Pennsylvania Senate Election 2016: Pragmatism and Intraparty Conflict

Wendy Schiller & Cory Manento

This piece appears concurrently on the Brown University website.

electing the senate schiller jacketWith Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each vying to win Pennsylvania in November, all eyes are on that state in terms of the presidency.  But there is a contested Senate race in 2016 this year pitting Pat Toomey, a 1st term conservative Republican incumbent against Katie McGinty, a well-connected Democratic Party challenger; at the moment they are locked in a virtual tie.  What is striking about this year’s Senate race in Pennsylvania is how much it shares in common with a Senate election held more than 100 years ago, when U.S. Senators were elected in state legislatures. It was not until 1913, with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, that voters got the opportunity to directly elect their U.S. Senators.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Pennsylvania politics was dominated by the statewide Republican Party; for that entire period, every politician seeking higher office had to pass through the party filter in order to be successful.[1] Modern Pennsylvania politics is much more competitive however, with Democrats often winning statewide office and Congressional races. This fact, along with the advent of the direct election of U.S. Senators, has changed the political calculus of senators from the Keystone State who now must appeal to a broader constituency rather than a single dominant party. In the discussion that follows, Cory Manento and I analyze incumbent Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s electoral career as it compares to one of Pennsylvania’s most famous U.S. Senators from the past, Matthew Quay. Even though more than 100 years separates these two U.S. Senators, they each overcame political defeat, intraparty conflict, and managed to establish a reputation for serving their states albeit in very different ways.

Pat Toomey – a political newcomer

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (R) had almost zero political experience when he ran successfully for the House of Representatives in 1998, but it was his passion for fiscal conservatism and the “watershed” 1994 elections that inspired him to enter politics.[2] One might expect Toomey to be a Democrat based on his background – he was born to union-worker Democratic parents in Providence, Rhode Island – but rather than being shaped by his childhood, his political ideology was shaped by his career as a Wall Street investment banker, which he began soon after graduating from Harvard.[3] It was in the banking industry that Toomey learned to oppose government regulations on the private sector and support an unfettered free market with low taxes. In 1990, Toomey moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania and opened up a restaurant with his siblings. He decided to enter politics in 1994 and served on the local Government Study Commission, leaving his mark by making it more difficult to raise local taxes.[4]

Sensing an opportunity, Toomey set his eyes on the open House of Representatives seat in his district in 1998. The seat, in Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District, was previously held by Democrat Paul McHale. By running on an anti-regulation agenda Toomey was able to win the support of the business community, which provided perhaps the decisive assistance his campaign required to win the six-candidate Republican House primary.[5] He went on to win the general election easily, and served three terms in the House. During his House tenure, Toomey (unsurprisingly) developed a reputation for fiscal conservatism. He served from 1999 to January 2005, making good on his campaign pledge to serve only three terms.[6]

But serving three terms did not mean the end of Toomey’s political aspirations. While still a House member, but knowing he would be leaving, Toomey challenged long-serving moderate Republican U.S. Senator Arlen Specter in the 2004 Republican Senate primary. Considered by many a long-shot candidate, Toomey cast Specter as too liberal and surprised observers by coming within two percentage points of unseating the senator.[7] Toomey’s 2004 primary bid was seen by some as a prelude to the conservative Tea Party – a faction within the Republican Party – and its electoral success in 2010.

Indeed, when Specter was again up for reelection in 2010, another Toomey challenge loomed. Rather than risk losing by again being portrayed as a liberal Republican, Specter decided to change parties. He eventually lost the Democratic primary anyway, while Toomey handily won the Republican primary. In the general election, Toomey was one of the most visible candidates in the Tea Party movement, railing against deficit spending, calling for extending the Bush Tax Cuts, and bemoaning the size of the national debt.[8] He again won support from the business community and fiscally conservative political action committees (PACs), including the Club for Growth, which he led from 2005 to 2009.[9] Toomey defeated Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak with 51 percent of the vote.

