A Personal Perspective on the 2016 Election a Four part series of Unfortunate Events. Part 1: Young Hillary and the turmoil of 1968.
This is part 1 of my four part series. You can read the intro here.
My goal in writing this isn’t to sympathize Hillary Clinton, I think by now the minds of everyone about Hillary Clinton has already been made up. I’m a big believer in history repeating itself, our pasts shapes our futures and a lot of things that helped shape Clinton I believe may have led to her losses for the Presidential bid.
What I did find interesting though is that not many people know about Clinton’s personal life. For someone who has been in the public eye for nearly 40 years her live is relatively private. Most of my research into her life stems from the 2007 biography written by Carl Bernstein A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Clinton. There have been books written about her but more than 80% of them are negative, conservative books designed to ruin her character.
What I do know is that Hillary Clinton was born on October 26th, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father Hugh Ellis Rodham was a small business owner in the textile industry and a military drill sergeant during World War II, her mother Dorothy Howell was a homemaker. Hillary is the oldest of three children and has two younger brothers.
What I didn’t know is that her father was verbally abusive to her mother, Hugh Ellis was one of those drill sergeants who never learned how to turn if off and ran his home like one. He often belittled his wife in front of guests and children. Bernstein described him as a sullen, tight-fisted, contrarian, authoritarian, given to rage, given to exaggeration and fantastical pronouncements about his own life. So based on that description Hillary was running against her own father this election. Despite Hugh being a regular Archie Bunker, he saw great potential in his oldest child and imposed nearly impossible goals on her, nothing she did was ever good enough and tried to shelter her, he also pushed her to go for her dreams regardless of her gender. Despite the abuse, Clinton’s mother Dorothy was described as being incredibly strong, with a wicked sense of humor who indirectly taught Clinton how to get back up and dust herself off when a man knocks her down. Clinton developed her personality and rebelliousness from her mother. In an interview with CNN Bernstein described an example of a lesson Dorothy gave to her daughter. Dorothy Rodham gave Hillary the example of a carpenter’s level and showed her how it worked early on, and said that’s how she needed to focus on her life. She held out the level, with the bubble going back into the middle to illustrate the notion of righting yourself as a person when things get off balance and then coming back to center so that you can function. And that is a kind of metaphor, I think, for Hillary’s life. She is really amazing at resetting the bubble, and going to that place in the middle, and shutting out the noise when she has to and trying to stay in that level place while the world around her, including immediate proximity, is going wildly off balance.
Parodies of Clinton over the years have either portrayed her as a woman who was very ambitious while albeit of a bitchy shrew, or in Kate McKinnon’s excellent parody she was portrayed as an older woman who was woefully out of touch, robotic with a weird awkwardness to her. But Clinton in her childhood was a popular student with her classmates and a favorite of her teachers. Her senior year she ran for class President and lost two boys, one of which told her she was dumb if she ever thought a girl would become President. Because the one constant in 80 years, is that sexism never changes it just festers and evolves over time into Men’s Right Activists
Clinton was always an ambitious girl and often tells the story of writing a letter to NASA about wanting to become an Astronaut. Because in the 60s NASA was a hard ass organization that had no issues of crushing the dreams of little girls everywhere, never took cues from the women I’ve encountered in online dating in the “No response is better than rejection” strategy.
I had always been fascinated by exploration and space travel, maybe in part because my dad was so concerned about America lagging behind Russia. President Kennedy’s vow to put men on the moon excited me, and I wrote to NASA to volunteer for astronaut training. I received a letter back informing me that they were not accepting girls in the program. It was the first time I had hit an obstacle I couldn’t overcome with hard work and determination, and I was outraged. Of course, my poor eyesight and mediocre physical abilities would have disqualified me anyway, regardless of gender. Still, the blanket rejection hurt and made me more sympathetic later to anyone confronted with discrimination of any kind.
