Realtors Association, in which he quoted some cherished lines by Carl Sandburg: “A tough will counts. So does desire. / So does a rich soft wanting. / Without rich wanting nothing arrives.” That’s right. Under all that duplicity and ambition, they’re just a pair of romantics.

That is not the Hillary we know today.3 But the practical Hillary has always had a gift for overruling the ecstatic and penetrating Hillary: when Alinsky offered her an organizing job after college, she rejected it in favor of law school. He said, “Well, that’s no way to change anything.” She responded: “Well, I see a different way from you. And I think there is a real opportunity.”

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is the editor and publisher of the Left Business Observer and the author most recently of After the New Economy (The New Press).

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