Prior to becoming a U.S. Senator, Toomey relished his “outsider” status and used it to his advantage as he criticized – and defeated – the “establishment.” But Senator Toomey has undoubtedly shifted away from his outsider status and revealed a pragmatic understanding of his electoral prospects. He did not join the Senate Republicans’ Tea Party Caucus in 2011 despite running as a Tea Party candidate, for instance. He also has proven to be a moderate on some social issues like LGBT rights, and has pushed for expanded background checks for gun sales.[10]

Toomey’s sharp criticism of U.S. fiscal policy during his 2010 campaign and his experience working in the financial services industry did not go unnoticed by Senate Republican leadership who put him on key committees in that issue area: the Finance Committee; the Committee on the Budget, and the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Additionally, he is chairman of the Finance Subcommittee on Health Care and the Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection. Through these committees and subcommittees, Toomey takes credit for his efforts and says he “fights for fiscal responsibility as well as for ending the overspending, higher taxes, and excessive red tape coming out of Washington.”[11]

One particularly revealing way to illustrate Toomey’s pragmatism is to compare measures of his voting record in the House of Representatives to his voting record in the Senate. In the 108th Congress (2003-2005), Toomey was in the 94th percentile for conservatism among House Republicans. When he became a senator, he dropped to the 57th percentile for conservatism among Senate Republicans.[12] This reflects Toomey’s understanding of his constituency. He was able to be a more conservative Republican in the House because his constituency was more narrow and homogenous. His district was also relatively “safe,” as he won his three elections by 10, 8, and 14 percentage points, respectively.[13] Pennsylvania, however, is considered a swing state that has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1988, and its other senator is Democrat Bob Casey Jr. So it is clear that Toomey has needed to be pragmatic and broaden his appeal to voters that might not be as conservative as the voters that elected him to the House.

In order to distance himself from the Republican brand in the wake of factionalism within the party, Toomey’s strategy thus far has decidedly been to run on what he has done individually as a senator for Pennsylvania. The bipartisan JOBS Act of 2012, of which Toomey was a primary author, passed through the Senate’s Banking Committee with Toomey’s vote before being approved by Congress and signed by President Obama. The bill remains one of Toomey’s most prominent legislative achievements and is one of his central campaign talking points.[14] Moreover, an examination of his sponsored bills reveals a legislative agenda tailored to his constituency: Pennsylvania ranks fourth nationwide in veteran population, and Toomey has sponsored several bills aimed at serving war veterans.[15] He has also sponsored a large number of bills related to crime and law enforcement, and touts his ability to “keep Pennsylvania’s children and families safe.”[16]

Toomey’s challenger, Democrat Katie McGinty, is doing her best to associate him with the national Republican Party. McGinty is a former state and federal environmental official who was the Democratic establishment’s choice to challenge Toomey. In the Democratic Senate primary, she defeated second-time Senate candidate Joe Sestak and other rivals with the help of millions in funding from the party and endorsements from President Obama and other Democrats.[17]  In the general election, McGinty has tried to cast Toomey as another national Republican who is out of step with most Americans on issues like health care and guns.[18] Toomey has raised a significant amount of money in an attempt to counter that image. So far in the 2016 campaign, Toomey has raised nearly $23 million, while spending $15 million of that total, leaving about $8 million remaining in cash on hand.[19] His top contributor (as it was in 2010) is the Club for Growth, and the vast majority of contributors to his campaign are financial institutions. Katie McGinty has raised $6.7 million and spent $4.3 million to date.  Toomey has outspent McGinty by more than three to one thus far but is currently tied with her (within the margin of error) according to recent polls.[20]

Despite Toomey’s best efforts, intraparty factionalism could potentially hurt him in the general election, especially as it relates the 2016 presidential election. Undoubtedly aware of Donald Trump’s poor favorability ratings with general election voters, Toomey has publicly distanced himself from the Republican presidential nominee, did not attend the Republican Party nominating convention in Cleveland, and refrained from offering a clear endorsement. Instead, he only seems willing to say that he is “inclined” to support Trump, but at the same time lamented that Trump’s “vulgarity, particularly toward women, is appalling.”[21] While his 2010 campaign and his Senate career have thus far shown his ability to appeal to both conservative and moderate voters, Toomey risks alienating Trump supporters after Trump handily won the Pennsylvania Presidential primary in April. This factionalism within the Republican Party makes the general election doubly difficult on Toomey, as he must find a way to unite Republicans behind him in his effort to defeat Katie McGinty.

