Frontpage Interview’s guest today Paul Kengor, the author of the New York Times extended-list bestseller God and Ronald Reagan as well as God and George W. Bush and The Crusader. He is a professor of political science and director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. He is the author of the first spiritual biography of the former first lady, God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life.
FP: Paul Kengor, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Kengor: It’s always a pleasure to be with Frontpage, Jamie. You folks dig into these issues from a critical perspective that eludes even the best websites. That especially applies to the radicals of the 1960s, which I plan to talk about here today.
FP: What inspired you to write this book?
Kengor: Well, that question seems to baffle a lot of people. The market for this book has been narrowed by conservatives who have trouble believing that Hillary believes in God or liberals who don’t care that she believes in God. I’ve probably done about 40 interviews with conservative sources but have yet to do a single interview with a liberal source. I thought liberals would think to themselves, “Gee, this conservative author who has written books on the faiths of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush has surprised us with a fair, comprehensive look at the faith of Hillary Clinton, and from literally the first page he doesn’t doubt her claims to be a Christian!”
But that hasn’t been the response, Jamie. They are not beating down my door. Maybe liberals could simply give a rip that Hillary believes in God.
Of course, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Liberals, and especially the dominant press, obsess over the fact that religious voters overwhelming support Republicans, but it is rarely mentioned that liberal Democratic politicians rely on non-religious voters. Atheists are consistently in the bag for liberal candidates. Consider this CNN exit-polling data from the November 2004 race: 10% of those who voted for president that November claimed to have no religion whatsoever. Of those, 68% voted for John Kerry. The most godless state in the country was California, where 24% of voters, almost one in four, said they never attend church, and they went for Kerry 63 to 34%. The most godless city was New York City. In the state of New York, the 12% of voters who claimed no religion at all voted for Kerry by 78 to 19%—most of those voters were from the city. The data for the 2000 race was nearly identical.
So, un-belief works for liberal Democrats. Here’s a statistical fact: The greater the number of people who do not believe in God, the greater the number of votes for liberal Democrats. I suppose Al Gore might call that a triumph of reason.
The problem for most of these liberal politicians is that they run for office in America and not in France. They would do extremely well among the socialist, unbelieving populations of Europe.
This may seem like a digression from your question, but it isn’t. It brings me to the central reason why I wrote this book: Hillary Clinton realizes that if she is to win in 2008, she needs more than the atheist vote. She needs to win a sizable enough sliver of those 2000 and 2004 moral-religious “values voters” who twice elected George W. Bush. Those who attend church weekly or more went overwhelming for Bush, by two-to-one ratios, and each time provided him with an absolutely decisive vote margin of about five million ballots.
It became clear in the immediate days after the November 2004 vote, specifically in a speech by Hillary at Tufts University on November 10, 2004, that she was going to go after that values voter. She angrily complained that it was a sign of “such disrespect” to think that liberal Democrats who believe in God cannot be attractive to these religious voters. Ever since, she has pursued a strategy to win them over in 2008.
FP: So what exactly does Hillary believe in?
Kengor: That brings me to the other reason why I wrote this book. She is a classic, textbook-case of a Religious Left politician. Through this book, I was eager to remind a theologically ignorant media and secular nation that not everyone who is a religious believer is a “fundamentalist.” In fact, anyone who bothers to take an honest look at George W. Bush’s statements on religion, and especially his ongoing remarks about how he and fellow Christians worship the same God as Muslims, would find that it is utterly ridiculous to categorize Bush as a fundamentalist.
Within the Christian faith, there are tens of thousands of Protestant denominations. They range all over the place in their beliefs. There are liberal Christians; there are radical left Christians. There are leaderships among the mainline denominations that are to the left of Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer. Hillary’s denomination—the United Methodist Church—has moved so far to the left that millions of faithful Methodists have permanently parted ways with their church, despite a deep heritage of Methodism within their families. Hillary’s church is on-the-record as officially supporting legalized abortion, and has even joined the tragically misguided Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. It is for those reasons in particular that Hillary says she is “so comfortable in this church.”
Hillary is also part of a long tradition of “social justice” Christians. These are the folks who have concluded that when Jesus calls on them to help the poor—which he did quite clearly, of course—that he favored a system of collectivism and forced wealth redistribution, including 50-plus percent upper-income tax rates, an estate tax, a capital gains tax, sales taxes, taxes on fuel, taxes on cigarettes, property taxes, government-subsidized healthcare, daycare, $5,000-bonds for newborns, and so on; and that’s just a starter. They rightly understand that God wants all of us to be good stewards of the environment, but can be downright dogmatic in insisting that if the Almighty were here today he would cast into a lake of fire all those who don’t support the Kyoto Treaty.
