I was reading Carl Bernstein's sympathetic biography of Hillary Clinton, A Woman In Charge, and it made me think about timing. In 1992, her dream of universal health care was premature. We Baby Boomers weren't ready to think seriously about it because we still thought we were immortal. We weren't ready for it in 1996, either, because another not-so-endearing trait of my generation is Total Denial. We are definitely ready for it in 2008 as we hobble, wobble and stagger toward longer and longer lives.
Hillary Clinton foresaw the crisis and idealistically supposed that everyone else would, too. It didn't help that when Bill Clinton first took office, he found that Bush Sr. had lied about the budget and had left him a hole twice as big as he'd claimed before the election. There simply wasn't any money to implement Hillary's ambitious health-care program, and by that time, "the vast right-wing conspiracy" that nearly drove them from office already had its attack dogs whipped into a frenzy. It's ironic, to say the least, that the leaders of the morally indignant hordes who impeached Bill Clinton for his sexual peccadilloes went down one after another -- from Newt Gingrich, hypocrite-in-chief, to Sen. Larry Craig, who cruises airport men's bathrooms for sex. I must say that it is quite satisfying to someone who was originally amused, then enraged, by the Republican campaign, to see them going down -- ha-ha, literally -- from Gingrich's still all-too-human mistress to Craig's profligacy in a public pissoir. Serves them right, I'd say, except for one thing: These bums still have a lot of power, and they'll do their best to stop Hillary.
I feel that I know Hillary because I'm of the same generation, and I know that she is still an idealist. I was in New Haven to give a poetry reading at Yale in 1970 on the day the students shut down the university in a show of solidarity with the Black Panthers. While I was reading my tremulous verses in the Yale chapel, famous for the anti-Vietnam war stand of its chaplain, the Rev. William Sloan Coffin, Hillary Rodham was somewhere on campus with a Wellesley contingent trying to turn the anger into something positive. For all her famous temper, Hillary Rodham was a consistent peacemaker in a political career that took her through all the major convulsions of the '60s. In the '70s and '80s she did her best to be an adult while still part of an intemperate and tempestuous generation. When Bill Clinton became president, she thought, as many of us did, that the torch had finally been passed on to our generation.
Boy, where we wrong! What a difference between someone like Hillary, who saw Martin Luther King speak while she was still in high school and then decided to dedicate herself to social justice, and the current occupant of the White House, a lazy and arrogant frat boy who coasted to power on class privilege. My activist co-generationists never saw, or chose to ignore, our resentful contemporaries who were just waiting for the day when they could please their daddies by taking it all back. And now that they have, we see that they've wasted our civil liberties, disenfranchised the poor, made the rich richer, plunged us into an endless war and thumbed their noses at the Constitution.
Hillary Rodham Clinton knows this, of course, but she also knows how to fight. This coming election isn't just about getting over the disappointment at our ravaged ideals, it's about putting an end to a huge deception that is sabotaging American democracy. Hillary has learned tough lessons and patience through some major personal and public storms. She's been a children and family advocate for decades. So, after you check the pissoir for one of those "family-values" creeps, get on the plane and spread the word.