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Lorrie Moore on Hillary Clinton

An extraordinary piece on Hillary (and Bill) in today's NYT by novelist Lorrie Moore (reg. required). The gist: the real crisis in this country is one faced by African-American men, and the mediocre record and missed opportunities of the Clinton presidency do not make Moore yearn for a repeat.

About the Author

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.



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I don't know where or how to leave this, but I hope someone at Commonweal writes about Philip Kaufmann who died Jan. 8th. I am at the Collegeville Institute and saw this on the OSB blog:"Philip remained alert and sharp. Faithfully a New Yorker, Philip read the New York Times daily. The latest issue of Commonweal was found at his bedside.Father Philip died peacefully on Tuesday morning, January 8, 2008. He is survived by nephews and his monastic community."Sorry if this is in the wrong place! I don't often check this blog.Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM

Moore makes a good case--and without referencing the absurd lawsuit sponsored by Clinton's backers in Vegas, or this pathetic attempt to smear Obama with something he's already admitted: Don't forget: Clinton told us on Meet the Press that she boots campaign staff who sling mud. Will she turn down support from the founder of BET? Or Mark Penn, who slipped into some sort of cocaine-referencing fugue state during a pre-Iowa interview a few weeks ago? Does this remind anyone of Bob Kerrey's repeated references to Obama's "Muslim upbringing" and middle name?

Isn't Moore saying white people should vote for Obama in order to give African-American boys a role model? Seems a bit condescending to me.

Grant,I am amazed that anyone could say Lorrie Moore makes a "good case." The basic argument is that we've passed the time when it's important to elect a woman--women have already "made it"--and since the Democratic candidates' policies are all the same, we whould elect a black man to inspire our children! So although it seems to be generally agreed that we shouldn't vote for a candidate just because he is black or she is a woman, Lorrie Moore is arguing that we should elect Obama because he is black.Everyone is entitled to his or her feelings, so I don't suppose we can criticize Moore for her disdain for the Clintons and Al Gore. But I don't think her contempt for Bill, Hillary, and Al is a political argument, and I don't see how an inspiring black man (which Obama certainly is) being elected president will in and of itself make a difference to young black people or young people in general. She does not address the issue of experience adequately, which I feel is important. And even if there's something to be said for her argument about Obama's value as someone who can inspire young people, he's only 46 years old. He can be vice president for the next 8 years, devoting his energies to the problems of America's young people, run for president in 2016 at the still-young age of 54, with all the experience anyone could ask for, and have two terms of his own.

Margaret: I do not see it as condescending. However, if the only reason white people should vote for Obama is to inspire young black boys, that would be wrong. Presumably, the argument is that with Obama, one gets good policy and inspiration.David: Would you be willing to put some meat on the bones of this experience critique? I hear it again and again, and am not sure what it means, really. What kind of scenarios do you envision in which a President Obama would be unprepared, and for which he would somehow be better prepared if he remained a Senator for ten more years?On the race issue in general, I find that whites are not particularly good at discussing it. One significant reason for why this is so is that blacks have too often insisted that it is strictly their territory; white people, it is implied, should just sit back and listen. This has not produced the kind of conversation we need for dealing with what amounts to the single greatest social crisis in our country; namely, the dislocation of young black men.On Obama, Clinton, and King vs. LBJ, I really think Clinton stumbled on this one. There is a clear implication on Clinton's part that the really important figure of the civil rights movement was LBJ (only a president could sign the legislation!). I think it might be the kind of statement she would wish to take back if she had a chance, but now she is making it worse by insisting that Obama is making something out of nothing. This claim was not nothing, it was wrong, and even offensively so.