Matthew Quay: The Art of the Machine

Pennsylvania Republican Matthew Quay entered politics prior to the Civil War, serving as a state representative. After fighting in the war, Quay reentered state politics and began to make a name for himself in the state’s dominant Republican Party. From 1872 to 1882, Quay served as U.S. Senator Simon Cameron’s political lieutenant.[22] Cameron had built the Pennsylvania Republican political machine through political patronage, guaranteeing loyal party activists jobs in return for political support, and Quay was widely regarded as his heir apparent.

As a leader of the Republican machine and eventually as Senator, Quay was forced to contend with factionalism within his own party. One of his tasks as a party leader was to organize support for the machine’s preferred candidates in the U.S. Senate elections which were decided by state legislatures. In the 1881 U.S. Senate election, Quay’s job was to coalesce support behind the Republican machine’s preferred candidate, William Wallace. Republicans from the northern and western parts of the state, known as “bolters,” instead threw their support behind two other Republican candidates.

Under the indirect system of elections, each chamber of the state legislature met separately at the beginning of their legislative session to vote for senator; a candidate who received a majority in each chamber was declared the winner. If no candidate received a majority, the two chambers would meet jointly and vote until a winner was chosen or they adjourned for the year. In this case, the election lasted from January 19 to February 23, and took thirty-five joint session ballots to resolve.[23] On February 22, a subset of elite Republicans from both factions met and agreed to coalesce behind a compromise candidate, John Mitchell, and he was elected the next day. Later that week, an article in the New York Times revealed that Mitchell had closer ties to the Cameron machine than had been previously thought. Although Quay was unable to build a winning coalition for William Wallace, he was ultimately able to keep the seat in Republican hands with an alternate member of the Cameron machine.

Quay’s role in the party machine had continued to grow after the 1881 standoff, and he soon came to be recognized as its leader. A prolific fundraiser, Quay is credited with saying that politics was “the art of taking money from the few and votes from the many under the pretext of protecting the one from the other.”[24] Quay himself won election to the U.S. Senate in 1887 and served while maintaining a position of power in the statewide machine.

At the end of his second term, party factionalism returned to haunt Quay in his 1899 bid for reelection. Controversy emerged when the People’s Bank of Pennsylvania revealed that state monies invested in the bank were paying their interest directly to Quay, not to the state. Quay was arrested and put on trial almost at the same moment that the state legislature convened to elect a U.S. Senator.[25] Anti-Quay forces saw the scandal as an opportunity to unseat the incumbent senator. Gridlock ensued, however, when the strength of partisan loyalty expressed itself: not enough Republicans were going to abandon their party’s incumbent Senate candidate, and too few Democrats were willing to cross the aisle to deny Quay’s reelection if it simply meant the election of another Republican in his stead. After an incredible 79 ballots, the legislative session expired and the election ended in a deadlock. See https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:352207/ for the actual ballots in the Pennsylvania Senate election.

The day after the legislature adjourned, Governor William A. Stone appointed Quay to fill the vacancy in the Senate caused by the deadlocked election. The U.S. Senate, however, quickly voted to deny Quay the seat due to the obviously dubious circumstances of his appointment. However, just as Pat Toomey ran for Senate again after losing to Specter in the primary, Quay returned in 1901 to run for the Senate seat that had been vacant since 1899. This time he successfully overcame party factionalism and won the election; Quay served as senator until his death in 1904.

It is clear, though, that Toomey and Quay share a different kind of electoral pragmatism. In the age of indirect elections and party machines, politicians needed to have party ties to wield power (which Quay clearly did) in order to be successful. In the modern age of direct elections, partisan polarization runs very deep, but 2016 is showing that individual senators must still be responsive to voter preferences and constituent interests in their home state. Even with the political differences between then and now, Republican Party factionalism still threatens the reelection of a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania just as it did over 100 years ago. Though it bears remembering that the factionalism surrounding Quay was partly the result of his own corrupt actions, the circumstances surrounding Quay and Toomey serve as a reminder that party cohesiveness can be just as important to maintaining power as the institutional arrangement of elections.

