The Magazine

Dueling Redbaiters

Which candidate is the real leftist?

May 26, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 35 • By RONALD RADOSH
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First to attack was New Left elder statesman Tom Hayden, who told readers of the Nation magazine's website (April 22) that Clinton herself had been as far left as one could get. And unlike Obama, she did not have the excuse of being eight years old when the New Left radicals were in their prime. Hayden revealed that Hillary "was in Chicago for three nights during the 1968 street confrontations" and that at Yale Law School in 1970 she chaired a meeting where students voted to join a national strike against the Vietnam war. The same year, during the trial of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale for murder, Clinton oversaw Yale law students who were following the proceedings and looking for signs of government misconduct. Most significantly, Hayden writes, Clinton went to work after law school for the San Francisco law firm that defended the Panthers, led by Robert Treuhaft, a former member of the Communist party.

Hayden, of course, sees these activities as "honorable" and asks a simple question: "Doesn't the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whom Hillary attacks today, represent the very essence of the black radicals Hillary was associating with in those days?" Now she has become a "guilt-by-association insinuator," who is "engaged in a toxic transmission onto Barack Obama of every outrageous insult and accusation ever inflicted on her by the American right." Furious at this betrayal, Hayden calls her "Lady Macbeth."

Hayden's sally was followed by one from Clinton's biographer Carl Bernstein on the Huffington Post (May 2). What upset Bernstein was that Clinton was evading the truth about her own past radical activities and associations.

These began at Wellesley, Bernstein wrote, when "she exhibited an academic fascination with the Left and radicalism." Later at Yale she was associate editor of an alternative law review that depicted "policemen as pigs and murderers." Yet, notes Bernstein, in her 2003 memoir, Clinton breathed not a word of her activity on behalf of the Black Panthers, nor was she honest about why she went to work for the Robert Treuhaft law firm. Treuhaft told Bernstein that Clinton came to the firm because it was a "Movement law firm" and she was "in sympathy with all the Left causes." Treuhaft commented that back then, "we still weren't very far out of the McCarthy era." Bernstein adds, "And might still not be, to judge from the 2008 presidential campaign."

It is just as silly, Bernstein concludes, to tie Obama to the Weather Underground as it is to call Clinton a Stalinist. Yet Bernstein and the others have inadvertently opened up two legitimate lines of inquiry: What remains of their old radical ideals in both candidates' present thinking, and how far is each willing to go in exploiting the other's past? If scrutiny of these matters is fair game for them, it can hardly be off limits for the press and the voting public.

Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left.