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.
Hillary’s band of sisters, however, was thrilled. Despite her clumsy use of incoherent ten-cent words and meandering messages, they responded with a standing ovation, or, as more than one source has put it, surely exaggerating the length of the duration, “enveloping her in a thunderous, seven-minute standing ovation.”
To Hillary, the roar of the crowd signaled approval of much more than a brash response to authority; this was a send off, a commencement alright, a beginning of grander things from a honed Hillary Rodham, ready to take her slice out of history.
Brooke was humiliated, as was the Wellesley administration. Brooke would return to the U.S. Senate, where he continued to represent a moderate voice. Hillary Rodham would go to San Francisco, where she interned at a notorious law firm widely known to be run by communists. (Don’t believe me?—the firm was called Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein. Look it up.)
That was decades ago. I hadn’t heard anything from Brooke in while. Not too long ago, President George W. Bush honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom—due recognition for a man of milestones in the cause of civil rights.
That changed recently when I read an article on black Republicans supporting Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. Among the black Republicans extending a hand across the aisle is one Edward W. Brooke, former senator of Massachusetts and former commencement speaker to the Wellesley class of ’69.
With the flag of the revolution passed from Hillary to Barack Obama, the AP reporter quoted Brooke as being “extremely proud and confident and joyful” over Obama securing his party’s nomination. Brooke, who now lives in Florida, did not say if he would endorse Obama over John McCain, but he was thrilled to see the Illinois senator take the party nomination from the former Ms. Hillary Rodham—and for reasons (beyond race) not expanded upon by the AP.
Gee, what could be his reasons?
It took almost 40 years, but it seems that Senator Edward W. Brooke has alas seen Ms. Hillary Rodham receive her comeuppance.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."