Wendy J. Schiller is associate professor of political science and public policy at Brown University and author of Electing the Senate, along with Charles Stewart III. Stewart is the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


[1] Wendy J. Schiller and Charles Stewart III, Electing the Senate: Indirect Democracy before the Seventeenth Amendment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 80.

[2] CSPAN, “Representative-Elect Pat Toomey” 1998 Washington Journal. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4421922/rep-elect-pat-toomey.

[3] Patrick Kerkstra, “Pat Toomey is Surprisingly Moderate,” Philadelphia Magazine, July 26, 2012. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.phillymag.com/articles/surprisingly-moderate-pat-toomey/?all=1.

[4] Gregory Lewis McNamee, “Pat Toomey: United States Senator,” Encyclopedia Brittanica. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.britannica.com/biography/Pat-Toomey.

[5] Brooks Jackson and Stuart Rothenberg, “Toomey takes Pennsylvania’s 15th District for GOP,” CNN, November 3, 1998. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1998/11/03/election/house/pennsylvania.cd15/.  

[6] Manu Raju, “Specter’s Future Rests with Toomey,” Politico, December 10, 2008. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.politico.com/story/2008/12/specters-future-rests-with-toomey-016387.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Thomas Fitzgerald, “How Pat Toomey Outpaced Joe Sestak – and his own Campaign’s Expectations,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 4, 2010. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://articles.philly.com/2010-11-04/news/24953233_1_toomey-campaign-manager-pat-toomey-democratic-victories.

[9] “Club for Growth” Accessed on June 28, 2016 at https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/recips.php?id=D000000763&type=P&state=&sort=A&cycle=2010. Toomey received more than twice as many funds from the Club for Growth than any other Senate or House candidate in the 2010 cycle.

[10] John Baer, “Toomey’s Trouble isn’t Guns” Philadelphia Inquirer June 21, 2016. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://articles.philly.com/2016-06-21/news/73903763_1_pat-toomey-mass-shootings-guns.

[11] Toomey for Senate, Senator Toomey – A Record of Leadership. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at https://www.toomeyforsenate.com/about_pat .

[12] Harry Enten, “Conservatives in the House, then Moderates in the Senate,” FiveThirtyEight January 9, 2015. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/conservatives-in-the-house-then-moderates-in-the-senate/.

[14] Toomey for Senate, Senator Toomey – A Record of Leadership. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at https://www.toomeyforsenate.com/about_pat .

[16] Toomey for Senate, Senator Toomey – Issues. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at https://www.toomeyforsenate.com/issues .

[17] Marc Levy, “Pennsylvania Democrats Pick Establishment’s Senate Candidate,” Associated Press, April 26, 2016. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://bigstory.ap.org/article/96ff050fe71a4f93991bc1fefa7fb236/pennsylvania-democrats-pick-establishments-senate-candidate.

[18] Katie McGinty for Senate  – Issues. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://katiemcginty.com/issues/.

[19] Opensecrets, “Sen. Pat Toomey – Summary.” Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cycle=2016&cid=N00001489&type=I.

[20] Opensecrets, “Summary Data: 2016 Race: Pennsylvania Senate.” Accessed on August 4, 2016 at http://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary.php?id=PAS1&cycle=2016; Laura Olson and J. Dale Shoemaker. “Pat Toomey walks ‘tightrope’ when it comes to responding to Trump’s remarks.” The Morning Call.  August 4, 2016.  Accessed at http://www.mcall.com/news/local/elections/mc-pa-toomey-trump-20160802-story.html.

[21] John Baer, “Sen. Toomey Straddles Fence on Trump Endorsement,” The Morning Call, May 11, 2016. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.mcall.com/opinion/mc-donald-trump-pat-toomey-yv-0512-20160511-story.html.

[22] Schiller and Stewart, Electing the Senate, 81.

[23] Ibid

[24] James A. Kehl, Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981), xiii.

[25] Schiller and Stewart, Electing the Senate, 84.

