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NYT: In Turmoil of ’68, Clinton Found a New Voice

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  • Ram Lau
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/05/us/politics/05clinton.html In Turmoil of 68, Clinton Found a New Voice By MARK LEIBOVICH WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 — In
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2007
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      In Turmoil of '68, Clinton Found a New Voice

      WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 — In September 1968, Hillary Diane Rodham, role
      model and student government president, was addressing Wellesley
      College freshmen girls — back when they were still called "girls" —
      about methods of protest. It was a hot topic in that overheated year
      of what she termed "confrontation politics from Chicago to

      "Dynamism is a function of change," Ms. Rodham said in her speech. "On
      some campuses, change is effected through nonviolent or even violent
      means. Although we too have had our demonstrations, change here is
      usually a product of discussion in the decision-making process."

      Her handwritten remarks — on file in the Wellesley archives — abound
      with abbreviations, crossed-out sentences and scrawled reinsertions,
      as if composed in a hurry. Yet Ms. Rodham's words are neatly contained
      between tight margins. She took care to stay within the lines, even
      when they were moving so far and fast in 1968. While student leaders
      at some campuses went to the barricades, Ms. Rodham was attending
      teach-ins, leading panel discussions and joining steering committees.
      She preferred her "confrontation politics" cooler.

      "She was not an antiwar radical trying to create a mass movement,"
      said Ellen DuBois, who, with Ms. Rodham, was an organizer of a student
      strike that April. "She was very much committed to working within the
      political system. From a student activist perspective, there was a
      significant difference."

      As the nation boiled over Vietnam, civil rights and the slayings of
      two charismatic leaders, Ms. Rodham was completing a sweeping
      intellectual, political and stylistic shift. She came to Wellesley as
      an 18-year-old Republican, a copy of Barry Goldwater's right-wing
      treatise, "The Conscience of a Conservative," on the shelf of her
      freshman dorm room. She would leave as an antiwar Democrat whose
      public rebuke of a Republican senator in a graduation speech won her
      notice in Life magazine as a voice for her generation.

      Hillary Rodham Clinton's course was set, in large part, during the
      supercharged year of 1968. "There was a sense of tremendous change,
      internationally and here at home which impacted greatly how I thought
      about things," Mrs. Clinton said in a telephone interview about that
      period, which encompassed the second half of her junior and first half
      of her senior years.

      It was a time at once disorienting and clarifying, a period that would
      reinforce the future senator and presidential candidate's suspicion of
      "emotional politics" while stoking her frustration with what she
      considered the passivity of her classmates.

      Her political itinerary that year resembles a frenzied travelogue of
      youthful contradiction. She might have been the only 20-year-old in
      America who worked on the antiwar presidential campaign of Senator
      Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire that winter and for the hawkish
      Republican congressman Melvin Laird in Washington that summer.

      She attended both the Republican National Convention in Miami (bunking
      at the Fontainebleu Hotel, ordering room service for the first time —
      cereal and a daintily wrapped peach) and the Democratic donnybrook in
      Chicago (smelling tear gas at Grant Park, watching a toilet fly out
      the window of the Hilton hotel).

      The day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain, she
      joined a demonstration in Post Office Square in Boston, returning to
      campus wearing a black armband.

      "People become experiences," Ms. Rodham wrote about all the ferment in
      a Feb. 23 letter to John Peavoy, a friend from high school. She added
      later, "The whole society is brittle."

      Looking back, it is easy to see that ambitious political science major
      in the first lady, United States senator and, now, presidential
      candidate she would become. She campaigned meticulously in student
      elections, going door to door and dorm to dorm. She wrote thank-you
      notes to professors who helped her.

      In the bustle of her excursions, she showed the zeal of an emerging
      political junkie. And, while outspoken and often blunt, Ms. Rodham was
      hardly a bomb-thrower. She was, then as now, dedicated to cerebral
      policy debates, government process and carefully calibrated positions.

      "Her opinions are mature and responsible, rather than emotional and
      one-sided," Alan Schechter, a political science professor at
      Wellesley, wrote in a law school recommendation that year for Ms. Rodham.

      A Goldwater Girl

      Ms. Rodham had arrived at Wellesley in the fall of 1965, a decorated
      Girl Scout and teacher's pet from a Republican household in the
      Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Ill. She had distributed leaflets for
      Mr. Goldwater's presidential campaign the previous fall and was
      determined to rise quickly through the moribund ranks of Wellesley's
      Young Republicans chapter.

      As a go-getter freshman, Ms. Rodham was elected president of the
      group, dutifully recruiting students to help Massachusetts candidates
      including Edward Brooke, the future United States senator whom she
      would chastise in a 1969 commencement speech as being out of touch
      with the concerns of the new graduates.

      In 1966, her public words were less audacious. "The girl who doesn't
      want to go out and shake hands can type letters or do general office
      work," Ms. Rodham told The Wellesley News in an appeal for Republican
      volunteers. Soon, though, Ms. Rodham's views began veering leftward.
      She became opposed to the Vietnam War, putting her increasingly in
      conflict with her conservative father, Hugh Rodham.