During a slow day at work, I randomly logged onto Facebook as I normally would do to escape from cubicle purgatory. Around this time it was mid February, of this year. Bernie started to pick up some more support but was still having trouble with minority voters. As a supporter of Sander’s I’ll say that contrary to popular belief, Bernie wasn’t screwed over by the DNC in a fly by night operation in which Donna Brazile and Hillary Clinton wore trenchcoats at night in a parking garage while Brazile hands her debate questions both cackling. His message never resonated with black voters, while he had great ideas, he incorrectly assumed black and minority voters would jump on board because his plans would benefit blacks as well, it was a “My policies see no color” idea and while that would be ideal, it’s not realistic. But more on Bernie later in this series. I want to focus on the meme that I saw floating around on Facebook from Bernie supporters who wanted to show that our boy Bernie did indeed care about civil rights issues.
Apparently the best way to discredit someone is showing what they did as an impressionable 17-year-old girl in college. While it’s true that Clinton volunteered for Goldwater, her political views were mainly shaped by her mother and youth minister Don Jones. Jones and Dorothy were both socially liberal, in 1962 the civil rights march greatly impacted Clinton and she happened to meet Dr. Martin Luther King himself during a march in Chicago. In 1965 her freshman year in college she wrote a letter to Don Jones explaining her ever changing views.
My opinions on most human conditions are being liberalized, The combination of bleeding heart liberal and mental conservative is the inevitable conclusion one arrives at after following and pondering political events.
Young Hillary Clinton at that point of her life is a wide eyed idealist who’s trying to find herself in college but it would be the year 1968 that would shape not only her but the United States. Let’s start on the Democratic party side of things. At the beginning of the year, Lyndon Johnson was hoping to win the war in Vietnam relatively easily which would enable him to coast to a victory and finish building his Great Society, in February the Tet Offensive in Vietnam caused a shift in public opinion and the US turned on the war in Vietnam. Seeing a vulnerability, anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy decided to challenge Johnson for the nomination, in the New Hampshire primary McCarthy received 42% of the vote unheard of at the time against an incumbent and it showed that Johnson could be defeated On March 16th, 1968 Robert Kennedy announced his plans to enter the Presidential election reversing course on a previous plan not to run. On March 31st, 1968, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection and that Vice President Hubert Humphrey would run for Presidency to carry out Johnson’s programs. Humphrey was the favorite among the establishment and working class he supported liberal unions and was a civil rights advocate. Entering the race late, Humphrey focused on smaller caucuses where he can earn delegates and improve his delegate count. McCarthy was the liberal Progressive who more than likely wouldn’t resonate with the establishment but was popular among college students for his anti-war stance, wanting to recognize communist China, unilateral nuclear disarmament and removing J. Edgar Hoover from the FBI. While Kennedy could be considered establishment he was also a rebellious politician who could stir up true change in Washington. He was popular amongst black voters and the poorer class who felt he could help with the fight for civil rights he had the innate ability to unite the Humphry Democrats and the Progressive anti-war Democrats.
April 4th, 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated, in what would later be described as the Holy Week Uprising, riots erupted around the country with the exceptions of Boston in which James Brown is credited for quelling the violence at his concert. Major riots were averted in NY when Mayor John Lindsay visited the heart of Harlem and personally spoke to the residents there regretting King’s death and vowing to fight poverty. In Indianapolis, Robert Kennedy was the first to break the news to his supporters and is credited for averting any riot there with this speech. However in Baltimore, the riots escalated over a two day period and lasted a week,a total of 10, 956 troops had been deployed to quell the rioting. Afterward, Gov. Spiro T. Agnew would gain criticism for his handling of the riot and his blaming black leaders for not doing enough to stop the riots. I call on you to publicly repudiate all black racists. This, so far, you have been unwilling to do. Incidentally, it was those words that made Nixon have an “eureka” moment and choose Agnew as his VP to halt the momentum of George Wallace.
The death of MLK affected Clinton who always admired his methodical approach to civil rights as opposed to the civil unrest and agitation from student union groups such as the SNCC.
