My subject is Hillary Clinton in her role as America's foremost leftist. This is not an obvious idea to those leftists who identify themselves as radicals. Purists of the creed are likely to regard both Clintons as opportunists and sellouts of their cause. But the left is not and has never been a political monolith, and its factions have always attacked each other almost as ferociously as their political enemies.
It is possible to be a socialist, and radical in one's agendas, and yet moderate in the means one regards as practical to achieve them. To change the world, it is first necessary to acquire cultural and political power. And these transitional goals may often be accomplished by indirection and deception even more effectively than by frontal assault. Political stratagems that appear moderate and compromised to radical factions of the left may present an even greater threat from the perspective of the other side. In 1917, Lenin's political slogan wasn't "Socialist Dictatorship! Firing Squads and Gulags!" It was "Bread, Land and Peace."
Yet Hillary Clinton as America's "first lady of the left," is also not an obvious subject to many conservatives. And since conservative politics begins with the defense of America's constitutional order, this is a far more significant matter. Underestimating the foe on any battlefield can be a fatal fault; in politics likewise.
This problem is exemplified in a brilliantly etched and elegantly deconstructed portrait of Mrs. Clinton by former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan. Thus, the focus of The Case Against Hillary Clinton is not Mrs. Clinton's kitsch Marxism or perverse feminism or cynical progressivism. Instead, it is her narcissism. It is this psychological nexus in which Noonan finds the key to Hillary Clinton's public persona. It is almost as though Mrs. Clinton's politics were merely instrumental to her career, as changeable as her famous hairstyles.
"Never has the admirable been so fully wedded to the appalling," Noonan writes of the subject and her faithless spouse. "Never in modern political history has such tenacity and determination been marshaled to achieve such puny purpose: the mere continuance of Them."
The wit is sharp but the point just wide of the mark. There are many unprincipled narcissists in politics. But there has never been a White House so thoroughly penetrated by the political left. Noonan's psychological characterization is surely correct. But if Hillary and Bill Clinton were unable to draw on the dedication and support of the left—if they were Republicans, for example—there would be no prospect of a continuance of Them.
Ever since abandoning the utopian illusions of the progressive cause, I have been struck by how little the world outside the left seems to actually understand it. How little those who have not inhabited the progressive mind are able to grasp the ruthless cynicism behind its idealistic mask or the fervent malice that drives its hypocritical passion for "social justice."
No matter how great the crimes progressives commit, no matter how terrible the future they labor to create, no matter how devastating the catastrophes they leave behind, the world outside the faith seems ever ready to forgive them their "mistakes" and to grant them the grace of "good intentions."
It would be difficult to recall, for example, the number of times I have been introduced on conservative platforms as "a former civil rights worker and peace activist in the 1960s." I have been described this way despite having written a detailed autobiography that exposes these self-glorifying images of the left as so many political lies. Like many New Left leaders whom the young Mrs. Clinton once followed (and who are her comrades today), I regarded myself in the 1960s as a socialist and a revolutionary. No matter what slogans we chanted, or ideals we proclaimed our agendas always extended beyond (and well beyond) the immediate issues of "civil rights" and "peace."
New Left progressives—including Hillary Clinton and her comrade, Acting Deputy Attorney General Bill Lann Lee—were involved in supporting, or protecting or making excuses for violent anti-American radicals abroad like the Vietcong and anti-American criminals at home like the Black Panthers.* We did this then—just as progressives still do now—in the name of "social justice" and a dialectical world-view that made this deception appear ethical and the fantasy seem possible.
As a student of the left, Jamie Glazov, has observed in an article about the middle-class defenders of recently captured Seventies terrorist Kathy Soliah: "if you can successfully camouflage your own pathology and hatred with a concern for the 'poor' and the 'downtrodden,' then there will always be a 'progressive' milieu to support and defend you."* Huey Newton, George Jackson, Bernadine Dohrn, Sylvia Baraldini, Rubin Carter, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Rigoberta Menchu and innumerable others have all discovered this principle in the course of their criminal careers.
There is a superficial sense, of course, in which we were civil rights and peace activists—and that is certainly the way I would have described myself at the time, particularly if I were speaking to a non-left audience. It is certainly the way Mrs. Clinton and my former comrades in the left refer to themselves and their pasts in similar contexts today.
But they are lying. (And when they defend racial preferences now—a principle they denounced as "racist" then—even they must know it).
