God, I love Peggy Noonan. I mean in a rock-star, speechwriting world way. A former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and for George W. Bush, she has spent her career helping give voice to the greatness of America and the American people.
Way back in 2000, living once more in New York City after her stint in Washington, D.C., she watched in fascination and admiration, and then in disillusionment and shock, as Hillary “The Carpetbagger” Clinton ran for Pat Moynihan’s New York Senate seat.
Dismayed, Noonan wanted to warn her fellow New Yorkers – in New York City and on Long Island – not to be fooled by Hillary Clinton’s deceptive appearance as a warm, caring woman who loved children and kissed babies on the campaign trail, even as she swore like a longshoreman in private life.
Noonan wrote a book, The Case Against Hillary Clinton (HarperCollins, 2000), to analyze Hillary and explain to many Democrat voters why voting for Hillary was a mistake. The book is a slim, concise, and extraordinarily well-written tome that somehow wound up on thrift store bookshelves. That was how I obtained my copy, through Amazon.com from a company called ThriftBooks. Even marked down from the original cover price of $24 to the “special value” of $3.99, the book didn’t sell. I bought it for something like two cents and shipping charges.
Clearly, the voters of New York weren’t about to pay any attention to what Ronald Reagan’s former speechwriter had to say about Hillary Clinton. They’d already drunk the Hillaryade.
Noon describes herself as a one-time, dewy-eyed Kennedy-era teenager. She believed in the dream, along with all her Democrat-inclined friends and classmates in Massapequa, N.Y.
“Some middle-aged boomers see in her [Clinton],” Noonan writes, “the last rise of the ethos of the Sixties, the ethos of their youth. If she succeeds, it means their era, and their investment in it, had meaning.
“I see things, too. I look at Mrs. Clinton and see the kneesocked girl in the madras headband, the Key Club president who used to walk into the bathroom in [Rutherford High School?], wrinkle her nose at the tenth-grade losers leaning against the gray tile walls, leave, go down the hall, and mention to a teacher that they’re smoking in the girls’ room again.
“That’s my own, private Hillary, or at least one aspect of her.
“Here’s another – a moment that to me quite captures her. It is January 2000, and the First Lady is on Letterman. Her much-anticipated appearance is going well; they’re laughing and trading quips. Then Letterman pulls out a list of questions about New York. Mrs. Clinton shows a certain anxiety. Her face gets the watchful, listening look people get when they know they’re about to be challenged, and in public. She agrees to try and answer, but seems slightly reluctant.
“Watching at home, I couldn’t help it; I felt nervous for,” Noonan writes.
“Letterman asks the name of the state bird. ‘The bluebird,’ she says, to applause. The state tree? Hillary gets a Jeopardy Daily Double look. ‘Um, the maple.’ But which maple? She blinks, thinking hard. ‘Let’s see, there’s the red maple, the sugar maple…’ ‘That’s it,’ says Letterman, to more applause.
“On it went. How many counties in the state of New York? – And she got every question right. It was impressive. It showed the people of New York that she knows more about us than we knew.
“And then, the next day, it turned out she had seen the questions in advance. She’d been given ‘a sneak peek,’ according to her spokesman.
“That, in itself, wasn’t shocking,” Noonan tells us. “What was shocking was the Daily Double look, the straining gamely for answers. It was all acting. It was all a fake. And it was so convincing.
“It was so…Hillary.”
Noonan also gives us a concise history of Hillarycare. But we’ll leave that for another post and go on to a chapter Noonan devotes to a childhood friend who’s thinking of voting for Hillary, “but isn’t sure.”
Noonan addresses her as she imagines her friend sitting on Long Island’s Tobay Beach, a local beach park, nice, but not quite like the better known and more frequented Jones Beach, with its toney boardwalk, scaled-to-size golf course (no windmills or gnomes here), shuffleboard, and the cleanest, whitest sand north of the Tropic of Cancer. Tobay is for the locals.
Hey, missy, sitting on the beach and not going into the water because you don’t feel you look so great in a bathing suit anymore and because – well, you’re a mother, and you don’t jump and splash in the waves anymore, the cold of the ocean feels icy, now, and rough. Bobby still goes in, but this just one of the many wonders of life: a guy hits forty-nine and he still splashes. He jumps into the waves like a smooth seal, comes up in a burst, turns and spits out surf.
