Saul Alinsky is a real person who had a real intellectual influence on the young lives of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom studied his advice for politically organizing the poor and marginal. But the Saul Alinsky who has registered in American politics is a shadowy bogeyman rather than an actual figure, whose name symbolizes a deeper belief on the right that Obama lies far outside the American historical tradition and has kept his true, radical motives almost completely hidden throughout his political career.
Alinsky has returned, in the form of a Washington Free Beacon report that has unearthed a brief exchange of letters between Clinton and Alinsky from 1971, shortly after Clinton graduated law school. Clinton met with Alinsky several times in the course of writing her thesis about him, which is known. The Free Beacon story incrementally builds on our knowledge of the relationship. “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,” writes Clinton to Alinsky.
Nothing in the letters reveals an especially deep ideological imprint. The Free Beacon’s write-up hypes the connection, but fails to mention the closing line of Clinton’s letter — “Hopefully we can have a good argument sometime in the future.” This line captures the mutual respect mixed with acknowledged disagreement that seems to characterize the relationship. (The Free Beacon points out that Clinton’s letter was “paid for with stamps featuring Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” but completely misses the truly relevant aspect of this, which is that Clinton bought stamps honoring a close ally of Joseph Stalin.)
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