The first truth about leftist missionaries, about believing progressives, is that they are liars. But they are not liars in the ordinary way, which is to say by choice. They are liars by necessity—often without even realizing that they are. Because they also lie to themselves. It is the political lie that gives their cause its life.
Why, for example, if you were one of them, would you tell the truth? If you were serious about your role in humanity's vanguard, if you had the knowledge (which others did not), that you were certain would lead them to a better world, why would you tell them a truth that they could not "understand" and that would hold them back?
If others could understand your truth, you would not think of yourself as a "vanguard." You would no longer inhabit the morally charmed world of an elite, whose members alone can see the light and whose mission is to lead the unenlightened towards it. If everybody could see the promised horizon and knew the path to reach it, the future would already have happened and there would be no need for the vanguard of the saints.
That is both the ethical core and psychological heart of what it means to be a part of the left. That is where the gratification comes from. To see yourself as a social redeemer. To feel anointed. In other words: To be progressive is itself the most satisfying narcissism.
That is why it is of little concern to them that their socialist schemes have run aground, burying millions of human beings in their wake. That is why they don't care that their panaceas have caused more human suffering than all the injustices they have ever challenged. That is why they never learn from their "mistakes." That is why the continuance of Them is more important than any truth.
If you were active in the so-called "peace" movement or in the radical wing of the civil rights causes, why would you tell the truth? Why would you tell people that no, you weren't really a "peace activist," except in the sense that you were against America's war. Why would you draw attention to the fact that while you called yourselves "peace activists," you didn't oppose the Communists' war, and were gratified when America's enemies won?
What you were really against was not war at all, but American "imperialism" and American capitalism. What you truly hated was America's democracy, which you knew to be a "sham" because it was controlled by money in the end. That's why you wanted to "Bring the Troops Home," as your slogan said. Because if America's troops came home, America would lose and the Communists would win. And the progressive future would be one step closer.
But you never had the honesty—then or now—to admit that. You told the lie then to maintain your influence and increase your power to do good (as only the Chosen can). And you keep on telling the lie for the same reason.
Why would you admit that, despite your tactical support for civil rights, you weren't really committed to civil rights as Americans understand rights? What you really wanted was to overthrow the very Constitution that guaranteed those rights, based as it is on private property and the individual—both of which you despise.
It is because America is a democracy and the people endorse it, that the left's anti-American, but "progressive" agendas can only be achieved by deceiving the people. This is the cross the left has to bear: The better world is only achievable by lying to the very people they propose to redeem.
Despite the homage contemporary leftists pay to post-modernist conceits, despite their belated and half-hearted display of critical sentiment towards Communist regimes, they are very much the ideological heirs of Stalinist progressives, who supported the greatest mass murders in human history, but who remember themselves as civil libertarian opponents of McCarthy and victims of a political witch-hunt. (Only the dialectically gifted can even begin to follow the logic involved.)
To appreciate the continuity of communism in the mentality of the left, consider how many recent Hollywood promotions of the industry Reds and how many academic apologies for Stalinist crimes (in fact, the vast majority of recent academic texts on the subject) have been premised on the Machiavellian calculations and Hegelian sophistries I have just described.
Naturally, today's leftists are smart enough to distance themselves from Soviet Communism. But the Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev was already a critic of Stalin forty years ago. Did his concessions make him less of a Communist? Or more?
On the other hand, conservative misunderstanding of the left is only in part a product of the left's own deceits. It also reflects conservatives' inability to understand the religious nature of the progressive faith and the power of its redemptive idea. For instance, I'm often asked by conservatives about the continuing role and influence of the Communist Party, since they observe quite correctly the pervasive presence of so many familiar totalitarian ideas in our academic and political culture. Though still around and sometimes influential in the left, the Communist Party has been a minor player for nearly fifty years. How can there be a communist left (small "c" of course) without a Communist Party?
The short answer is that it was not the Communist Party that made the left, but the (small 'c') communist Idea. It is the idea, as old as the Tower of Babel, that humanity can build a highway to Heaven. It is the idea of returning to an Earthly Paradise, a garden of social harmony and justice. It is the idea that inspires Jewish radicals and liberals of a tikkun olam, a healing of the cosmic order. It is the Enlightenment illusion of the perfectibility of man. And it is the siren song of the serpent in Eden: "Eat of this Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and you shall be as God."
The intoxicating vision of a social redemption achieved by Them—this is what creates the left, and makes the believers so self-righteous.
And it did so long before Karl Marx. It is the vision of this redemption that continues to inspire and animate them despite the still-fresh ruins of their Communist dreams.