The kids laugh, and you smile.
The noise of the beach, the radio, the crash and roar of the waves…
You’re slathering SPF 40 on your pale, freckled skin, and now Bobby is standing near you, arms crossed, looking at the waves and the kids and the lifeguards. Neither of you ever mentions this, but you both know what he’s doing. He is standing watch, claiming and maintaining his hundred square feet of the beach, his blankets, his umbrella. He’s making sure everyone’s safe. He’s looking to see if the lifeguards are paying attention, and if they’re not he’ll go and chat with them, tell a joke, ask a question, get them focused.
Three blankets, one for the kids and one for you and one for the coolers and whoever walks by. Your three girls are on the blue-checked cotton blanket gossiping and laughing and read magazines. The coolers are full. You packed them this morning: Snapple and Rolling Rock and Diet Coke. You got up and made ham and cheese on poppyseed rolls, and turkey with mayo. Potato chips, Cheetos, Fritos, two boxes of SnackWells. You packed more than you need because you don’t know who’ll come by, who’ll stroll by and say hello and you want to have enough. And they always come by because between you and Bobby and the kids and the school and your parents you feel like you know half the town.
By 11 o’clock, you’re all done with the morning packing and breakfast and getting out of the house and packing the car and getting here, and for the first time in five hours you can relax. Lunch won’t be for an hour. You’re sitting in the low green plastic chair and digging your toes into the sand. Bobby’s talking with some kids near the water; the girls are rubbing on lotion.
And you pick up a magazine and ‘she’s’ on the cover. And you look at it. And you think what you always think when you see Hillary, which that you don’t really know what to think. If the piece you’re about to read is highly critical, a real slam, you’ll suspect it’s exaggerated and partisan and mean. But if it’s complimentary, you’ll think it’s some puff piece, and you’ll feel unsatisfied because you know, you can tell, there’s something…not so great there.
And you don’t think you’re an important person but you are. Because what you’re thinking as you look at the picture on the magazine at the beach at Tobay will determine the future of Clintonism in America.
You know she’s trying to win you over, you can see it on the news, she’s saying it all the time: “Our generation of women has shared the same experiences,” and “I share your concerns.”
And you wonder if it’s true.
And I want to say, “Oh, kid, it is so not true. She is nothing like you.”
And I know because I grew up with you, and because you – and please don’t stop listening because you know a compliment’s coming – you are something you never think you are, and that is: heroic.
You’ve made a good life. You have a lot to be proud of and you deserve to be proud and you are, but you don’t make a big deal of it and in fact, you barely notice it. You just tried to do your best, like everyone else. But somewhere you must know, on some level, there must be a glimmering awareness, that with where you can from and where you got to, you’ve achieved something huge.
You’re a teacher. Bobby was a teacher, too. But the money wasn’t good and the kids were coming and he couldn’t see a career path that as going to make it a lot better any time soon, so you kept teaching and he went to work at Con Edison. And you’re doing good, you’re doing fine. You own a house. There’s a mortgage, but it’s a house, and you have two cars and enough food and you pay your bills on time. The kids will go to college. It will take help, scholarships and loans and grants, but you’ll put all your savings towards it and take a second job and one way or another, they’ll get what they need.
And this, from the family you came from, is a triumph.
You are an American, Brooklyn born, and your parents joined the great migration from the city, the great migration of the hopeful European ethnics, the second- and third-generation Americans who left the city to get the first house in America [in their family], right here, on Long Island. Your parents, they were Sinatra Generation – your father looked like Frank in Some Came Running, skinny and post-war. Your mother had a pixie haircut like Shirley MacLaine. Now they’re in their Seventies, but they’re still rocking. They went to Atlantic City last weekend, saw a show and had dinner and she got into the slots.