 

The Supreme Court and the battle for the U.S. Senate

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by Wendy Schiller       

“I hope they are fair.” (President Barack Obama March 16, 2016)

With the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Election 2016 just got much more complicated. The GOP majority leadership in the Senate has threatened not to hold any hearings or votes on Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, who was nominated to fill that vacancy by President Obama on March 16, 2016. They argue that it is too close to a presidential election, and a new president, to consider the nomination and that it should wait until after the new president is elected. Playing politics with Supreme Court nominees is not necessarily new for the U.S. Senate – Democrats and Republicans alike have done so in the past. However, it is nearly unprecedented to consider leaving a seat vacant on the Supreme Court for what will likely be more than a year. And the electoral landscape for the GOP in the U.S. Senate is extremely challenging because the GOP is defending 24 currently held Senate seats, while the Democrats are only defending 10 currently held Senate seats. That means many more Republican Senators will be forced to explain why they refuse to grant even a hearing to the President’s Supreme Court nominee in a year when voters already believe that the Congress – indeed the federal government more generally – is broken.

Amidst that electoral landscape, the chess match between Senate Republicans and the Democratic President gets more complicated because the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Charles Grassley, who is a Republican from Iowa up for reelection in 2016. Until recently it was unclear that a strong challenger would emerge to take on Grassley, who was first elected to the Senate in 1980. But just last week, Patty Judge, who has served as lieutenant governor of Iowa and its state agriculture secretary, announced that she will seek the Democratic nomination to run against Grassley. There are already three other candidates who have announced their intention to run against Grassley, but Patty Judge is widely thought to be the strongest candidate in terms of statewide appeal. Additionally, Hillary Clinton won the Iowa caucuses and is expected to be competitive in that state if she is the Democratic presidential nominee; it is possible that Grassley could face mobilized opposition from women in his home state on at least two fronts.

Merrick Garland served as a private practice attorney, a federal prosecutor who was part of the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing, and was nominated by President Clinton to the D.C. Circuit of Appeals in 1997 and confirmed in a majority GOP controlled Senate. In fact, he was confirmed by a supermajority of Democratic and Republicans in the Senate, including seven Republicans who are still in the Senate today: Dan Coats (Ind.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), James M. Inhofe (Okla.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Pat Roberts (Kan.). However, Senator Grassley voted against him which means he is on record as opposing him well before this Supreme Court nomination emerged. Grassley maintains, along with the Republican leadership in the Senate, that their refusal to even consider Obama’s nominee has nothing to do with the person but rather the process.

Still, the ripple effect of the pressures on Charles Grassley to hold hearings on Merrick Garland is significant. For now, other GOP senators who are considered vulnerable in 2016, including Kelly Ayotte (NH), Ron Johnson (WI), Richard Burr (NC), Patrick Toomey (PA), and John McCain (AZ), are holding firm against considering any Obama Supreme Court nominee. But some of these senators are potentially facing very strong challengers: current Governor Maggie Hassan in NH, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold in WI (whom Johnson defeated in 2010), former female State House Representative Deborah Ross in NC; former Congressman Joe Sestak in PA (whom Toomey defeated in 2010), and in Arizona, McCain is facing a potential challenge from Ann Kirkpatrick, a sitting Democratic Congresswoman. These challengers will make the Supreme Court nomination, and the process itself, a campaign issue against these incumbent Republican Senators. The more the landscape looks inviting to mount serious challenges to GOP senators, the greater the Democratic Party’s mobilization effort will be in terms of fundraising and campaign messaging. If Grassley is forced to consider holding hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee to preserve or strengthen his own reelection chances, the other members of his party running for reelection in 2016 might begin to feel similar pressures. The takeaway for Election 2016 is that the Supreme Court nomination battle may not just be a fight about controlling the direction of the Court, but also about partisan control of the U.S. Senate itself.

electing the senate schiller jacketWendy J. Schiller is associate professor of political science and public policy at Brown University. Her most recent book is Electing the Senate: Indirect Democracy before the Seventeenth Amendment.

Jonathan Zimmerman: Hillary Clinton and the Perils of Authenticity

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Bernie Sanders thumped Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, winning almost 60 percent of the vote. But among voters who said that the candidate quality mattering most to them was “honest and trustworthy,” Sanders took an astounding 91 percent of the vote.

What’s up with that? Clinton critics will point to her long record of secrecy and dissembling, from Whitewater right up to the recent email-server scandal. But I’d like to suggest a different explanation: Clinton’s own generation made personal honesty and authenticity into a sine qua non for politics itself. And now it’s coming around to haunt Clinton, especially among voters in the generations after hers.

