I'm reminded of January 1992, when I saw Hillary introduce candidate Bill Clinton at a small rally in San Antonio saying ""We know that if you're going to carry Texas, you've got to carry south Texas!!" At the time, I chuckled at such wild optimism. How the hell were Dems going to carry Tejas? I didn't know that twenty years earlier, Hillary had been an organizer in S. Tejas for the McGovern campaign.
After that rally in 1992, a political shitstorm rained on Bill Clinton over the next month, the dimensions of which are almost unfathomable by today's standards. He overcame "bimbo eruptions" and "draft dodging" stories during the heart of a primary race. (And then the next month there was the "I didn't inhale" snafu.) It was one thing after another-- any one of which would've killed most normal campaigns-- yet Bill Clinton successfully persevered through all of that. I've never ever seen a "tougher" candidate.
So, twenty years earlier, Hillary was organizing S. Tejas for McGovern. And a few years before that, Hillary-- a Goldwater Girl turned Nelson Rockefeller supporter-- was affected by MLK's assassination, and completely turned off by Dick Nixon. She became a "pragmatic liberal", if not a "pragmatic radical". She wrote her senior thesis on... a radical Chicago community organizer named Saul Alinsky (the text of which has not been publicly released). Here's a long excerpt from Alinsky's Rules for Radicals:
Some panic and run, rationalizing that the system is going to collapse anyway of its own rot and corruption and so they're copping out, going hippie or yippie, taking drugs, trying communes, anything to escape. Others went for pointless sure-loser confrontations so that they could fortify their rationalization and say, "Well, we tried and did our part" and then they copped out too. Others sick with guilt and not knowing where to turn or what to do went berserk. These were the Weathermen and their like: they took the grand cop-out, suicide. To these I have nothing to say or give but pity
Remember we are talking about revolution, not revelation; you can miss the target by shooting too high as well as too low. First, there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time. To know these is basic to a pragmatic attack on the system. These rules make the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one who uses the tired old words and slogans, calls the police "pig" or "white fascist racist" or "futher mukkers” and has so stereotyped himself that others react by saying, "Oh, he's one of those," and then promptly turn off.
This failure of many of your younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience - and gives full respect to the other's values - would have ruled out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America's hopes and aspirations, and he would have conveyed this message to his audience. On another level of communication, humor is essential, for through humor much is accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously. This is a sad and lonely generation. It laughs too little, and this, too is tragic.
For the real radical, doing "his thing" is to do the social thing, for and with people. In a world where everything is so interrelated that one fells helpless to know where or how to grab hold and act, defeat sets in' for years there have been people who've found society too overwhelming and have withdrawn, concentrated on "doing their own thing." Generally we have put them into mental hospitals and diagnosed them as schizophrenics. If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair. If I were organizing in a orthodox Jewish community I would not walk in there eating a ham sandwich, unless I wanted to be rejected so I could have an excuse to cop out. My "thing," if I want to organize, is solid communication with the people in the community. Lacking communication I am in reality silent; throughout history silence has been regarded as assent - in this case assent to the system.
As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be - it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.
There's another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevsky said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution. To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system, among not only the middle class but the 40 per cent of American families - more than seventy million people - whose income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year (in 1971). They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don't encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let's not let it happen by default.
Our youth are impatient with the preliminaries that are essential to purposeful action. Effective organization is thwarted by the desire for instant and dramatic change...
Yet, the next year, young Hillary made her mark with a hopeful commencement address at Wellesley College. There she said: "The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible." Life magazine wrote about her speech, and the standing ovation it received.
I'm reluctant to use this recent excerpt given the source (I think it misquotes her, and exaggerates her so-called "contempt") but it does simultaneously capture how the media treats Hillary, as well as her youthful, hopeful-- and dare I say "impatient"-- address:
Somewhere, Senator Edward Brooke must be chortling. You will remember that in 1969 Brooke, a moderate Republican, had the bad luck to be commencement speaker at Wellesley College on the day Hillary Rodham made a name for herself as a voice of her generation. She politely gave the first black American to be elected to the Senate since Reconstruction the back of her hand. “For too long our leaders have used politics as the art of the possible,” she said. (“This is bad?” Brooke must have been thinking.)
It was not actually anything in particular that Brooke and his ilk had done that earned Hillary’s lightly disguised contempt. It was just that they were tired and old and always looking for some way to cut a grubby deal instead of setting their sights on the impossible dream. She and her generation, she said, were “searching for a more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living. ”
Here's Hillary's actual quote from the speech:
We've had lots of empathy; we've had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have used politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible. [?]
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 mode of living. And so our questions, our questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government continue.
So now Hillary finds herself back in S. Tejas, where she worked on campaigns in 1972 and 1992. It seemed to be her "turn" this year, yet she finds herself as an underdog to a Democratic opponent who might become the African American Presidential nominee from a major party-- a former community organizer from Chicago, hoping to unseat the overwhelming favorite with rhetoric about "change" that attracts impatient, youthful spirits in record numbers.