Hillary Rodham senior thesis
In 1969, Hillary Rodham wrote a 92-page senior thesis for Wellesley College about famed community organizer Saul Alinsky entitled There Is Only the Fight . . . : An Analysis of the Alinsky Model. The thesis is now available.
While the work by Rodham as a college student was the subject of much speculation in articles and biographies of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 1990s, access to the thesis was limited by the college, at the request of the Clinton White House, during her time as first lady.
Rodham researched the thesis by interviewing Alinsky and others, and by conducting visits to low-income areas of Chicago (near where she grew up – but not in the same neighborhoods) and observing Community Action Programs in those areas. Her thesis adviser was Wellesley professor of political science Alan Schechter.
The thesis was sympathetic to Alinsky's critiques of government antipoverty programs, but criticized Alinsky's methods as largely ineffective, all the while describing Alinsky's personality as appealing. The thesis sought to fit Alinsky into a line of American social activists, including Eugene V. Debs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Walt Whitman. Written in formal academic language, the thesis concluded that "[Alinsky's] power/conflict model is rendered inapplicable by existing social conflicts" and that Alinsky's model had not expanded nationally due to "the anachronistic nature of small autonomous conflict."
A 2007 New York Times review of Rodham's thesis summarized her views as follows: "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." In 2016, reporter Micheal Knuse quotes the thesis and describes a centrist theme:
“Alinsky’s conclusion that the ‘ventilation’ of hostilities is healthy in certain situations is valid, but across-the-board ‘social catharsis’ cannot be prescribed,” she wrote. “Catharsis has a way of perpetuating itself so that it becomes an end in itself.” She continued: “Interestingly, this society seems to be in a transition period, caught between conflict and consensus.” It was clear where this 21-year-old stood: “… as our ‘two societies’—the establishment, the anti-establishment—“move further apart contrived conflict serves to exacerbate the polarization.
In the acknowledgements and end notes of the thesis, Rodham thanked Alinsky for two interviews and a job offer. She declined the latter, saying that "after spending a year trying to make sense out of [Alinsky's] inconsistency, I need three years of legal rigor." The thesis was praised by all four of its reviewers and Rodham, an honors student at Wellesley, received an A grade on it.
White House and Wellesley limiting of access
The work was unnoticed until Hillary Rodham Clinton entered the White House as First Lady. Clinton researchers and political opponents sought out the thesis, contending it contained evidence that Rodham had held strong radical or socialist views.
In early 1993, the White House requested that Wellesley not release the thesis to anyone. Wellesley complied, instituting a new rule that closed access to the thesis of any sitting U.S. president or first lady, a rule that in practice applied only to Rodham. Biographer Donnie Radcliffe instead used extensive recollections from Schechter in order to describe the thesis in her biography published later that year, Hillary Rodham Clinton : A First Lady for Our Time. David Brock was similarly unable to access the thesis for his 1996 book The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, writing that it was "under lock and key", and instead also used some of Schechter's recollections. By the mid-1990s, Clinton critics seized upon the restricted access as a sure sign that the thesis held politically explosive contents that would reveal her hidden radicalism or extremism.
Syndicated columnists Jack Anderson and Jan Moller tried to gain access to her thesis in 1999, but were rebuffed by both Wellesley and the White House. Writing in their "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column, they surmised that the thesis's conclusion might be at variance with Clinton administration policies, saying they had "discovered the subject of her thesis: a criticism of Lyndon B. Johnson's 'War on Poverty' programs. Mrs. Clinton's conclusion? Community-based anti-poverty programs don't work." Clinton biographer Barbara Olson wrote in her 1999 book Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton that, "The contents of Hillary's thesis, and why she would want it hidden from public view, have long been the subject of intense interest. Most likely, she does not want the American people to know the extent to which she internalized and assimilated the beliefs and methods of Saul Alinsky."
In her 2003 memoir Living History, Clinton mentioned the thesis only briefly, saying she had agreed with some of Alinsky's ideas, but had not agreed with his belief that it was impossible to "change the system" from inside.
Years after the Clintons left the White House, the thesis held its allure. For example, in 2005, columnist Peggy Noonan speculated that it was "the Rosetta Stone of Hillary studies". Clinton staffers still did not discuss why it had been sealed.
Thesis made available
The thesis was made available after the Clintons left the White House in 2001 by the Wellesley College archives. It first received public exposure in 2005 when msnbc.com investigative reporter Bill Dedman sent his journalism class from Boston University to read the thesis and write articles about it, and one of the students, Rick Heller, posted his article online that December. The thesis is also available through interlibrary loan on microfilm, a method reporter Dorian Davis used when he obtained it in January 2007, and sent it to Noonan and to Amanda Carpenter at Human Events, who wrote a piece on it in March.
The suppression of the thesis from 1993 to 2001 at the request of the Clinton White House was documented in March 2007 by reporter Dedman, who read the thesis at the Wellesley library and interviewed Rodham's thesis adviser. Dedman found that the thesis did not disclose much of Rodham's own views. A Boston Globe assessment found the thesis nuanced, and said that "While [Rodham] defends Alinsky, she is also dispassionate, disappointed, and amused by his divisive methods and dogmatic ideology." Schechter told msnbc.com that "There Is Only The Fight . . ." was a good thesis, and that its suppression by the Clinton White House "was a stupid political decision, obviously, at the time."
Interest in the thesis and in Clinton's relationship with Alinsky continued during the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries, as Clinton battled Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who had also been reported to have been exposed to Alinsky-style ideas and methods during his time as a Chicago community organizer.
- Carl Bernstein, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Knopf, 2007, ISBN 0-375-40766-9, p. 57.
- Bill Dedman, "How the Clintons wrapped up Hillary's thesis: 'A stupid political decision,' says her former Wellesley poli-sci professor", msnbc.com, March 2, 2007. Accessed March 3, 2007.
- Bill Dedman, "Reading Hillary Rodham's hidden thesis: Clinton White House asked Wellesley College to close off access", msnbc.com, March 2, 2007. Accessed March 3, 2007.
- Leibovich, Mark (2007-09-05). "In Turmoil of '68, Clinton Found a New Voice". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-20.
- Peter Slevin, "For Clinton and Obama, a Common Ideological Touchstone", The Washington Post, March 25, 2007. Accessed August 10, 2015.
- Donnie Radcliffe, Hillary Rodham Clinton : A First Lady for Our Time. Warner Books, 1993, ISBN 0-446-51766-6, p. 77.
- David Brock, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. Free Press, 1996, ISBN 0-684-83451-0, p. 17.
- Michael Levenson, "A student's words, a candidate's struggle", The Boston Globe, March 4, 2007. Accessed July 14, 2007.
- Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, Jr., Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Little, Brown and Co., 2007, ISBN 0-316-01742-6, p. 33.
- Jack Anderson and Jan Moller, "Hillary's College Thesis Off-limits", Washington Merry-Go-Round, United Features Syndicate, The Hour (Norwalk, Connecticut), March 9, 1999, page A12.
- Barbara Olson, Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Regnery Publishing, 1999, ISBN 0-89526-197-9, pp. 45–46.
- Hillary Rodham Clinton, Living History. Simon & Schuster, 2003, ISBN 0-7432-2224-5, p. 38.
- Peggy Noonan, "Eine Kleine Biographie", The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2005. Accessed March 3, 2007.
- Rick Heller, "Hillary Clinton's Bachelor's Thesis", Centerfield Blog, December 19, 2005. Accessed July 9, 2008. Archived June 14, 2011.
- "Hillary's Wellesley Thesis Shows Want of An Enemy", Human Events, March 9, 2007