It is this same idea that is found in the Social Gospel which impressed the youthful Hillary Clinton at the United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. She later encountered the same idea in the New Left at Yale and in the Venceremos Brigade in Communist Cuba, and in the writings of the New Leftist who introduced her to the "politics of meaning" even after she had become America's First Lady. It is the idea that drives her comrades in the Children's Defense Fund, the National Organization for Women, the Al Sharpton House of Justice and the other progressive causes which for that reason still look to her as a political leader.
For these self-appointed social redeemers, the goal—"social justice"—is not about rectifying particular injustices, which would be practical and modest, and therefore conservative. Their crusade is about rectifying injustice in the very order of things. "Social Justice" for them is about a world reborn, a world in which prejudice and violence are absent, in which everyone is equal and equally advantaged and without fundamentally conflicting desires. It is a world that could only come into being through a re-structuring of human nature and of society itself.
Even though they are too prudent and self-protective to name this future anymore, the post-Communist left still passionately believes it possible. But it is a world that has never existed and never will. Moreover, as the gulags and graveyards of the last century attest, to attempt the impossible is to invite the catastrophic in the world we know.
But the fall of Communism taught the progressives who were its supporters very little. Above all, it failed to teach them the connection between their utopian ideals and the destructive consequences that flowed from them. The fall of Communism has had a cautionary impact only on the overt agendas of the political left. The arrogance that drives them has hardly diminished. The left is like a millenarian sect that erroneously predicted the end of the world, and now must regroup to revitalize its faith.
No matter how opportunistically the left's agendas have been modified, however, no matter how circumspectly its goals have been set, no matter how generous its concessions to political reality, the faithful have not given up their self-justifying belief that they can bring about a social redemption. In other words, a world in which human consciousness is changed, human relations refashioned, social institutions transformed, and in which "social justice" prevails.
Because the transformation progressives seek is ultimately total, the power they seek must be total as well. In the end, the redemption they envision cannot be achieved as a political compromise, even though compromises may be struck along the way. Their brave new world can ultimately be secured only by the complete surrender of the resisting force. In short, the transformation of the world requires the permanent entrenchment of the saints in power. Therefore, everything is justified that serves to achieve the continuance of Them.
In Peggy Noonan's psychological portrait of Hillary Clinton, one can trace the outlines of the progressive persona I have just described. She observes that the "liberalism" of the Clinton era is very different from the liberalism of the past. Clinton-era liberalism is manipulative and deceptive and not really interested in what real people think because "they might think the wrong thing."
That is why Hillary Clinton's famous plan to socialize American health care was the work of a progressive cabal that shrouded itself in secrecy to the point of illegality. Noonan labels Clinton-era politics "command and control liberalism," using a phrase with a familiar totalitarian ring. But, like so many conservatives I have come to know, Noonan is finally too decent and too generous to fully appreciate the pathology of the left.
She begins her inquiry by invoking Richard Nixon's comment that only two kinds of people run for high office in America, "those who want to do big things and those who want to be big people." She identifies both Clintons as "very much, perhaps completely, the latter sort," and clinically examines their narcissism by way of unlocking the mystery of who they really are.
Regarding the husband, Peggy Noonan is probably right. I do not think of Bill Clinton as a leftist inspired by ideas of a socially just world, or as having even a passing interest in the healing of cosmic orders. He is more readily understood as a borderline sociopath. Fully absorbed in the ambitions of self, Clinton is a political chameleon who assumes the coloration of his environments and the constituencies on which his fortunes have come to depend.
Hillary Clinton is not so slippery. Despite the cynicism she shares with her husband, one can clearly observe an ideological spine that creates political difficulties for her that one knows he would be able to avoid. This is not to deny the force of her personal ambitions or the power of her narcissistic regard. But these attitudes could be expected in any member of a self-selected elite, especially one like the left, which is based on moral election.
For this reason, it would be difficult to separate the narcissistic from the ideological in the psychology of any political missionary. Do they advance the faith for the sake of the faith, or because advancing the faith will turn them into saints? Do the Lenins of history sacrifice normal life in order to achieve "big things" or because they hunger for the canonization the achievements will bring? It is probably impossible to finally answer the question. But we can observe that the narcissism of Stalin—ex-seminarian, Father of the People and doer of epic revolutionary deeds—makes the Clintons' soap opera of self-love pale by comparison.