They invoke the teachings of Christ not in a way that demands private charity—which, in my view, is really the mandate of Scripture—but in a way that leads to an explosion in government. Many of these folks turn Jesus Christ into a socialist.
Hillary has cited Christ as the guiding force for her government healthcare. She said in an April 1996 speech: “We know so well what Jesus said to his disciples, holding a small child in his arms, that whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me, but the one who sends me. Take the image we have of Jesus—of Jesus as the Shepherd. Taking that face and transposing it onto the face of every child we see, then we would ask ourselves, ‘Would I turn that child away from the health care that child needs?’”
Needless to say, the New York Times hasn’t attacked her for transposing the face of Christ onto children of non-Christian faiths—Muslims, Jews, Buddhists.
The interesting thing about this, Jamie, is where it presumably pits those who disagree with Hillary’s healthcare initiatives. Are they against Jesus? Her ideological mentors, such as Marian Wright Edelman, also a liberal Christian, have leveled such nasty judgmental accusations at those who disagree with hers and Hillary’s collectivist policies for helping children.
“As a Christian,” says Hillary, “part of my obligation is to take action to alleviate suffering.” As a Christian / Religious Left politician, Hillary believes she is doing the Lord’s work.
This is why the faith of Hillary Clinton matters, and these are reasons why I wrote this book. To understand Hillary, you have to understand her spiritual thinking and background.
FP: Tell us a bit about the permanent transformation from Goldwater girl to the 60s radical.
Kengor: Here’s where I so appreciate the work of Frontpage, because you folks understand how the 1960s has never left these people.
Hillary made a sharp turn from conservative Christian “Goldwater girl” in the early 1960s to radical Religious Left Christian in the late 1960s. This transition explains how and why and what she is today.
To understand the transformation of Hillary, you need to understand her spiritual path, which follows the leftward drift of Methodism, starting in the 1960s. It was a youth minister named Don Jones, a religious liberal who came to her Methodist church at Park Ridge, Illinois in 1961, who was the man who initiated the seismic shift of moving Hillary away from the Republicanism of her father, Hugh Rodham.
FP: Shed some light for us on the tight window from roughly the early 60s to the early 70s, when the Hillary of today was molded. Who was the radical shaped by?
Kengor: There were several fellow travelers and far-left individuals along this route, from Saul Alinsky to the Treuhafts to a Yale prof called “Tommie the Commie” to Marian Wright Edelman. Also along the way are Wellesley and a radical Methodist magazine for college students, called Motive, which was run by National Council of Churches types. All of this took place from about 1963 to 1973, with the peak being around 1969 to 1971—the height of Hillary’s personal La Revolucion.
Don Jones began it all when he had his youth group drive to Chicago to meet with the legendary Alinsky, who was dedicated to ripping down the “power structure” throughout capitalist America. Some claim that Alinsky was a member of the Communist Party USA, though most place him in the category of anti-Communist leftists. Alinsky himself, in an interview shortly before he died, said he was never a Party member but did quite a bit of work with Communists. “Anybody who tells you he was active in progressive causes in those days and never worked with the Reds is a goddamn liar,” said Alinsky. “[T]he party platform stood for all the right things … was on the right side and did considerable good.”
Hillary later described Alinsky as a “great seducer” of young minds, as had Jones, which was apparently the reason he brought his Christian soldiers to meet with him. Jones left a lasting impression. Hillary was so intrigued and impressed by Alinsky that she later wrote her college thesis on his strategies.
Of most concern to the parents at the Park Ridge church was the lack of religious purpose to this introduction. After all, Jones’s point in bringing his acolytes to Alinsky could not have been religious, since Alinsky was a well-known and committed agnostic Jew who proudly declared his “independence” from any affiliation, including Christianity. The shared interest was not religion but a mutual dedication to advancing the interests of the Proletariat.
But it didn’t stop there. After writing her Wellesley thesis on Alinsky and his strategies, Hillary suddenly had a chance to become a protégé when Alinsky offered her a job in the spring of 1969 as an organizer in Oakland, California, where he had relocated. Here’s where the spiritual story again has one of those disturbing moments. At the time that Hillary and Alinsky were writing to one another, and as she was considering a job offer from him, Alinsky was putting his final touches on his crowning work, Rules for Radicals. In this book, he laid out a new “Trinity,” not in any way resembling the Christian Holy Trinity, but a kind of Marxist Trinity based on class distinctions, by which he divided humanity into three groups: “the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-a-Little, Want Mores.” Like Marxists, Alinsky’s worldview was focused through the lens not of religion but class economics.
