What does the Hillary-Alinksy letter reveal?

Hero worship is mostly what shines through this missive from Hillary Clinton to Saul Alinsky, but as one person noted on Twitter, that may not be the biggest point of this story from the Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman. In July 1971, the future First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and presidential contender lived in the New Left hotbed of Berkeley, California, and was looking for inspiration. She reached out to the grandfather of “community organizing” to express her deep need for his upcoming Rules for Radicals in order to have more fodder for her to “throw at people” in conversations, and expressed a desire to meet in person soon:

Previously unpublished correspondence between Hillary Clinton and the late left-wing organizer Saul Alinsky reveal new details about her relationship with the controversial Chicago activist and shed light on her early ideological development.

Clinton met with Alinsky several times in 1968 while writing a Wellesley college thesis about his theory of community organizing.

Clinton’s relationship with Alinsky, and her support for his philosophy, continued for several years after she entered Yale law school in 1969, two letters obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show.

The letters are Hillary Clinton’s to Alinsky and a reply from his secretary with the quaint signature construction “(Mrs.) Georgia Harper”. The existence of the friendship seems plain in both letters; then-Hillary Rodham’s opening missive is informal, chatty, and almost star-struck, while Mrs. Harper’s response acknowledges that this isn’t just a fan-mail situation. “Since I know his feelings about you,” she writes to Clinton, “I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn’t want something urgent to wait for two weeks.” She informs Clinton that Rules for Radicals was published two months earlier, gives her some copies of the reviews and a date of Alinsky’s upcoming appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, and adds a PS in which she gives Clinton some options to catch up with her friend in San Francisco.

Clinton’s letter seems almost ironic in a historical sense, but not all that remarkable otherwise. Other than a playful suggestion that Alinsky somehow scored “a CIA-sponsored junket” to southeast Asia in the middle of the Vietnam War, it’s the kind of a fan letter that writers of Alinsky’s stature appreciate, especially from idealistic young adults, full of adulation and professions of his importance. However, this passage certainly stands out, considering the road traveled by the Clintons in the 43 years since:

You are being rediscovered again as the New Left-type politicos are finally beginning to think seriously about the hard work and mechanics of organizing.

The New Left had already begin the hard work of political organizing, which took years and decades to complete as they took over the Democratic Party. They tried in 1972 to short-cut their way to power by pushing George McGovern as the Democratic nominee, but that was a disaster. After that, they took the long-term view and began pushing out the Democratic Party establishment from the ground up. By the late 1980s, after the debacle of the Mondale campaign (and then the Dukakis campaign), Democrats became so concerned about the New Left influence that they formed the Democratic Leadership Council to find and support centrist “Third Way” candidates in an attempt to become competitive. Their first success was none other than … Bill Clinton.

What does this letter tell us about Hillary Clinton, then? During her youth, she was a big fan of Alinsky’s ends-justify-the-means strategies for the advancement of radicalism, and of New Left politics too. At least indirectly, we can infer that Clinton changed her mind on the latter — at least to the extent that such a change served her purposes — but it’s not entirely clear if and when she changed her mind on the former. Maybe it was when her husband rose through Democratic ranks in a more traditional manner, or perhaps it could have been as late as 2007-8, when Alinsky’s tactics got used on her by Barack Obama’s supporters to deny her the coronation everyone expected. If those forces start applying Alinsky’s methods on her behalf, though, I suspect she won’t mind a bit.

These letters tell us what we already knew about the Clintons. They are interested in the ends rather than the means — and the real ends are whatever benefits the Clintons.

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