Despite their life-long collaboration, Bill and Hillary Clinton are different political beings in the end. Her marital rages provoked by a mate whose adolescent lusts put their collective mission at risk are probably a good measure of just how different they are.
"In their way of thinking," Noonan observes of the Clintons, "America is an important place, but not a thing of primary importance. America is the platform for the Clintons' ambitions, not the focus of them." The implication is that if they were principled emissaries of a political cause, the ambition to do big things for America would override all others. Instead, they have focused on themselves and consequently have made the American political landscape itself "a lower and lesser thing."
They have "behaved as though they are justified in using any tactic in pursuit of their goals," including illegality, deception, libel, threats and "ruining the lives of perceived enemies . . . " They believe, she continues, "they are justified in using any means to achieve their ends for a simple and uncomplicated reason. It is that they are superior individuals whose gifts and backgrounds entitle them to leadership." They do it for themselves; for the continuance of Them.
But the fact is they all do it. The missionaries of the big progressive causes, the Steinems, the Irelands, the Michelmans, the Friedans, and Hillary Clinton herself, were all willing to toss their feminist movement overboard to give Bill Clinton a pass on multiple sexual harassments, and on a career of sexual predation that reflects his utter contempt for the female gender.
Indeed, the Clinton-Lewinsky defense—accord which the feminists signed onto, can be regarded as feminism's Nazi-Soviet Pact. Their calculation was both simple and crude: If Clinton was removed, Hillary would go too. But she was their link to patronage and power, and they couldn't imagine losing that. Their kind was finally in control of the White House, and the conservative enemies of their beautiful future were not.
Almost a decade earlier—in the name of the very principles they so casually betrayed for Clinton—the same feminists had organized the most disgraceful lynching of a public figure in America's history. Despite fiercely proclaimed commitments to the racial victims of American persecution, they launched a vicious campaign to destroy the reputation of an African American jurist who had risen, unblemished, from dirt-shack poverty in the segregated south to the nation's highest courts. They did it knowingly, cynically, with the intent to destroy him in his person, and to ruin his public career.
Has there ever been a more reprehensible witch-hunt in American public life than the one organized by feminist leaders who then emerged as vocal defenders of the White House lecher? Was there ever a more sordid betrayal of common decency than this collective defamation—for which no apology has or ever will be given?
What was the sin Clarence Thomas committed to earn such punishment? The allegation—that he had talked inappropriately ten years before to a female lawyer and made her uncomfortable—appears laughable in the post-Lewinsky climate of presidential gropings and borderline rapes that the same feminists have sanctioned for their political accomplice. Thomas' real crime, as everybody knew but was too intimidated by the hysteria to confirm at the time, was his commitment to constitutional principles they hated. They hated these principles because the Constitution was written for the explicit purpose of preventing the realization of their socialist and egalitarian dreams.
Peggy Noonan is right. The focus of Hillary Clinton's ambition is not her country. But it is not just herself either. It is also a place that does not exist. It is the vision of a world that can only be achieved when the Chosen accumulate enough power to change this one.
That is why Hillary and Sid Blumenthal, her fawning New Left Machiavelli, call their own political philosophy the politics of "The Third Way." This distinguishes it from the "triangulation" strategy Dick Morris used to resurrect Bill Clinton's presidency. Morris guided Clinton, in appropriating specific Republican policies towards a balanced budget and welfare reform as a means of securing his re-election. Hillary Clinton was on board for these policies, and in that sense is a triangulator herself. But "triangulation" is too merely tactical and too morally crass to define a serious political philosophy. Above all, it fails to project the sense of promise that intoxicates the imaginations of self-styled "progressives." That is why Hillary and Sid call their politics "The Third Way."
"The Third Way" is a familiar term from the lexicon of the left with a long and dishonorable pedigree in the catastrophes created by messianic socialists in the 20th Century. It is the most ornate panel in the tapestry of deception I described at the beginning of this essay.
In the 1930s, Nazis used "The Third Way" to characterize their own brand of national socialism as a equidistant between the "internationalist" socialism of the Soviet Union and the capitalism of the West. Trotskyists used "The Third Way" as a term to distinguish their own Marxism from Stalinism and capitalism. In the 1960s, New Leftists used "The Third Way" to define their politics as an independent socialism between the Soviet gulag and America's democracy.