To get a sense of this, have a look at the 1969 commencement address by Wellesley College’s first-ever elected class speaker: Hillary Diane Rodham, later to become Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rodham had been preceded at the podium by Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, who denounced “coercive protest” on college campuses. He also chided student demonstrators as a “curious hodgepodge” of radical elements, “irrelevant . . . to the realities of American society in our time.”

Nonsense, Rodham replied. Campus protest actually contained a strong “conservative strain,” which called the country back to its “old virtues”—especially, the student said, the ideal of “human liberation.” By protesting America’s deviations from that goal, both at home and abroad, student protesters had revived—not rejected—the nation’s founding principles. And they had even set an example for the rest of the globe, which was likewise struggling to implement the universal ideals at the heart of the American dream. “It’s such a great adventure,” she said. “If the experiment in human living doesn’t work in this country, in this age, it’s not going to work anywhere.”

At first, Rodham’s speech seems to highlight the differences between her generation of campus activists and our own. Rodham doesn’t flinch from criticizing America (or from calling out a patronizing U.S. Senator!), but her remarks communicate a sense of national possibility—even, of national greatness—that’s often missing from today’s college conversations. What drew people to Rodham then—and, I think, now—is her unwavering optimism, her cheerful insistence that Americans could build a better country and a better world.

But there’s also a part of her speech that’s concerned with individual identity and especially “authentic reality,” as she called it, not just political power and social justice. To Rodham, it isn’t enough to bring down the poverty rate or to help more minorities go to colleges like Wellesley, two goals she mentioned in her speech. Americans needed to develop a whole new way of being, she said, rooted not in greed and accumulation but in honesty, trust, and respect. “Our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the university, is not the way of life for us,” Rodham explained. “We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living.”

That raised the stakes considerably, because you needed to be good rather than simply act good. And, ironically, it has also become a stake in the heart of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Polls show that even people who share her politics often don’t believe in her. They think she’s a poser, a fake, a phony. She isn’t what she seems..

With Sanders, of course, it’s the opposite. Whether they agree with him or not, almost everyone thinks Sanders is real. Bernie is gruff, Bernie is rumpled, Bernie is plain-spoken. You might not like what he says, but you don’t doubt that he means it.

Sanders was a product of the student Left, too, but he came of age a few years before Hillary Rodham did. And timing is everything in these things. In the early 1960s, when Sanders was staging sit-ins against segregation, there was less overall concern with questions of individual authenticity. The most urgent task was to fight social injustice, not to find new forms of interpersonal communication and connection.

But the late 1960s had a different spirit. If you look again at her speech, you’ll see that Hillary Rodham was in some ways more radical than Bernie Sanders was. She urges us to fight injustice, too, but she doesn’t stop there. She imagines a society with more honest and meaningful human relationships, not just with a more equitable distribution of resources.

But it’s hard to create a stable or meaningful politics on those terms. How do you know what’s really going on inside of someone else? The quest for authenticity in some ways harkens all the way back to the Puritans, who said that political leadership should be reserved for people who had cleansed their souls. And their own society became unglued (see: Salem Witch Trials) when nobody could figure out—for sure—who was truly holy, and who wasn’t.

You can hear a similarly Puritan tone in some of the recent campus protests, which likewise insisted that our universities purge themselves of sin—mainly, the sin of racism. In “listening sessions” and other events, stone-faced administrators proclaimed their commitment to “diversity,” “inclusion,” and so on. But many protesters demurred. Their leaders were empty suits, students said, mouthing platitudes and homilies to placate the crowd. They weren’t real.

Hillary-haters who read her Wellesley speech will probably focus on her comments about acquisitiveness and corporate greed, and then say something snarky about her Wall Street speaker fees. But I think they’re missing the main point here. The reason we’re arguing about who Hillary Rodham Clinton “really” is has nothing to do with her politics, as we used to understand that term. It’s because her own generation made authenticity the measure of all things. And we still haven’t figured out a way to measure it.

zimmerman jacketJonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at New York University. He is the author of “Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education,” which was published in 2015 by Princeton University Press.