The Magazine


Feb 19, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 22 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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It takes a village to raise a child. The village is Washington. You are the child. There, I've spared you from reading the worst book to come out of the Clinton administration since -- let's be fair -- whatever the last one was.

Nearly everything about It Takes a Village (Simon & Schuster, 318 pages, $ 20) is objectionable, from the title -- an ancient African proverb that seems to have its origins in the ancient African kingdom of Hallmarkcardia -- to the acknowledgments page, where Mrs. Clinton fails to acknowledge that some poor journalism professor named Barbara Feinman did a lot of the work. Mrs. Clinton thereby unwisely violates the first rule of literary collaboration: Blame the co-author. And let us avert our eyes from the Kim I1-Sung-type dust- jacket photograph showing Mrs. Clinton surrounded by joyous-youth-of-many- nations.

The writing style is that familiar modern one so often adopted by harried public figures speaking into a tape recorder. The narrative voice is, I believe, intended to be that of an old family friend, an old family friend who is, perhaps, showing the first signs of Alzheimer's disease:
On summer nights, our parents sat together in one another's yards or on porches, chatting while the kids played. Sometimes a few of the fathers dressed up in sheets and told us ghost stories. We marched with our Scout troops or school groups or rode bikes in holiday parades through our town's small downtown, to a park where all the kids were given Popsicles.

Elsewhere the tone is xeroxed family newsletter, the kind enclosed in a Christmas card from people you hardly know:
One memorable night, Chelsea wanted us to go buy a coconut. . . . We walked to our neighborhood store, brought the coconut home, and tried to open it, even pounding on it with a hammer, to no avail. Finally we went out to the parking lot of the governor's mansion, where we took turns throwing it on the ground until it cracked. The guards could not figure out what we were up to, and we laughed for hours afterwards.


However that may be, let us understand that we have here a Christmas card with ideas, "a reflection of my continuing meditation on children," as Mrs. Clinton puts it. And we need only turn to the contents page to reap the benefits of her many lonely hours spent in philosophical contemplation of puerile ontology: "Kids Don't Come with Instructions," " Security Takes More Than a Blanket," " Child Care Is Not a Spectator Sport," "Children Are Citizens Too."

Bold thoughts. Brave insights. "It is often said that children are our last and best hope for the future," claims Mrs. Clinton. "Children," she ventures; " need to hear from authoritative voices that kindness and caring matter." And she flatly states, "The teenage years, we all know, pose a special challenge for parents."

"Children," says Mrs. Clinton, "are like the tiny figures at the center of the nesting dolls for which Russian folk artists are famous. The children are cradled in the family, which is primarily responsible for their passage from infancy to adulthood. But around the family are the larger settings of paid informers, secret police, corrupt bureaucracy, and a prison gulag." I added the part in italics for comic relief, something It Takes a Village doesn't provide. Intentionally.

The profound cogitations of Mrs. Clinton cannot help but result in a treasure trove of useful advice on child rearing. "[The] village needs a town crier -- and a town prodder," she says. I shall be certain to propose the creation of this novel office at the next Town Meeting in Sharon, New Hampshire. I'm sure my fellow residents will be as pleased as I am at the notion of a public servant going from door to door at convenient hours announcing, as Mrs. Clinton does, "We can encourage girls to be active and dress them in comfortable durable clothes that let them move freely."

Some of this needful counsel is gleaned from Mrs. Clinton's own experience of partly raising one child with only a legion of household help courtesy the taxpayers. Not that Mrs. Clinton always had it easy:
But for two years when Bill was not governor (and Chelsea was still very youn g) our only help was a woman who came during work hours on weekdays. . . . My o wn version of every woman's worst nightmare happened one morning when I was due in court at nine-thirty for a trial. It was already seven-thirty, and two-year- old Chelsea was running a fever and throwing up after a sleepless night for bot h of us. My husban d was out of town. The woman who normally took care of Chelsea called in sick with the same symptoms. No relatives lived nearby. My neighbors were not at home. Frantic, I called a trusted friend who came to my rescue.

Whew, that was a close call.