That’s what they are now: funny and shaky and still going. Bu then – back when they were twenty-five and thirty years old and they moved out to Long Island, where everything was square and flat and kind of lonely – back then they were over-whelmed. A house full of kids and low pay and a dicey employment history for your Dad. Your father’s role model in those days was apparently Sinatra as Private Maggio in From Here to Eternity – and there were money problems, and fights, depressions and dramas, and you kids barely made it through. But you did. You brought yourselves up. You went to McKenna Junior High, and then on to Massapequa High, and you had part-time jobs and rooted for the Lions and you got good marks and somehow, against the odds, you didn’t drop out at seventeen and take a job in the city. You hung on and did your homework in a corner of the attic in your chaotic home.
And while you were there, Hillary Rodham was growing up in middle-class security in Park Ridge, Illinois, an affluent suburb of Chicago, and she had the things all kids want many don’t have – a highly functioning home, an orderly place where someone’s in charge and someone makes dinner. Hillary, at this point, wasn’t having anxiety attacks, the way you were. She was already used to telling people what to do. She was an old hand at running for office, a favored child marked for leadership, a Goldwater Girl – our families were for Johnson [ironically]. We’d never even met a Goldwater Girl – with straight A’s, a circle pin, and a ticket to the National Honor Society.
God, remember the Hillarys? The Hillarys would only be nice to us, would only look at us in the hall and say hello when they were running for senior council president. And then only because every vote counts. So she’d actually talk to people like us, and I wish I could say we told her to drop dead, but we didn’t did we? We were a little honored, because we knew what she knew: she was a superior person.
You just didn’t think of yourself that way.
In 1969, right before college, you were working at a job at the A&P, bagging and tagging, and America was going crazy with the war and the riots. And you were starting to see something.
You were developing a social conscience and you were starting to see the black kids from Amityville go off to Vietnam, and you knew something, because you had eyes. You knew that young kids with nothing, the kids from nowhere who didn’t even have normal parents, didn’t have the assumption that somebody would play ball with them or pay the rent – that they were the ones going off to fight for America. And the other, luckier kids who were white or had a father who was a dentist [and could presumably afford to send their sons off to college] – they didn’t have to go.
And it wasn’t fair. And it wasn’t right.
That year, 1969, was the year Bill Clinton of Oxford [where he led protests against the U.S. Embassy in London] was dodging the draft. That’s when he was writing his lying letters to the draft board, so he could get out of the war the black kids from Amityville, and the white kids from down the block, were fighting. Maybe one of them took his place. It’s also the year, Hillary, his soon-to-be wife, was giving speeches at Wellesley – still an A student, still class president – and lecturing Edward Brooke, the only black man in the U.S. Senate, telling him that he was insensitive to the youth of our country. What we want she said, is more ecstatic forms of living, more penetrating modes of being. You never heard of it at the time, that speech, but if you had you would have stopped putting the Wonder Bread in the brown paper bag for a second and thought, ‘Yeah? Maybe when you’re not working at the A&P what you need is more ecstatic modes of being. I’d settle for a better job, or less work so I can study.’
Noonan goes on to remind her friend of her married life after high school, going on to the State University of New York in Plattsburgh (about as far as you can get from Long Island without crossing the Canadian border) to get her teaching degree while working at night as a waitress. In the meanwhile, husband Bobby was teaching and working part-time as grave digger.
Sometimes he’d bring you plastic flowers and you’d laugh as you took them from his newly-calloused hands.
You learned how to teach. You were so happy. Nothing anybody asked you to do was too much. Your enthusiasm and idealism made you forget any difficulties and you looked at the other teachers with awe. Some of them had taught you when you were a kid. They were figures of respect.
And you did it for a few years, and then the girls came, and you stayed home with them. Then, in the mid-Eighties, when the girls were in school, you went back. But already you could some something changing, and in time it got worse. When you were a kid, people honored education in and of itself, and honored learning. But now you were seeing a new attitude – parents were starting to act like what their kids were there for wasn’t an education but a degree – gotta get the kid’s ticket punched.
Noonan notes how school boards starting loading more teachers with more regulations, programs and rules about testing and tracking, more weird history, more p.c. stuff. The teachers had more burdens and responsibilities but less autonomy, less personal authority. It was if the more burdens each level of government put on you, the lower the kids’ scores dropped, which caused more regulations to be applied.
