Paul  Kengor

It was springtime. The year was 1969. The spirit of la revolucion was in the air.

Ms. Hillary Rodham and her Wellesley sisters sat in the crowd awaiting words of inspiration from their speaker. The commencement speaker that year was Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-MA), who in 1966 became the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction. Brooke came to extend his congratulations to the 401 women. It was a good speech, perfectly reasonable—but not to Hillary Rodham.

The young Hillary was dissatisfied. She judged that the good senator had missed the paramount issues of the time. That was an opinion she did not keep to herself, as the Wellesley brass soon learned in horror. Indeed, the powers-that-be at the college had decided that this commencement would be the first in which a graduating senior was permitted to speak. Hillary ensured that the administration would regret its decision.

Though she had spent weeks preparing an approved text, Hillary Rodham tossed aside the script as she approached the platform. She then launched into a point-by-point rebuttal of the senator’s remarks, with all the moral certainty, righteousness, and wisdom of a 21-year-old Poli Sci major from the suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois. “We feel that for too long our leaders have used politics as the art of the possible,” lectured Ms. Rodham. “And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.” She spoke of her and her generation’s struggles with an “inauthentic reality,” a “prevailing acquisitive and competitive corporate life,” and their yearning for “a more penetrating … existence.”

She continued her stern—it has been called “scathing”—rebuke of Senator Brooke, one that would get national press, with an excerpt published in Life magazine and a front-page article in the Boston Globe the next day, the latter of which delightfully reported that Rodham had “upstaged” Brooke. And though the liberals at the Globe would enjoy this latest moment of enlightenment from the campus community, many of the parents were appalled. Who was this petulant brat?

Agree or disagree with her message, Hillary’s treatment of Brooke was rude, not to mention surprising for a young lady who spent the decade fighting for civil rights. Here, after all, was the first black American elected to the Senate in a century. On the other hand, her behavior was all-too-symptomatic of liberal resentment toward black Republicans.