Just because a person cannot approve of snicks’ attitude toward civil disobedience does not mean he wishes to maintain the racial status quo. Clinton wrote in a letter to Don Jones. McCarthy’s message of change from within resonated with Clinton who volunteered for his campaign in New Hampshire. That same year Clinton worked with her black classmates (Only 6 in a class of 401) to improve recruiting for black students and having black professors get hired. Instead of megaphones and sit-ins, she used lectures, organize meetings and seminars to try and educate people. On June 5th, nearly two months to the day of MLK’s assassination, Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan a Palestinian who was angry at Kennedy’s public support of Israel. While the Democratic primaries didn’t officially end, they effectively ended that day. Even though 80% of Democrats took an anti-war stance, Humphry won the primary with the delegate count, though it was often believed trough the influence of Johnson and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley that Humphrey won the nomination. On television, the convention was marred by violence as the Chicago Police attacked protestors at the behest of Daley who felt the Police response to the MLK riots were insufficient. Clinton herself was in Chicago to see the rioting up close and personal and vowed to a friend that if that’s what a revolution looks like she’ll never participate in one. On the Republican side of things, Nixon had to cruise to a pretty easy win taking on a populist message, appealing to southern whites and their opposition to racial integration, he vowed to be the law and order candidate. His two chief rivals were Nelson Rockefeller a liberal, anti-war Republican who would be a Democrat in the modern day and Ronald Reagan the leader of the right-wing side of the party. Rockefeller and Reagan decided to join forces to stop Nixon at the Convention but neither one wanted to support the other and a contested convention didn’t happen. George Wallace was mentioned earlier, George Wallace should be known as the chaos candidate, he was a segregationist who started out as a fairly moderate candidate earlier in his career at first supporting civil rights measures but got trounced in an election by a candidate who had the public support of the KKK. Wallace from that point on took a hard line segregation stance and just like Nixon was being the law and order candidate and became Governor of Alabama because selling out your principles to achieve power isn’t new in 2016. Nixon feared him because he feared Wallace would split the vote among conservative voters, Democrats feared him because his campaign was resonating with blue collar workers. Nixon won the election with only 43% of the popular vote but winning the electoral college in a landslide.
What’s never really been discussed is that Clinton was at the RNC in Miami working an internship and along with other interns was assigned to help Nelson Rockefeller get elected at the RNC. Hillary was turned off by the hateful rhetoric she was hearing from the Nixon side,the thinly veiled racist messages and how they portrayed Rockefeller. Clinton left the Republican party for good and became a Democrat.
In 1969 Clinton was elected Student Government President of Wellesley College and chosen to be the student speaker at the graduation unheard of at the time for a college that never had a valedictorian. Clinton was to follow Edward Brooke, a US Senator from Massachusetts who was the first African-American to ever be elected to the US Senate just two years earlier. Brooke was an officer in the US Army during World War II and was also moderate Republican who was pro-choice and at the time co-authored the Fair Housing act. In 1972 he led the fight to expand Title IX, fought against Nixon’s attempts to close Job Corps, the Office of Equal Opportunity and to weaken the EEOC and took on the lead role of legalizing abortion nationally. Nowadays Brooke would be seen as courageous, a champion of women’s reproductive rights.
But in 1969 Brooke was still a middle of the road candidate who took the safest route possible, he criticized segregationist Lester Maddox and also criticized famed civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael. In other words, he presented complacency, the bland establishment, he stressed in his commencement speech that things had been getting better, I believe the overwhelming majority of Americans will stand firm on one principle: coercive protest is wrong, and one reason that it is wrong is that it is unnecessary. It was now the 21-year-old Hillary’s turn to address her students but since she was Leslie Knope and had brass balls, Clinton decided to improvise and offer a quick rebuttal to Brooke.
I find myself in a familiar position, that of reacting, something that our generation has been doing for quite a while now. We’re not in the positions yet of leadership and power, but we do have that indispensable element of criticizing and constructive protest and I find myself reacting just briefly to some of the things that Senator Brooke said. This has to be quick because I do have a little speech to give.
Part of the problem with just empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn’t do us anything. We’ve had lots of empathy; we’ve had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible. What does it mean to hear that 13.3 percent of the people in this country are below the poverty line? That’s a percentage. We’re not interested in social reconstruction; it’s human reconstruction. How can we talk about percentages and trends? The complexities are not lost in our analyses, but perhaps they’re just put into what we consider a more human and eventually a more progressive perspective.
Clinton’s speech received a seven minute ovation and if you want to read the transcript of it, it’s located here.
Hillary Rodham would get accepted into Yale Law School and enter the school that fall as a rock star, where she would meet another law student by the name of William J. Clinton.
Part two won’t be as long as this one, I promise.