As a remedy, school boards began cutting back school budgets, Noonan relates. The cutbacks became so severe, without accomplishing anything, that they began cutting back on the extracurricular programs like sports and music.
And the teachers’ union seemed like the answers – it was growing in the Eighties. But they were far away, and they didn’t seem to know what was going on, either. And they wouldn’t even allow the teachers – their clients! The ones who paid the dues! – to get the students to obey a dress code. They were showing up in cutoffs and undershirts. The girls in tenth grade, they were wearing little t-shirts. It was like everyone was in their underwear! But the union did one thing: they made sure teachers could dress badly, too. So now they can wear jeans and t-shirts. A few years ago, during the contract negotiations, a teacher showed up wearing a t-shirt that had a little emblem that said, “F*** Management.” With the stars, but still. He wore it all day. No one said a thing.
So that’s what you were doing, and learning, in the Seventies and Eighties.
That’s when Hillary was exercising her first real power. She was in education, too. Her husband, the governor of Arkansas, had appointed her to head the effort to reform Arkansas’ public schools. It was a slow-moving debacle, the kind that takes years to show it’s a failure, and it was the very kind that was making your life miserable because it was pushing and promulgating the kind of p.c. worldview that you were being forced to teach.
The worst part was Hillary’s special baby – the governor’s special schools for gifted students. They were all brought in from around the state to have a special summer semester together. And the point of it seemed to be to make religious students understand that their beliefs were backward and unsophisticated, that free market economies were bad and government control good, and that while ministers might be suspect and strange, left-wing radicals, feminists and witches were not. One of the best parts, according to the notes of one of the students took in 1980 – the writer Joyce Milton saw them later – was part of a program that included a speech by Hillary herself, “who told students that she would trust big government over big business anytime.” (If you’d heard anybody say that you’d say, “Yeah? I wouldn’t trust either. But you force me to put my money down, I don’t think I’d go with the bureaucrats.”
Another speaker, according to those notes, was “a physicist who said that science was the antithesis of religion, and no good scientist could be a religious believer. ‘The Book of Genesis should read, ‘In the beginning Man created God,’ he told the class. Another speaker taught them that Christianity was anti-woman and anti-sexuality, and that the church was full of “fear and hatred of women.” Even ten years later, in 1990, the school’s speakers were assigning readings that called Christianity “a compost” and calling Christ’s divinity “offensive.”
But that isn’t all Hillary was doing in the Seventies and Eighties. She was also making a killing at the Rose Law Firm. And making a lot of money sitting on boards – $15,000 a pop on the boards of Wal-Mart and TCBY, the yogurt company, among others. She was a highly-desirable board members – an “education specialist,” a lawyer, and the wife of a governor.
She was also making a killing in cattle future in those days, investing thousand dollars one day and reaping $99,000 in profits a few days later. She had friends who were doing business with the state of Arkansas helping to direct her trades. Later, when it became a scandal, she said she was just lucky. Then she said she figured it all out reading the Wall Street Journal.
And sometimes, when she wasn’t making money she was making speeches, as a public service. She often spoke against avaricious yuppies and the decade of greed.
She was flying high while you and Bobby were getting clobbered by inflation and taxes and child care. You were scouring Newsweek for the ads from Giant and ShopRite, clipping coupons for the pork shops on sale. You didn’t buy Tide and Cheerios unless they were on special, and going out to dinner was having buffalo chicken wings at Happy Hour at the local bar with friends.
And then came the Nineties.
And then ’92.
And the Clintons were new to you. You’d never heard of them, but you saw them and they made a good impression, and you took a chance.
Why not? Bush seemed way out there in the ozone, like some sleepy old WASP who’s detached from the world you live in. He seemed out of touch, goofy, and the economy was tanking.
And this Clinton, from nowhere – he was young and he seemed eager and hopeful and he reminded you of something.
He reminded you of 1960. He reminded you of when Jack Kennedy came down the Wantaugh Parkway in the motorcade on that cold October day, and suddenly your parents were interested in politics and you all went to the parkway and stood there and waved. Just to show him you were for him. Your father had a gray coat, and he watched as the motorcade went by, and he didn’t know how to show he was excited so he just said, “Hey, hey!!” into the air, and clapped s this brown-haired head went by in a limousine.
