The right side of the political Internet is all aflutter over a story in The Washington Free Beacon connecting Hillary Clinton, circa the late 1960s, with infamous socialist fomenter Saul Alinsky. The Beacon offers “previously unpublished correspondence” between the two as a gateway to fresh insights about Clinton’s evolving political philosophy before she became somebody.
The Clinton-Alinsky letters reportedly demonstrate Hillary’s sympathy for Alinsky’s brand of social agitation, particularly since she appears to have initiated their ongoing dialog. While interning at a Berkeley, Calif. law firm in 1971, Clinton fired off this playful/serious missive:
“Dear Saul,” she began. “When is that new book [Rules for Radicals] coming out—or has it come and I somehow missed the fulfillment of Revelation?”
“I have just had my one-thousandth conversation about Reveille [for Radicals] and need some new material to throw at people,” she added, a reference to Alinsky’s 1946 book on his theories of community organizing.
Clinton also buttered Alinsky up by professing her “belief in and zest for organizing” remained strong even after finishing law school and following a more mainstream career track.
This next passage has a ring of starry-eyed religious fervor – something we’ve come to expect in the language of Islamist zealots and theocrats on social media:
The more I’ve seen of places like Yale Law School and the people who haunt them, the more convinced I am that we have the serious business and joy of much work ahead—if the commitment to a free and open society is ever going to mean more than eloquence and frustration.
So did Alinsky respond? Not so much. His secretary did though, implying that Alinsky followed and admired his young would-be disciple. “Since I know [Alinsky’s] feelings about you I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn’t want something urgent to wait for two weeks,” Georgia Harper, Alinsky’s secretary, wrote Clinton.
All this is just an evolution of a protracted speculation about the link between Clinton and Alinsky – a line of thinking dating back at least as far as the presidency of Bill Clinton. As The Beacon story observes, Wellesley College honored the Clintons’ request to keep Hillary’s thesis discussing Alinsky’s tactics under wraps until 2001.
But just because it’s a small development doesn’t mean it’s insignificant, because connecting the dots between the Clintons’ formative political years with those who shaped their thinking will remain meaningful for as long as either Clinton seeks a public service role.
“Hillary has made much of the fact that she turned away from Alinskyite organizing to seek change from within the political system instead. What these new letters show is that this was also a change of means rather than ends,” National Review’s Stanley Kurtz wrote Monday.
“In this, Hillary has much in common with Obama and other modern Alinskyites. Alinsky wanted community organizers to shun electoral politics. Yet, as I showed in Radical-in-Chief, Alinsky’s New Left followers found ways to combine his methods with electoral politics. This synthesis of Alinskyism and electoral politics, pioneered by Alinsky’s acolytes in Chicago, is what inspired Obama’s career. Hillary was part of the same wave.”
More speculation about the extent to which Hillary straddles the line between an establishment Democrat and a progressive radical at heart… sounds like something worth paying attention to – at least for a few more years.