The issue for children of all colors is not necessarily a role model, but a two-way relationship with a father figure, preferably a real father. As for role models, they abound: find a book about a scientist, a reformer, a musician, or any number of good menwho lived lives worthy of emulation.What exactly does a president gives us as a role model? A few edited video clips at news time. That's going to take the place of absent fathers and inspire young people?Lorrie Moore falls into the trap of misplaced expectations. People allow "specialists" to care for their children. A father can be replaced by a president on tv. Sex education can be replaced with classroom discussions on abstinence or condoms.Moore has a strong interest in young black men, teens, or boys? Fine. Vote for the candidate who will enact or at least support public policy that keeps families together, provides job opportunities, and anything else that's needed. If that candidate isn't Hillary, then fine. But why ask someone to do a job it's not theirs to do. Some of what Moore aspires to will, of necessity, need to get done on the local level. Young black boys don't need to see President Obama on a five-second tv clip. They need their own fathers involved in their lives. And if that's not possible, they need local pro athletes, musicians, teachers, ministers, librarians, public servants, and everybody else involved and pulling for them to succeed.

Joe Petit: The Clintons did stumble on this. But as one who has alive and political back in the sixties, I recall that LBJ did more than sign the legislation, he strong-armed his reluctant former colleagues in the Senate (and House) to pass it. On "Meet the Press" Hillary Clinton did a better job yesterday "explaining" what was meant (or what she wished it had meant): King protested, lobbied, etc., and supported Johnson in these legislative efforts. On his own, King would not have gotten the legislation through (let us remember that though we remain a society serious scarred by racism, back then a very large number of Americans were actual racists, and some still are). The civil rights legislation would never have come about without King and it would have never passed without Johnson who was after all a Southerner (of the Texas kind); and I here enter the possibility that Kennedy might not have gotten legislation through had he still been alive. I take the Clintons to mean that civil society needs prophets and lawmakers and usually they are not the same person.This is a subject hard to discuss partly for the reason you offer: White people are supposed to sit back and learn on the subject of race, civil rights, etc. We should. Many have. But if ultimately it's only a monologue about this period in our history, people move on. Give the Clintons credit, they are bigger supporters of the civil rights movement and affirmative action, etc., etc., than most others in this campaign--Obama excepted (though honestly, it would be interesting to see how the generational shift and his own history shapes his views on this subject).

Margaret: I certainly agree that LBJ did more than sign legislation. Yet, a few more LBJ gives rise to many emotions among blacks. The Civil Rights bill went to Congress on the Monday after the death of James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister. Mr. Reeb was killed by white men while in Selma, having responded to King's call for national support following the bloody Sunday events on the Edmund Petus Bridge. The nation was outraged by Reeb's murder, not the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a poor black man who was killed two weeks earlier by State Police while protecting his mother (no one was found guilty in that killing). Originally the Selma to Montgomery march was going to include carrying Jackson's coffin. LBJ sent flowers to the family of James Reeb. He somehow failed to send them to the family of Jimmie Lee Jackson. After the Civil Rights legislation was passed, LBJ and others ensured its ineffectiveness by failing to fund the number of registrars that would have been necessary to significantly enfranchise southern blacks. LBJ also shut King out of the White House after King's public opposition to the Vietnam War.I absolutely agree that the race issue must become much more than a monologue. Whites need to be encouraged to have ideas of their own on this topic, and even to disagree with blacks, if only because there simply is no such thing as the black voice. Agree with one idea spoken by a black person, and a white person will find her or himself disagreeing with the black people who disagree with the idea. Black minds are as diverse as any.That said, I think blacks have an ear for white condescension. I want to emphasize that what I am about to write should not be directed at any person who has posted on this blog. Rather, I want to communicate something of a tone problem that I think lingers in this discussion. Every time a white person compliments Barack Obama for his eloquence, and then goes on to say that he is not experienced enough, I think they risk sounding like they are affirming a new version of "My, my, those colored folk sure can dance! And don't you just love their singing!" That is, whites have long history of portraying blacks as showmen who are allowed to be at home on the stage, but literally, no where else. Again, I do not think anyone on the blog is guilty of implying this, but there is more to the King/LBJ discussion than who did all the hard work for the civil rights movement. This is not just about history, it is about a very prominent white person whom blacks have looked to as a political advocate coming out and at least suggesting that she has some of that "blacks are great dancers, but, please, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that they could run a country" kind of attitude.Todd: I see nothing in the Moore piece suggesting the Obama would be surrogate father. While I agree entirely with the point that it is fathers that some black households need more than anything else, I do not think this was the kind of inspiration that Moore was talking about.

