In the Who's Sappier? contest of Hillary Clinton profiles on Sunday between The New York Times and the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote up a 3,085-word article called "Growing Up Rodham" that completely matched the Clinton-campaign template about her upbringing under a stern, even tyrannical father who was odiously conservative. Like the Times, the Post couldn’t find a single Hillary critic or adversary in the entire 3,000-plus words.
In the Post, it kicked off a series of long candidate biographies called "The Front-Runners." Jenkins is usually a sports writer and sports columnist for the Post. (Oddly, the Mitt Romney profile on Monday was written by reporter Eli Saslow, also brought over from Sports.) The overall effect of the Jenkins piece was to use Daddy’s ill-tempered right-wing views to nudge Hillary’s image into the center. On the front page Sunday, under a smiling Hillary portrait, these words appeared in large print:
Just what would Hugh Rodham, conservative with a small "c," have thought of a Democratic woman running for president? For a moment, Clinton isn’t sure how to reply. "If it was his daughter," she says, "he’d have been fine with it."
The first paragraph of the Jenkins article is a masterpiece of contempt for Outdated Hugh and his loathsome views of commies and deadbeats:
Back then, chicken a la cheese won recipe contests, and an Amana Free-o-Frost was the answer to every woman's problems. Hugh Rodham woke up each morning in his thick-walled suburban dream home in Park Ridge, Ill., bellowing the songs of Mitch Miller and the Gang (Singalong favorites! "Ain't We Got Fun"!), and sat down each night to dinner served exactly at 6 p.m., over which he issued loud pronouncements about American self-reliance, as opposed to communists and deadbeats seeking handouts.That's when the argument would start. "Now, wait a minute," his wife, Dorothy Rodham, would suggest, voice soft as a housedress. "Sometimes things happen to people that they have no control over." Their daughter, Hillary, would follow the conversation, alternately agreeing with each, until Hugh had the last word. Fathers were the ultimate authority then. Fathers, and presidents.
Jenkins then asked Hillary how her father’s conservatism shaped her political ideology:
"I think it was part of the balance I created in my own life, it became a balancing of all my different influences and values," she says, describing in a recent interview the way her father's conservatism shaped her. "A lot was worth admiring in the sense of rugged individualism. But it didn't explain enough for me about the world, or the world as I would want it to be."
It's a self-analysis that won't satisfy critics who accuse her of being a political chameleon, with views calculated and never quite fixed. Nevertheless, there was an original Hillary, before she was so heavily coated by perception: a girl reared in a conventional postwar middle-class hamlet who, according to her youth pastor, Don Jones, was "controlled and circumspect" even then. She was the conciliator of the "push and tug" of her parents' differences, and she clung to centrism even during the '60s as her teachers in Park Ridge engaged in a conservative-vs.-liberal duel for her "mind and soul," she writes in her memoir, "Living History."
Do you notice the pattern of how each of these Hillary profiles leans heavily on Hillary’s own memoir as if it were completely factual and trustworthy and objective, and not a self-serving campaign book?
The other interesting passage in the profile concerned Hillary’s youth minister Don Jones, the one who really introduced her to the hard left. Once again, troublesome anti-communists were holding Hillary back:
Jones arranged discussions with disadvantaged children in Chicago and took his youth group to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak at Orchestra Hall on a Sunday night in 1962. King's address was "Sleeping Through the Revolution," and in his vibrato he decried suburbanites who passed the poor by. Jones introduced the children to King personally, and Hillary was so affected that she volunteered to babysit for the children of migrant workers during harvest.
Not surprisingly, Carlson resented Jones's liberal sway over his prodigy, who by then was vice president of her junior class. "Hillary was one of his main projects because he admired her and respected her as one of the best students he had," Jones says. Jones thought Carlson was a slanted ideologue. Ricketts recalls: "Don represented the questioning of values, and Paul Carlson was the values being questioned."
The final straw came when Jones found Carlson distributing anti-communist pamphlets in church. Jones complained to senior ministers, who convened a meeting of the two men in front of the youth group. It was supposed to be conciliatory, but Carlson and Jones went at it. Carlson suggested that the church's educational thrust was pro-communist. An exasperated Jones cried out, "Who do you think you are, Paul Carlson, Jesus Christ?"
Shortly afterward, Jones was forced to resign. He'd lasted just two years in Park Ridge. "Then he was gone," Ricketts says. "But it was too late. The seeds were planted."
Jenkins theorized that Hillary just "inched left," not lurched left once she escaped her father’s dinner-table tyranny.
At Wellesley College -- Hugh said he would pay for his daughter to go anywhere but west or to that hippie den Radcliffe -- Hillary continued to be pulled both ways. She was president of the Young Republicans as a freshman in 1965, only to inch left in increments, first toward Nelson Rockefeller and later to antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy. "I moved slowly but surely," she says.
But in the end, Hillary’s upbringing is supposed to be invoked to make Hillary look more conservative and Midwestern, and less the Wellesley feminist:
At local halls and county fire stations, she invokes her conservative Midwestern past to people in workaday clothes sitting in folding metal chairs. With her buff-colored hair and narrow shoulders in a brown suit, she blends with the landscape. In a flat accent, she echoes all that she heard at the dinner table, talking about "American innovation" and "good jobs with a rising income!" She intends to "restore the habits of our parents and grandparents" and says, "Everything I've put forward, I've said how I would pay for it."
On Monday, Jenkins appeared for an Internet chat to discuss the article at washingtonpost.com. She acknowledged that the Goldwater Girl template doesn't match how Hillary was being heavily influenced by Don Jones well before that:
Chronology?: So if Hillary was really influenced by her youth minister in the early 1960s, isn't it a bit of a stretch to assert (as some do) that she was a conservative Goldwater Girl by conviction, rather than perhaps just a growing young progressive going through the motions for her dad?
Sally Jenkins: Good point. But she clung to it long enough -- she kept Conscience of a Conservative on her bookshelf in college -- that I'd suggest it was a real enough influence. And don't forget how well liked she is by some on the other side of the aisle, starting with Gingrich and McCain. There's a genuine affinity there.
Earth to Sally: I have a pile of liberal and hard-left books on my bookshelf, but it doesn’t make me a liberal. Let’s hope the McCains and the Gingriches know that when they suck up to Hillary to get positive mentions in the liberal papers, they’re helping morph her into the center for her media promoters.
Jenkins also faced down conservative questioners on the Post chat:
Point of Rocks, Md.: Are we detecting a bit of feminism in your literary opening about life in the Bellowing Mitch Miller tyranny in Park Ridge? Why is it so funny for liberals to still laugh at people inveighing about the "communists"? I don't think they were laughing in Eastern Europe.
Sally Jenkins: Are we detecting a bit of suggestion that all female sportswriters are liberals, and that all feminists are secretly father-hating communist sympathizers?
I didn’t read anywhere in that question that Jenkins was suspicious as a female sportswriter. But it’s odd how liberal reporters get upset and suggest they’re being tarred as "communist sympathizers" when they’re questioned for mocking anti-communism.