I'll admit at the outset that I'm not sure what I'm doing in this post. It's of interest to me mainly because, one, I'm currently reading Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm, a history of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign and American conservatism's subsequent rise to political dominance, and two, because it simply doesn't make sense to me.
Here are the facts as I understand them:
- Hillary Rodham was born in 1947, and grew up in suburban Chicago as the daughter of a Republican dad, Hugh Rodham, and a (much more low-key) Democratic mom, Dorothy Rodham. She experienced a fairly typical middle-class upbringing for the time, and from her early years demonstrated both exceptional intelligence and unusual interest in politics and public affairs.
- Hillary initially self-identified as a Republican. In 1960 as a 13 year-old, she volunteered going door-to-door for Richard Nixon in Chicago. In 1964 as a senior in high school, she and her best friend became "Goldwater Girls."
- In her freshman year at Wellesley College, Hillary was an active Young Republican, but by 1968 had left the Republican Party and was involved in Gene McCarthy's presidential campaign.
I'm not writing about this as any kind of "gotcha" exercise, as Robert Novak evidently did last March. Novak noted the seeming contradiction between Sen. Clinton's claim that she was deeply influenced by seeing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in 1963 and her Goldwaterite leanings the following year, and implied that she had made up the King story. It's unknowable for sure, but I think it's almost certain that she was there and that it moved her. Media Matters notes that she included the story in her 2003 memoir, and enough other people must have been there as she describes it in the excerpt that someone would have come forward if she hadn't been.
The same Media Matters link has another excerpt from Sen. Clinton's memoir in which she recounts the thought process that drew her to Goldwater:
I liked Senator Goldwater because he was a rugged individualist who swam against the political tide. Years later, I admired his outspoken support of individual rights, which he considered consistent with his old-fashioned conservative principles: "Don't raise hell about the gays, the blacks and the Mexicans. Free people have a right to do as they damn well please."
But this is contradicted by something else Senator Clinton has said about why she supported Goldwater in 1964. Maybe this is presented out of context--in fact I think it must be, because the highly intelligent and well-informed 17 year-old she was wouldn't have so badly mischaracterized Goldwater's position:
"My best friend and I became quote 'Goldwater Girls,' Clinton said. "We got to wear cowboy hats. We had a sash that said, you know, I voted AUH2O. I mean, it was really a lot of fun."
But it was more than fun that drove Clinton to the Republican camp.
"Medicare and Medicaid was a big part of [Goldwater's] platform, or the civil rights law -- maybe it's not such a bad idea, to kind of require that people treat each other in a civil way," Clinton said of her thinking and political leanings as a teenager.
This makes absolutely no sense. Goldwater deplored the "socialism" of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs and, while Goldwater himself wasn't a bigot, the entire rationale of his conservatism was that it was both unfeasible and immoral for government to "require that people treat each other in a civil way."
Even stranger is that young Hillary's conservative-leaning libertarianism is about 180 degrees from her mature politics of liberal statism. As she evidently describes how her politics evolved, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were the crucial factors.
I found one more statement of the senator's about her early political evolution, from a 2003 interview with Katie Couric after the release of her memoir. Unfortunately, this doesn't help all that much either, since if I have the chronology right it happened before she went to college--where she was still a Republican.
Couric: “Well, you were a Goldwater girl…”
Clinton: “That’s right. ”
Couric: “…all the way down to the cowgirl outfit. ”
Clinton: “That’s right. I was a Goldwater girl. ”
Couric: “And you were elected president of the Young Republicans. But then found yourself leaning in another direction. I guess, as a result of your participation in the mock election debate. ”
Clinton: “That’s right. Well, in the 1964 election, I, certainly, was a Goldwater girl. That was, you know, my father’s candidate. That’s what I believed. And I had a very smart senior high school government teacher who took me aside and said, ‘I want you to play the role of Lyndon Johnson in the mock election debate.’ And he went to about the only girl who considered herself a Democrat in our school and said, ‘And I want you to play the role of Senator Goldwater.’
I was really upset at first because I was such a Goldwater fan. But it forced to me to have to look at and rethink that which would not have otherwise come my way. So, that by the time I got to college I really had to start thinking about what I believed, you know, not my father’s or my mother’s or my teacher’s or anyone else’s beliefs. And as a result, I concluded that I was more independent than I had originally thought I was. And I began to look more closely at political ideas and evolved my own convictions and values.
Again, I'm not implying anything sinister here--I just don't understand, one, how the well-informed Hillary Rodham could have misunderstood or overlooked what Barry Goldwater stood for in 1964, and two, what happened to turn her politics around so substantially by the end of the 1960s, and so completely by the mid-'70s when she was calling for some fairly radical state interventions on behalf of at-risk children as a young lawyer. It's purely academic interest; I already cast my vote in the primary, and if Clinton's the Democratic nominee, it won't affect whether or not I cast my meaningless vote for her in November.
But I'd like to know.