But as the history of Nazism, Trotskyism and the New Left have shown, there is no "Third Way." There is the capitalist, democratic way based on private property and individual rights—a way that leads to liberty and universal opportunity. And there is the socialist way of group identities, group rights, a relentless expansion of the political state, restricted liberty and diminished opportunity. The Third Way is not a path to the future. It is just the suspension between these two destinations. It is a bad faith attempt on the part of people who are incapable of giving up their socialist schemes to escape the taint of their discredited past.
Is there a practical difference in the modus operandi of Clinton narcissism and Clinton messianism? I think there is, and it is the difference between "triangulation"—a cynical compromise to hang onto power until the next election cycle, and "The Third Way"—a cynical deception to ensure the continuance of Us, until we acquire enough power to transform everyone else. It is the difference between the politics of getting what you can, and the politics of changing the world.
A capsule illustration of these different political ambitions can be found in the book Primary Colors, which describes, in thinly veiled fiction, Bill Clinton's road to the presidency. Primary Colors is an admiring portrait not only of the candidate, but of the dedicated missionaries—the true believing staffers and the long-suffering wife—who serve Clinton's political agendas, but at the price of enabling the demons of self.
These staffers—political functionaries like Harold Ickes and George Stephanopoulos—serve as the flak-catchers and "bimbo eruption"—controllers who clean up his personal messes and shape his image for gullible publics. But they are also the idealists who design his message. And in the end, they enable him to politically succeed.
It is Primary Colors' insight into the minds of these missionaries that is revealing. They see Clinton clearly as a flawed and often repellent human being. They see him as a lecher, a liar and a man who would destroy an innocent person in order to advance his own career. (This is, in fact, the climactic drama of the text). Yet through all the sordidness and lying, the personal ruthlessness and disorder, the idealistic missionaries faithfully follow and serve the leader.
They do it not because they are themselves corrupted through material rewards. The prospect of fame is not even what drives them. Think only of Harold Ickes, personally betrayed and brutally cast aside by Clinton, who nonetheless refused to turn on him, even after the betrayal. Instead, Ickes kept his own counsel and protected Clinton, biding his time and waiting for Hillary. Then joined her staff to manage her Senate campaign.
The idealistic missionaries in this true tale bite their tongues and betray their principles, rather than betray him. They do so because in Bill Clinton they see a necessary vehicle of their noble ambition and uplifting dreams. He, too, cares about social justice, about poor people and blacks (or so he makes them believe). They will serve him and lie for him and destroy for him, because he is the vessel of their hope.
Because Bill Clinton "cares," he is the vital connection to the power they need to accomplish the redemption. Because the keys to the state are within Clinton's grasp, he becomes in their eyes the only prospect for advancing the progressive cause. Therefore, they will sacrifice anything and everything—principle, friends, country—to make him succeed.
But Bill Clinton is not like those who worship him, corrupting himself and others for a higher cause. Unlike them, he betrays principles because he has none. He will even betray his country, but without the slightest need to betray it for something else—for an idea, a party, or a cause.* He is a narcissist who sacrifices principle for power because his vision is so filled with himself that he cannot tell the difference.
But the idealists who serve him—the Stephanopoulos's, the Ickes's, the feminists, the progressives and Hillary Clinton—can tell the difference. Their cynicism flows from the very perception they have of right and wrong. They do it for higher ends. They do it for the progressive faith. They do it because they see themselves as having the power to redeem the world from evil. It is that terrifyingly exalted ambition that fuels their spiritual arrogance and justifies their sordid and, if necessary, criminal means.
And that is why they hate conservatives. They hate you because you are killers of their dream. Because you are defenders of a Constitution that thwarts their cause. They hate you because your "reactionary" commitment to individual rights, to a single standard and to a neutral and limited state obstructs their progressive designs. They hate you because you are believers in property and its rights as the cornerstones of prosperity and human freedom; because you do not see the market economy as a mere instrument for acquiring personal wealth and political war chests, to be overcome in the end by bureaucratic schemes.
Conservatives who think progressives are misinformed idealists will forever be blind-sided by the malice of the left—by the cynicism of those who pride themselves on principle, by the viciousness of those who champion sensitivity, by the intolerance of those who call themselves liberal, and by the ruthless disregard for the well-being of the downtrodden by those who preen themselves as social saints.
Conservatives are caught by surprise because they see progressives as merely misguided, when in fact they are fundamentally misdirected. They are the messianists of a religious faith. But it is a false faith and a self-serving religion. Since the redeemed future that justifies their existence and rationalizes their hypocrisy can never be realized, what really motivates progressives is a modern idolatry: their limitless passion for the continuance of Them.