Most disturbing are Alinsky’s first words on the book’s dedication page: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder-acknowledgment to the very first radical … the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer.”
Yes, Alinsky paused to acknowledge Satan as he began his apotheosis, his crowning work. The first time I heard this—from Jim Quinn, a talk-show host based in Pittsburgh—I couldn’t believe it. I rushed to the library and found the book, opened it, and couldn’t believe my eyes. This is the guy that Hillary, a self-described “old-fashioned Methodist,” admired, and from whom she nearly accepted a job offer, declining only because she was accepted to Yale Law School.
By the way, I should add that she did find her way to Oakland later, in the summer of 1971, where she was hired as an intern in the law offices of the notorious Reds Robert Treuhaft and his British-born wife Jessica “Decca” Mitford, the one-time muckraking journalist; they lived near Alinsky. Truehaft and Mitford were married in 1943, several years after Mitford’s husband died fighting for the Communists in the Spanish Civil War, and eventually moved to San Francisco. Both Mr. and Mrs. Treuhaft had joined the Communist Party USA, whereupon they were for many years denied passports and frequently investigated by government officials. They left the party in 1958, finally concluding that Joe Stalin had gone a little overboard. It took them 20 years after the purges and the Red Terror to come around.
In 1971, Treuhaft welcomed with open arms Hillary Rodham to his latest causes. Among those causes was the Free Speech Movement, the Black Panther Party, and the draft-resisting Oakland Seven during the Vietnam War. If there was ever any talk of religion for Hillary here, it would have been about how religion was the “opiate of the masses.”
Hillary’s introduction to the Marxists probably unfolded through a law professor with whom she was close—Yale Constitutional scholar Thomas I. Emerson, known as “Tommie the Commie,” and another reported CPUSA member.
FP: What was Motive magazine?
Kengor: It was during college that Hillary swallowed a large dose of the religious left, namely through a now defunct magazine for college-aged Methodists called Motive, which she had been given a subscription to by Don Jones as a high-school graduation gift. Hillary devoured every issue. “I still have every issue they sent me,” she said in a 1994 interview.
This was not the typical Christian publication aimed at college kids. It was founded in 1941 by Harold Ehrensperger, a pacifist committed to the social gospel tradition, and a member of the extremist National Council of Churches, as was his successor, editor Roger Ortmeyer. The magazine lurched further and further to the left throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, eventually becoming a magazine of the counter-culture, where its pages were filled with a kind of who’s who of radical Protestants.
The signal period of Motive’s far-left drift came from 1961 to 1969 under the leadership of its fourth editor, B.J. Stiles. During this period, the magazine’s special targets were the Vietnam War, anti-Communism, and American “economic imperialism,” especially alleged U.S. evil-doings in Latin America.
Hillary particularly recalls an article by Methodist theologian Carl Oglesby, called “Change or Containment,” which had the important effect of pushing her further against U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. Oglesby wrote a book by the same name, which he co-authored with Richard Shaull in 1967. Oglesby’s words in the book were a scathing blame-America-first indictment of U.S. foreign policy, filled with moral equivalency, and failing to differentiate essential differences between American and Soviet goals in the Cold War. And, of course, it was dismissive of the seriousness of the Communist threat.
For the record, Oglesby was no run-of-the-mill Methodist pacifist. He was an early founder and eventual president of SDS—Students for a Democratic Society. In the pages of Motive, Oglesby asked questions like, “What would be so wrong about a Vietnam run by Ho Chi Minh, a Cuba by Castro?”
Motive magazine drifted so far to the left, politically and religiously, that the left-leaning United Methodist leadership stripped it of funding. In other words, the very years that Hillary was most influenced by the magazine—so impressed that she still owns every copy—the liberal Methodist leadership found Motive so irresponsible that its funding was cut. The last issue was so offensive that it was pulled from the press by executives in the Methodist Church’s Board of Education.
The final gasps of the magazine took place from 1969 to 1972. An infamous edition was the “Women’s Liberation Issue” of early 1971, where the lead piece began, “Here she is, Miss America. Take her off the stage and f--- her.” This issue prompted the elders of the church to instruct Motive that its days were numbered, and half the subscribers cancelled—except for Hillary, who seemed to cherish the magazine more and more. Of course, by this point, readers should not have been shocked: the often-profane Christian magazine had featured a photo of a pretty co-ed with an LSD tablet on her tongue, ran a mock obituary of God, presented a birthday card to Ho Chi Minh, and regularly provided advice of draft-dodging and desertion.