David: I read it differently. I thought, perhaps erroneously, that her point was that if we're going to discuss the symbolic power of the Democratic candidates, then Obama's is, at this time, more important than Hillary's. Given her other points (the failures of the Clinton administration, the relative similarity of Obama's and Hillary Clinton's platforms), I didn't see the question of symbolic power as the sole one for Moore.

Sorry, that second sentence should read, "Yet, LBJ gives rise to many emotions among blacks."

To paraphrase Grant, Joe are you on the Obama Staff? And is Grant there too?

On the subject of black men, an interesting book is "Being a Black Man" by the Washington Post Writers Group. Two black reporters on one of the anniversaries of the Million Man March decided to interview black men about being black. The articles were published in the Washington Post and are now in a book. The book has its own web page. I don't know how to send a link, but if you google Being a Black Man you will find it.The black men interviewed were from all income groups and they spoke very frankly. The touching thing for me was the difficulty men who were economically successful said they had in explaining to their sons some of the things they can expect in life without imparting a hatred of the Man.

Grant,This is Moore's critique of 8 years of the Clinton administration -Children (Hillary Clintons key policy focus) were killed at Waco and in a strike on Baghdad. -Gore wasnt doing anything (about global warming?) as VP, and now he is doing too much -NAFTA signed, WTO created. -National health care went nowhere -Lewinsky scandal I do take very seriously the idea that Hillary gained valuable experience by being in the White House for 8 years, but I think it is just idiotic to blame her for children being killed in Waco and Baghdad. And her current position on NAFTA and health care are far more important than what happened in her husband's administration.

Lorrie Moore should be ashamed of herself for precisely what Peggy cites above. Second, since when is she an oracle. Third it can be argued that Bill Clinton's presidency was an outstanding one. Fourth, the boys are faring worse? I guess the boys are doing great if a superficial, pop article like this gets on the op-ed page. Give me a break."Boys are faring worse....Obama holds the greater fascination for our children."?Moore is a writer of fiction, alright.

Bill, you haven't been reading your Commonweal: Moore didn't blame Hillary for the death of children at Waco. The point of that graf is to deflate the notion that the Clinton years were all rainbows and butterflies. What does it mean to take her eight years in the White House very seriously? What about the other twenty-seven years of experience she keeps talking about? Are we supposed to ignore her previous positions on Iraq and Iran too?

Grant,Are you seriously telling me that the point of this sentence is merely that the Clinton years were not "all rainbows and butterflies" and is not an attempt to tie Hillary Clinton to the death of children?

Baghdad was strafed and embargoed; Waco was gassed and burned; in all these events, children (Mrs. Clintons key policy focus) were appallingly killed. [emphasis added]

People who scoff at Hillary Clinton's "35 years of experience" seem to be ignoring the fact that the eight years in the White House have been followed by eight years in the senate! Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas from 1978 to 1980 and then from 1982 to 2000. In general, I wouldn't credit a "first lady" of a state or the United States with acquiring experience in being a governor or a president, but it seems to me the Clintons have always been very much partners in everything they do, so I accept as experience those 10 years as first lady of Arkansas. So 16 + 10 = 26. There are biographies out there (for example, on Wikipedia) that will fill in the rest.I could understand it if people argued that in her capacity as first lady of Arkansas and first lady of the United States, she didn't do all that much. But the argument you actually hear is that, oh sure, she has experience, but she got most of it by being somebody's wife. Well, that doesn't taint it as far as I am concerned.I am not sure you really mean her "positions" on Iraq and Iran, but rather her votes. I think it is with 20-20 hindsight that people say Bush shouldn't have been given authority to use military force against Iraq. I hold Bush responsible for actually invading Iraq, not the people who gave him the authority to use credible threats of force when so many intelligence services all over the world thought he had weapons of mass destruction. (Although I was highly skeptical myself, since the inspectors kept failing to find anything.)