      "My opinions on most human conditions are being liberalized," Ms.
      Rodham wrote in 1965 to Don Jones, a progressive Methodist minister
      from back home who had influenced her thinking.

      "The combination of bleeding heart liberal and mental conservative is
      the inevitable conclusion one arrives at after following and pondering
      political events," she wrote.

      Around campus, Ms. Rodham wore industrial-thick glasses and a uniform
      of the times — clunky boots, ratty jeans, a Navy blue pea coat and a
      succession of turtlenecks, sweater vests and work shirts. ("I look
      like hell and I could care less" she wrote to Mr. Peavoy.) She was
      prone to capricious fashion choices. A suitemate, Connie Hoenk
      Shapiro, recalled asking why she had bought a particularly dreadful
      pair of muddy-colored shoes (with clunky 2-inch heels and a square
      toe) and Ms. Rodham explaining, "I felt sorry for them and wanted to
      give them a home."

      Friends say she had a playful streak, was game for road trips to
      Vermont and Cape Cod, and liked to call people by goofy nicknames.
      "She would sometimes refer to herself in the third person as "the
      Hill," or "the Hill woman," said her Wellesley classmate Nancy
      Pietrafesa, whose childhood moniker, Peach, sometimes became Peacharoo
      or Peacharooni in Hill-speak.

      Unlike many of her peers, she never experimented with illegal drugs,
      Mrs. Clinton said. She embraced collegiate social rituals, attending
      mixers, showing up to Harvard football games (often with a book, a
      friend recalls) and planning a strawberries-and-cream bridal shower
      atop the Wellesley Bell Tower for a roommate, Johanna Branson.

      Still, she was something of a sponge for all the angst and argument
      engulfing her generation. Ms. Shapiro recalled going to do errands one
      afternoon when Ms. Rodham handed her an unopened bottle of perfume she
      had bought and asked her to return it to the store.

      "I asked why," Ms. Shapiro recalled. "Her answer was that it was an
      extravagance she felt guilty about indulging in when there was so much
      poverty around us. We were increasingly sensitive to issues of what we
      now call white privilege. "

      When Dr. King was killed on the balcony of a Memphis motel on April 4,
      1968, Ms. Rodham was devastated. "I can't take it anymore," she
      screamed after learning the news, her friends recalled. Crying, Ms.
      Rodham stormed into her dormitory room and hurled her book bag against
      the wall. Later, she made a telephone call to a close friend, Karen
      Williamson, the head of the black student organization on campus, to
      offer sympathy.

      Ms. Rodham, who met Dr. King after a speech in Chicago in 1962, had
      admired his methodical approach to social change, favoring it over
      what she considered the excessively combative methods of groups like
      the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or S.N.C.C.,
      pronounced snick.

      "Just because a person cannot approve of snicks' attitude toward civil
      disobedience does not mean he wishes to maintain the racial status
      quo," Ms. Rodham wrote as a freshman to Mr. Jones, the Methodist minister.

      After Dr. King's assassination provoked riots in cities and unrest on
      campuses, Ms. Rodham worried that protesters would shut down Wellesley
      (not constructive). She helped organize a two-day strike (more
      pragmatic) and worked closely with Wellesley's few black students
      (only 6 in her class of 401) in reaching moderate, achievable change —
      such as recruiting more black students and hiring black professors
      (there had been none). Eschewing megaphones and sit-ins, she organized
      meetings, lectures and seminars, designed to be educational.

      "I was rooted in a political approach that understood that you can't
      just take to the streets and make change in America," Mrs. Clinton
      said in an interview. "You can't just give a speech and expect people
      to fall down and agree with you."

      Even so, the killing of Dr. King created "a sense of disorder that was
      both unsettling and catalyzing" to Ms. Rodham, recalled Mr. Schechter,
      the political science professor and a mentor to her. Friends observed
      that she was less restrained and less deferential after Dr. King's death.

      At a panel discussion for a group of Wellesley alumni in mid-April,
      Mrs. Clinton bemoaned the "large gray mass" of uninvolved students. At
      another meeting, she argued with an economics professor who suggested
      that the strike take place on a weekend.

      "I'll give up my date Saturday night, Mr. Goldman, but I don't think
      that's the point," Ms. Rodham told the professor, Marshall Goldman,
      according to the April 25, 1968, Wellesley News. "Individual
      consciences are fine but individual consciences have to be made
      manifest. Why do these attitudes have to be limited to two days?"

