Passport

In honor of Saul Alinsky day, Hillary Clinton’s dark Alinskyite past

Happy Saul Alinsky Day everyone! The famed community organizer and writer would be 103 today and his legacy is still with us … in the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates. Newt Gingrich, in particular, has probably done more to popularize the Rules for Radicals author in the last couple of months than Alinsky’s own supporters ...

631667_120130_Saul_Alinsky_27.jpg

Happy Saul Alinsky Day everyone! The famed community organizer and writer would be 103 today and his legacy is still with us … in the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates.

Newt Gingrich, in particular, has probably done more to popularize the Rules for Radicals author in the last couple of months than Alinsky’s own supporters have in the 40 years since he died.  Gingrich has summed up his own campaign as “American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” (Some commentators have pointed out that of all the candidates in the race, Gingrich’s own establishment-baiting tactics may actually be the most Alinskyite.)

But Obama isn’t the first Democrat to be hit with the Alinskyite charge. In fact, the “Alinskyite” charge was basically invented to attack his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, while she was first lady — a charge that centered around her 1969 Wellesley College thesis on Alinsky. It didn’t really help that in 1993, under pressure from the White House, Wellesley adopted a rule under which “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,” a rule that in Wellesley’s 140-year history would only apply to one person. As MSNBC.com’s Bill Dedman wrote in 2007, the secrecy turned the thesis into something of a Holy Grail for Clinton’s critics:

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.”

Bill O’Reilly waved a few pages on Fox TV in 2003, chiding Wellesley for hiding Clinton’s analysis of a “far left” activist.

Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2005, decried the continued suppression of “the Rosetta Stone of Hillary studies.”

These days, Clinton’s Alinsky thesis is available online. While it may not quite be consistent with the middle-of-the-road Democratic policies Clinton went on to adopt, it’s bound to be a bit disappointing for anyone for evidence of Clinton’s subversive views. As Dedman writes, while Clinton admired Alinsky for putting progressive principals into practice:

In the end, she judged that Alinsky’s “power/conflict model is rendered inapplicable by existing social conflicts” — overriding national issues such as racial tension and segregation. Alinsky had no success in forming an effective national movement, she said, referring dismissively to “the anachronistic nature of small autonomous conflict.”

Clinton turned down a job offer from Alinsky after college, deciding instead to go to law school. 

Student writings, including Gingrich’s, are useful for tracing a politician’s intellectual development. Trying to cover up the thesis was, in retrospect, an absurdly self-defeating move by the Clintons. But it’s not exactly the Rosetta Stone of anything.

On the other hand, all the hype is doing wonders for Alinsky’s sales. Rules for Radicals, written in 1971 is now at #11 on Amazon’s politics bestsellers list, two spots ahead of longtime Alinsky interpreter Glenn Beck’s new book. (For what it’s worth, some Tea Party activists have also taken inspiration from Alinsky’s organizing tactics.)

If a new generation of American college students soon find themselves in thrall to Alinsky’s ideas, just as Obama and Clinton were generations before, Newt Gingrich probably deserves the lion’s share of the credit. 

A decade of Global Thinkers

A decade of Global Thinkers

The past year's 100 most influential thinkers and doers Read Now

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola