Alana Goodman’s revelation at the Washington Free Beacon of previously unknown correspondence between Hillary Clinton and Saul Alinsky shows that Clinton has not been honest about her far-left past. The lost Alinsky letters also remind us of what we ought to know but have forgotten: Hillary is not “Clintonian.”
While Bill and Hillary have worked, schemed, and governed as a couple for decades, Hillary has always been to the left of Bill. As president, she would govern more like Obama than like her husband.
Hillary Clinton was the Elizabeth Warren of her day, the leader of the left-wing of the Democratic party. Hillary continually pressed Bill from the left during their White House years, while clashing on the inside with Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and the administration’s Wall Street contingent.
The difference between Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren is that Warren flouts her ideology, thrilling the base by making the leftist case as few other Democrats dare. Ever the Alinskyite, Hillary prefers to achieve leftist ends incrementally, in pragmatic guise.
It’s a conflict of means rather than ends, the same conflict that leads many leftists to doubt Obama’s ideological credentials, when in fact the president is as much a man of the left as ever. Alinsky’s original quarrel with the young radicals of the 1960s, which Hillary alludes to in her letter, was over the New Left’s tendency to make noise rather than get things done. Working effectively, Alinsky believed, requires ideological stealth, gradualism, and pragmatic cover. In his day, Alinsky took hits from more openly leftist ideologues for his incrementalist caution, as Obama and Hillary do now. Yet he was no more a centrist than his two most famous acolytes are today.
Glenn Reynolds links to a tweet in response to the Goodman story by Politico’s Glenn Thrush: “Remind me again why liking Saul Alinsky is unacceptable.” Alright Glenn, and the rest of a Democratic-leaning media that will do everything in its power to play this revelation down, I’ll remind you.
Alinsky was a democratic socialist. He worked closely for years with Chicago’s Communist party and did everything in his power to advance its program. Most of his innovations were patterned on Communist-party organizing tactics. Alinsky was smart enough never to join the party, however. From the start, he understood the dangers of ideological openness. He was a pragmatist, but a pragmatist of the far left.
Hillary Clinton understood all of this. As she noted at the conclusion of her undergraduate thesis on Alinsky, “If the ideals Alinsky espouses were actualized, the result would be social revolution.” In her letter to Alinsky, Hillary says, “I have just had my one-thousandth conversation” about Reveille for Radicals (Alinsky’s first book). Nowadays, people focus on Alinsky’s more famous follow-up, Rules for Radicals. But Reveille, which Hillary knew inside-out, is the more ideologically revelatory work.
Here’s how Alinsky defined his favored politics in Reveille for Radicals:
Radicals want to advance from the jungle of laissez-faire capitalism to a world worthy of the name of human civilization. They hope for a future where the means of economic production will be owned by all of the people instead of the comparative handful.
So Alinsky supported the central Marxist tenet of public ownership of the means of production. Unlike the New Left, however, Alinsky had no expectation of reaching that end through swift or violent revolution. He meant to approach the ultimate goal slowly, piecemeal, perhaps over generations, through patient organizing efforts at the local level.