In 1972, motive made its exit with a special theme issue on lesbianism and feminism and the gay-male sexual experience, the former theme being demanded by the lesbian Methodists on staff.
FP: What was the story on the experimentation with New Age mysticism?
Kengor: In the mid 1990s, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton participated in strange moments of imaginary conversation with a deceased Eleanor Roosevelt from the solarium atop the White House—her favorite room, which she had personally redesigned. The woman who arranged these sessions and became very close to Hillary—Jean Houston—compared Hillary to Joan of Arc. Houston, along with her husband, was widely known for her work delving into altered consciousness, the spirit world, and psychic experiences. It was reported that in the 1960s they had conducted experiments with LSD. According to one source, Houston seemed to believe that the embattled First Lady was going through a kind of female crucifixion, and that she was arguably the most pivotal woman in all of human history.
I have a full chapter on this in the book. The stories you’ve heard are true, and neither Mrs. Clinton nor her staff have denied them. I deal with it with great delicacy and a lot of careful detail. Throughout the book, I try to report details without injecting my opinion—show, don’t tell—with a tone very different from what I’m using in this interview.
FP: The Monica Lewinsky scandal?
Kengor: That’s the longest chapter in the book, and one I struggled with. The problem with both the Clintons is you never know who or what to believe. The stories of Bill and Monica, of course, are all true. I document these, including the infamous Easter Sunday 1996 rendezvous, where Bill had a session with Monica while he was conducting the business of the state from a telephone in the Oval Office.
My sense is that Hillary, even though she knew her husband’s past, was genuinely surprised that he would be so stupid to blow their political careers over something like the “affair” with the college intern. She saw it as both a personal and political blow. It betrayed their marriage, including their political marriage. When she first blamed the Monica allegations on a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” I think she sincerely believed that they weren’t true. Once she learned that they were, she was deeply embarrassed, and humiliated. Again, I struggled with this one, but the totality of evidence—remarks by her and on-the-record observations from staff, friends, and her ministers (who I interviewed)—suggests that the betrayal and humiliation was so complete that this did have the effect of driving Hillary back to her faith more than any other incident over the past 30 years.
She searched for a higher reason for her suffering from Bill’s philandering. “I’ve got to take this,” she told a friend. “I have to take this punishment. I don’t know why God has chosen this for me. But He has, and it will be revealed to me. God is doing this, and He knows the reason. There is some reason.”
She ordered Bill to get counseling—and to sleep on the couch for quite a while. Hillary may be a radical on political issues, but she is very much her stern father’s daughter on matters like this. I bet she could hear the voice of Hugh Rodham telling her from the grave, “Now, Hillary, don’t fall for any of this baloney about a ‘sex addiction!’”
Unlike Bill, she has firm control over her emotions; she is disciplined, doesn’t emote. The only emotion that tends to get the best of her is anger, especially the vituperation she feels at pro-lifers.
FP: What do you think will happen in 2008?
Kengor: Hillary will head back to the churches to do more church campaigning, and will do so with complete impunity from a sympathetic press that explodes in rage when a Republican like George W. Bush even mentions that he prays. Hillary Clinton barnstormed 20 New York churches in merely the two months prior to the November 2000 Senate vote, including six on Election Day morning alone. She learned this craft from her husband and Al Gore, who both got away with it.
She will also talk much more openly about her faith, always invoking those social-justice issues, like how Jesus supports a 30-cent hike in the minimum wage, which she and other liberal Christians will divine with dogmatic certainty.
The biggest surprise, and most frustrating to conservatives, will be the sudden conversion of the press. The liberal secular press will experience a Saul-on-the-Road-to-Damascus conversion on the matter of integrating faith and politics. Whereas George Bush was portrayed as a borderline Torquemada for daring to say he consulted his “higher father,” Hillary’s invocations of the Almighty will be warmly greeted, like Jimmy Carter’s. Journalists will be moved to tears, inspired by Hillary’s faithfulness. Prepare yourself for a revolting double standard. The hope of secular liberal journalists is the same hope of Hillary: that this religious dimension will bring her enough votes to win it all in 2008. They are (suddenly) praying as hard as she is.
FP: Paul Kengor, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Kengor: Thank you Jamie.