The theme of Hillary Clinton’s campaign stump speeches and TV ads is that too many troubled Americans have become “invisible” to those in power. Her first radio ad, launched recently in South Carolina, claims “Too many Americans today feel as though they are invisible.” On Labor Day, she said, “For seven long years, hardworking middle class families have been invisible to this administration. But these families aren't invisible to me.” Earlier, in Iowa, she took considerable flack for claiming that the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are “invisible” to the White House. She has dropped that reference, but has kept the overall theme.
When I first heard this refrain, it rang a bell. It is not original to Senator Clinton. I was only a few years behind her as a college student. She was undoubtedly familiar with Michael Harrington’s 1962 book The Other America: Poverty in the United States, which was used as a text all across the liberal arts curriculum for more than a decade. It seems to have affected her more than it did me, but I can still recall his rhetoric.
Harrington’s book helped promote the expansion of the welfare state in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Harrington wrote, in one of the book’s enduring themes, “that the poor are invisible is one of the most important things about them. They are not simply neglected and forgotten as in the old rhetoric of reform; what is much worse, they are not seen.” He argued that with the rise of suburbia, the middle class was removing itself away from contact with the poor. “These are normal and obvious causes of the invisibility of the poor...It is more important to understand that the very development society is creating a new kind of blindness about poverty. It is increasingly slipping out of the very experience and consciousness of the nation.”
Clinton has now expanded the cloak of invisibility to cover the middle class suburbs as well as the impoverished urban areas of Harrington’s construction. Her familiarity with Harrington’s work probably extends beyond any college reading. Though the campuses of the late 1960s and early 1970s were in turmoil from the rise of the radical New Left, Harrington, born in 1928, was of the Old Left. He believed in working within the system, using the Democratic Party as the vehicle for implementing socialism in America. He was long an intellectual force within the party.
He had been a conscious objector during the Korean War, when he was editor of a Christian anarchist publication, The Catholic Worker. His role model was Norman Thomas, who combined socialism and pacifism. Harrington served as chairman of the board of the League for Industrial Democracy and as chairman of the executive board of the Socialist Party. When the Socialist Party supported the Vietnam War, opting for democracy over communism, Harrington split and formed the Democratic Socialists of America in 1973, which opposed the war. He is often credited with inventing the term “neoconservative” to disparage former comrades on the Left who were anti-communist during the Cold War. He was also active in the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Other America is still in print and remains a core work for leftist thinkers. Harrington wrote 15 more books, many ill-timed in their attempt to predict political events. These included Toward a Democratic Left: A Radical Program for a New Majority (1968); The Twilight of Capitalism (1976); The Next America: The Decline and Rise of the United States (1981); and Socialism: Past and Future (1989).
In August 1988, when Harrington was dying of cancer, National Review reported on a party given in his honor by the political, literary, and Hollywood Left. There was much “joking about ‘the S-word.’ Ted Kennedy said, ‘Some call it socialism. I call it the Sermon on the Mount.’ The crowd sang ‘The Internationale’ (you expected ‘God Bless America,’ maybe?), and there was much nervous joking about the S word. ‘Never can the word be given up!’ cried Paul Berman in The Village Voice, reviewing the occasion a week later.” Harrington told the New York Times, “I share an immediate program with liberals in this country because the best liberalism leads toward socialism.” Whom did he support in 1988? “I'm assuming the election of Michael Dukakis. That's the first step. I supported Jesse Jackson in the primaries, but I'm very much for Dukakis.” he said.
The Democrats lost the presidential race in1988, but won four years later. As First Lady, Hillary Clinton tried to implement a centerpiece of democratic socialism, a national health insurance scheme. That political debacle is thought to have played a major role in the Republican sweep of both houses of Congress in 1994.
Since then, Senator Clinton has tried to strike a moderate pose in party politics, even voting for the war in Iraq before voting against it. Yet her new rhetoric, taken from the socialist creed of Michael Harrington, reveals that the real core of her leftist ideology has not changed. She has now resurrected her American Health Choices Plan as a central presidential campaign plank, with mandatory universal enrollment to be funded with higher, explicitly redistributive taxes. And her support for the greatly expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program – which moves benefits (and controls) from the poor to the middle class, must be seen as a major step on the road to inescapable HillaryCare. Her health insurance gambits should be seen as only the opening wedge in a Harrington-inspired assault on the private economy.