And you’ll never forget it. And you realized, you absorbed for this first time, that you were part of something – you were part of America and politics and your parents were part of it, too, and it was – it was wonderful.
Bill Clinton made you feel like that, too. And you heard the stories on talk radio. “Slick Willie.” The draft. The business scandal and the girls, and you thought, ‘Okay, he’s not perfect; they’re not perfect, but they only made the kind of mistakes people make [including JFK]. And it’s all in the past. Take a chance. Give him a chance.
And you did. And you know what they gave you. And it wasn’t so great. Everyone’s rich; that’s good. He didn’t do anything to mess up the economy; he kept Greenspan [as head of the Federal Reserve].
But the rest – the rest made you embarrassed in front of your kids. It made you feel like we should be embarrassed in front of the world [and to think what lay ahead with Obama]. And in a funny way, every time you see Clinton now, you think of the teacher in the “F*** Management” t-shirt.
And you feel like maybe you had your last political fling, and you’ll probably never have one again, and that’s too bad, but – well, maybe you’re beyond flings now. And at least the economy’s good. Turn the page.
But they won’t let you turn the page.
Now she wants to be your senator.
Now she wants to speak for Massapequa.
Now she says she’s just like you, her concerns are yours, she’s a survivor, like you.
But she is not like you. She never had to do the things you did, she never had to do it all uphill, and she is no feminist hero. The Eleanor thing you keep hearing: Eleanor was Nineties woman in the Thirties; Hillary is a Thirties woman in the Nineties.
And that’s it, really. The problem is not that she’s a particular kind of candidate, but that she is a particular kind of person.
She grew up knowing something her parents had never known and you had never known: a completely secure life. But it didn’t make her grateful; it made her presumptuous.
The blood, sweat, tears, and toil of her parents created a world where she could find herself and her bliss. This wasn’t everyone’s world, of course. It wasn’t the world of razorbacks Bill Clinton left at home when he went off to Oxford. They left home, too, but they went to Khe Sanh, where they fought in a vain effort to keep other children from a falling under the yoke of Communism, where they would never have a nice day.
No, in fact, both he and Hillary joined Marxist groups in their college days, agitating for a Communist state, where only the elite would hold power.
And it wasn’t the world of young women whose parents had not been able to secure what Hillary had [In fact, Hillary was only able to attend Wellesley on scholarship, going to school with high-income, high maintenance girls who spent their summers on resort islands] and who were quitting high school and going to work at the fabric store at the shopping center down the highway.
And needless to say, it wasn’t your world.
But it was the world of the young Clintons, who were actually something new in history. They lived in a world that had never quite existed before – an aristocracy of the middle-class intellectuals, peopled by their heirs of genetic and financial privilege [again, Bill Clinton actually came from a chaotic family, whose father, who died before he was born, was a bigamist], who declared themselves king and queen of the future. Freed from humdrum concerns about getting killed or not having enough money or enough intellectual resources to get to college, freed from the worries that held back their parents [Hillary’s father was said to be a notorious cheapskate], the grunts in the battle for affluence, freedom from all that they forgot to be grateful to the place that had made them, and that ensured their rise. They forgot to love it.
They lacked the wisdom to see their luck as something to be humble about. Instead, it mutated within them into a sense of ongoing entitlement and superiority. They were going to educate people out of their old-fashioned, backward, racist, sexist, hopeless ways. That’s what Hillary really meant when she said she wasn’t some little Tammy Wynette. She meant: I’m not some ignorant, big-haired girl working the counter at Piggly Wiggly; I went to Yale Law School.
They were lucky. And a funny thing about the long-term lucky is that they often come to think not that they were blessed but that they deserved it. That they lived right [and – Hillary, at least – studied hard] while other people, unlucky people, did not. They think the fact that their lives are good, that they are attractive and articulate and have prospects means that they deserve these things because they’re – well, better.