      Ms. Rodham had traveled to New Hampshire several times that winter to
      volunteer for Mr. McCarthy, the Minnesota Democrat challenging
      President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination. Mr.
      McCarthy's message — that the antiwar movement should operate within
      the system, not on the streets — appealed to Ms. Rodham. The candidate
      urged his supporters to be respectful, prompting the young activists
      to cut their hair, shave their beards and be "Clean for Gene." That
      summer, Ms. Rodham took to the streets herself, albeit as a safe
      observer. While home in Park Ridge, she and a friend, Betsy Johnson,
      kept hearing about all the commotion downtown at the Democratic
      Convention. They drove Ms. Johnson's parents' station wagon into
      Chicago to view the spectacle.

      "We thought we had seen all there was to see in our sheltered
      neighborhood," recalled Betsy Johnson Eberling, another former
      Goldwater Girl. "It was a radicalizing experience for us, to some extent."

      Mrs. Clinton has said repeatedly how "shocked" she was at the
      brutality she witnessed — protesters throwing rocks, police officers
      beating protesters — but describes the bedlam with almost scholarly
      detachment. In her memoir, "Living History," she recalls spending
      hours that summer arguing with a friend over the "meaning of
      revolution and whether our country would face one." Even if there was
      a revolution, the two friends concluded, "we would never participate."

      Keeping a Toe in the G.O.P.

      For all her leftward movement, Ms. Rodham still kept a toe in the
      Republican Party, working as an intern in Washington that summer. Mr.
      Schechter, who supervised the Wellesley internship program, sent her
      to work for the House Republican Conference, then headed by Mr. Laird,
      the Wisconsin congressman who would later become President Richard
      Nixon's defense secretary. "My adviser said, `I'm still going to
      assign you to the Republicans because I want you to understand
      completely what your own transformation represents," Mrs. Clinton
      recalled of Mr. Schechter.

      "I remember her being very bright, very aggressive and not very
      Republican," said Ed Feulner, who managed the summer interns in the
      office and now heads the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research

      Ever diligent, Ms. Rodham did "a fine job," said Mr. Laird, citing a
      "very thorough and well-researched" speech she wrote on the financing
      of the Vietnam War. At the end of the internship, Ms. Rodham proudly
      posed for a photo with House Republican leaders, including
      Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan. The photo hung in her
      father's bedroom when he died in 1993.

      Along with other interns, Ms. Rodham was invited by Representative
      Charles Goodell, a moderate New York Republican, to help Gov. Nelson
      Rockefeller's last-ditch campaign to defeat Mr. Nixon for the
      Republican nomination. At the party's convention in Miami, she met
      Frank Sinatra, shared an elevator with John Wayne and decided to leave
      the Republican Party for good. "She was particularly furious at how
      she felt Rockefeller had been trashed by the Nixon people," Mr.
      Schechter said.

      "I'm done with this, absolutely," Mrs. Clinton recalled thinking upon
      hearing Mr. Nixon's acceptance speech. She characterized the
      Republicanism of her youth as one of fiscal conservatism and social
      moderation, and at odds with what she viewed as the intolerance of Miami.

      "All of a sudden you get all these veiled messages, frankly, that were
      racist," Mrs. Clinton said of the convention. "I may not have been
      able to explain it, but I could feel it."

      Back at Wellesley that fall, Ms. Rodham immersed herself in campus
      matters. She reveled in her role as student government president,
      which offered both the visibility and social validation she craved.
      ("I think I enjoy winning elections as a tangible proof of respect and
      liking," she wrote to Mr. Peavoy.)

      She won the post in the spring, after campaigning for two weeks
      "spouting the usual platitudes," as she said in her letter. When she
      learned of her victory, she was stunned and thrilled. "Can you believe
      this?" she said over and over, recalled a professor, Steve London, who
      received a thank-you note from Ms. Rodham soon after her election. "I
      think it was a form letter that went out to all the faculty," Mr.
      London said.

      As the year was ending , Ms. Rodham was working on a 92-page honors
      dissertation on Saul Alinsky, the antipoverty crusader and community
      activist, whom she described (quoting from The Economist) as "that
      rare specimen, the successful radical."

      Power and Activism

      Beyond Mr. Alinsky, the treatise yields insights about its author.
      Gaining power, Ms. Rodham asserted, was at the core of effective
      activism. It "is the very essence of life, the dynamo of life," she
      wrote, quoting Mr. Alinsky.

      Ms. Rodham endorsed Mr. Alinsky's central critique of government
      antipoverty programs — that they tended to be too top-down and removed
      from the wishes of individuals.

      But the student leader split with Mr. Alinsky over a central point. He
      vowed to "rub raw the sores of discontent" and compel action through
      agitation. This, she believed, ran counter to the notion of change
      within the system.

      Typically, the paper, which received an A, was neatly typed,
      exhaustively footnoted and even included a page of acknowledgments.
      "Although I have no "loving wife" to thank for keeping the children
      away while I wrote," Ms. Rodham said, "I do have many friends and
      teachers who have contributed to the process."

      In a listing of primary sources, Ms. Rodham reported that she met
      three times with Mr. Alinsky and that he offered her a job. "After a
      year trying to make sense of his inconsistency," she wrote, explaining
      her demurral, "I need three years of legal rigor."
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