David,I appreciate your passion, but I live in New York. I know who my senators are. As I've said before, I'm not convinced that eight years as first lady amount to serious political experience. Same goes for being the spouse of a governor. (I don't think being married to an elected official necessarily taints anyone.) Regarding Iraq and Iran, I mean both her rhetoric and her votes. I find her statements about the latter worrying. But then she couldn't even muster a straightforward response to Russert's questions about her Iraq vote. This is not a matter of hindsight, David. The magazine has opposed the war from the beginning--and we were not alone in doing so. The notion that there were a few scattered, quiet voices protesting in the wilderness is a Fox News fantasy.

Grant if women are more educated than men now it proves my point. So why are only ten women ceos in the Fortune Five Hundred or only 20 in the fortune one thousand?I do understand the need for fascination, however.

Grant,Fair enough. I may disagree with some of what you say, but I have no quarrel with it. I would only say that you make a far better case against Hillary than Lorrie Moore, who does not mention or even allude to the 2002 vote or the war in Iraq but instead talks about baking cookies, Waco, and the 1998 strike on Baghdad. I live in New York, too, as apparently do a number of those who hang out here.

I'm not sure how fair it is to rack up the failures of the Bill Clinton administration against the Hillary Clinton candidacy; it's perfectly possible, after all, to learn from mistakes, either one's own, or those of others. But neither Lorrie Moore nor her critics above mention one failure that I think historians in the future will consider enormous. That is the squandering of ten years and more of the opportunities given by the collapse of the USSR and its Eastern European empire. Bush Senior began it, of course, since it happened on his watch, and though he called for a New World Order (perhaps not the most fortunate phrase) following the end of the cold war, he neither did much about it nor did he have the chance to do so, voted out as he was in 1992. But Mr. Clinton did have a chance, though it was not until well into his second administration that he began to take foreign policy seriously. Then he was caught up in particular crises that needed particular solutions (Israel v. Palestine, Serbia v. Kosovo, etc.) and never managed to articulate, much less put into practice, any vision of what this new post-cold war order, or system, or rearrangement, might entail. And, of course, even if he had set forth something brilliant, no doubt the genius of Bush junior would have been sufficient to reduce it to rubble. With, perhaps, a helping hand from V. Putin.

Lorrie Moores Last Years Role Model focuses attention on an important policy issue. She argues that an Obama vote will help fix the lost boy problem by providing an important role model. Lorrie properly stresses the problems faced by boysespecially boys of color. Though boys confront a problem in elementary and secondary schools, and need more male role models in the classroom setting, the key solution involves building respect for each boys (or students) individuality and autonomya situation left unaddressed by too many educational policies, and insidiously exacerbated by international policies that favor war rather than diplomacy. Eliminating obstacles for young men and women need not rise to a zero-sum game, nor should efforts to combat various forms of discrimination be so viewed. Senior Democratic heads need to merge the Clinton/Obama assets with a vote competition based on enlightened debate. Then policies might emerge that address the disgraceful underutilization of lost boys and women stymied by discrimination. Having filed the first Department of Education Civil Rights complaint alleging school structure constitutes systemic discrimination against males and minorities, I understand the appeal of Lorrie Moores argument that Obama will help address the lost boys issue. I laud her for forcefully directing attention to an issue altogether too neglected in this campaign, and I encourage the most careful weighing of her opinion. Ultimately democrats will display the greatest wisdom by forging a ticket that understands the range and components of issues and the way to mobilize America to produce solutions. Above all, democrats must avoid sly tactics and dialogue that debase our civic community, advantage forces opposed to equity and jeopardize this years opportunity to send America in a new direction.

Gerry, Has either Obama or Clinton actually addressed this issue specifically?

Michiko Kakutani reviews "30 Ways of Looking at Hillary" in this morning's NYT. Lorrie Moore's essay is one of the thirty. Sounds like Hillary's own conclusion and Kakutani's are just about right:"In the end, this volume of reflections corroborates Mrs. Clintons own long-ago observation that she is a Rorschach test for voters. It also suggests that like three other famous blondes (Marilyn, Madonna and Princess Di), shes in danger of being turned into one of those indeterminate semiotic texts academics love to deconstruct, made to signify everything from the aging of boomer dreams to the future of feminism, even as her every gesture and inflection is sifted, measured and weighed, and her actual rsum and record are increasingly shoved to the side."Here's the whole review:

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