And when you think like that, it hardens you. You can talk on and on about compassion and tolerance, but it hardens you in a way that your parents’ experience – which was actually hard – didn’t quite harden them. You look down on the girls with the big hair and the boys with the big trucks. You start to understand that the world would be a little better ordered if you could tell other people how to organize their lives.
And that is the one thing that people who know Hillary always say about her: that she thinks people have to be led and guided. Implicit, always unstated but always understood, is that they should be led and guided by her – and her friends.
And so Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton had their new world, an abstract and marvelous world of identity politics and village bureaucrats and government officials calling the tune – and those governments – at whatever level, county, state or federal – would be dominated by the other middle-class intellectuals, the networking revolutionaries, the radicals with Rolodexes.
Are they arrogant and opportunistic? Yes, they always were, but the headline on the Clintons is that they never grew out of it.
They never graduated from the Sixties.
And she never graduated from herself.
To say the problem with her candidacy, then, is the carpetbagger issue, is to miss the point, and to be unkind to carpets. Carpets are things that get walked on. But her boots are made for walking, and they’ll walk all over you.
You wonder if she is like you. But she is not.
You were a Boomer and she was a Boomer and you faced the same choices – but you went different ways. You didn’t have a lot of options, but you tried to open every door. She had every option, but didn’t walk through those doors herself [in fact, she ordered the Secret Service to not only open the doors for her during her White House years, but carry her bags as well]. You found a good man and did it with him; she attached herself to a charismatic character and did it through him.
You wanted a decent life; she wanted power. You made a marriage; she made a deal. You became a citizen; she became an operator. You became someone who contributes; she became someone who connives to tell the contributors what to do and how to do it. She portrays herself as a victim, but she’s a victimizer. She says she is a survivor; but she’s one of the people you had to survive.
She has neither your class nor your courage. If you want a woman to represent your point of view, then you can find one in New York [and from New York], which has plenty. Don’t fall for the one who only wants to use this place as a stirrup to climb her way onto a horse called the presidency.
She doesn’t know your concerns, and she doesn’t share them, either. She like not like you. She was never like you.
Alas, feminist New Yorkers fell for Hillary’s “fish story”, gutting fish in an Alaskan fishery between summers at college. Actually, that was probably a fitting job for an up-and-coming politician. She got fired for telling the truth: that the salmon rotten and that people could wind up becoming very sick.
Hillary learned her lesson from that job and never told the truth again.
Noonan, at the end of her book, declares Hillary “too cynical for the place that gave birth to Tammany Hall.” Noonan writes:
This race is beyond the issues; she has put it there. If you are a liberal, there are other liberals – vote for them. There are others who support abortion rights – vote for them. There are other people who care about children, who truly care about them – vote for them [It seems rather an oxymoron to equate pro-abortionists with people who truly care about children in the same paragraph].
And so the question, for New Yorkers, in this great year 2000 is: Where do you stand?
If all good New Yorkers gather together to resist – all the good liberals and moderates and conservatives – we can of course beat Clintonism back, and end it, decisively.
We can stop it here, in the Battle of New York.
You will decide it. Either they will continue to deform and lower our national politics, or they will not. Either Clintonism will continue, or it will not.
It is up to the people of New York.
And it is the great thing about Democracy: Before Hillary Clinton gets to decide your future, you get to decide hers.
So wrote Peggy Noonan, in the year 2000. Unfortunately, New York made the wrong decision in 2000, and gave Hillary her path to the Senate, and then to the State Department, and now on to the White House, with horrendous and even tragic results.
Arkansas made the wrong choice, and regretted it later. New York made the wrong choice and celebrated, at least until a certain day in 2001. Even then, Hillary had the chutzpah do go before the cameras and declare empathy with her adopted state, despite the fact that she had earlier declared her support for a Palestinian state. What’s more, she led a delegation of 9/11 widows into intimidating then-President George W. Bush into not attending the second 9/11 anniversary observance. By the way, did you know that the real reason she hated Richard Nixon so much was because he tried to banish the radical Legal Services Corporation?
So then, she went on to the State Department, and the result was Benghazi. Benghazi seems to have gotten lost in the list of scandals.
What do we need for us to wake up? Three hundred thousand purloined e-mails to fall on our heads?