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Imagine a country in which nearly all children between the ages of three and five attend preschool in sparkling classrooms, with teachers recruited and trained as child care professionals. Imagine a country that conceives of child care as a program to 'welcome' children into the larger community and 'awaken' their potential for learning and growing.
Imagine the hatcheries in Brave New World! Doesn't that sound like what she's celebrating here? Well, it's worse; she's talking about France. Imagine making America into France? But, at any rate, that passage, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with this book.
From the title of the book and a reasonably compelling description like this:
Children 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
one might easily conclude that Ms Clinton is going to take a traditional, communitarian, maybe even conservative approach to her topic. But then refer back to her preschool-lauding shtick above and you're struck by the fact that she doesn't see children as nested Russian dolls but as eggs, with the Federal government as the shell that surrounds their inchoate yolks. Having gone on at great and queasy-making length about her beatific '50s childhood, her ongoing efforts to "be there" for her own daughter, Chelsea, and various acknowledgments of the primary role of the family in raising children, suddenly Ms Clinton is singing Hosannas to a system where children are removed from the home at age three to be conditioned by the government in "sparkling" enclosures. One's flesh crawls at the thought.
Consider another bizarre contradiction. At one point, in discussing the rise on nontraditional family structures, Ms Clinton says that:
Children living with one parent or in stepfamilies
are two to three times as likely to have emotional and behavioral problems
But a few pages later she says:
Discussions of modern families often miss the point.
Although the nuclear family, consisting of an adult mother and father and
Who's missing the point here? It seems like she's so intent on being politically correct, and accepting non-nuclear families, that she's unable to accept the evidence that even she's just cited. And the most disturbing thing about this, particularly given the subtitle of the book--"Lessons Children Teach Us"--is that, in speaking of the human cost of divorce, she says:
Perhaps the most compelling evidence comes from the
mouths of children themselves. I recently received a letter from
That lesson seems not to have taken though since she simultaneously assures us that: "The human family assumes many forms and always has." Such a sentiment has to be cold comfort to that boy in Louisiana, eh?
What can be going on when Ms Clinton so often celebrates family, neighbors, community, and the like, the traditional "village", in her rhetoric, but then is so ready to see them all pass by the wayside and turn to government for solutions? What's with talking conservative talk but then walking the liberal walk? After all, we've been on warning now for over a century and a half about how reliance on government must tend to loosen social ties, but we've ignored the warning and watched society come unglued. Can we really afford to loosen, or further loosen, the ties that bind families? Do we really want to universalize child care, removing children from their homes and sticking them in regimented and homogenized government institutions? Do we really do children a service when we allow, or encourage, adults to enter into any kind of family arrangement that strikes their fancy? And what will be the long term consequences of turning over more and more of the responsibilities for child development to the government? We've recently--in fact, during the Clinton presidency--reversed the insidious welfare program that relieved mothers of responsibility for the children they bore, having found it to create a situation where, unsurprisingly, they behaved irresponsibly. What rational purpose could be served by now moving our entire society toward a system where government takes over responsibility for our kids? Surely we recognize by now that the likely result is that we'll all behave less responsibly towards our children. That poor kid in Louisiana may not like having only a mom, but do we really expect him to like things better when her role in his life is lessened too? For what else can be the result of increasing the role of government in the lives of our families but to reduce the role we play in each other's lives?
Now, Ms Clinton seems a smart enough woman, so one wonders how she can be so wrong. Unfortunately, while the book is heavy on saccharine reminiscences, sociological musing, and public policy prescriptions, there's little in the way of political philosophy, so it's difficult to determine exactly how she derives her ideas. However, she does offer one clue. In the chapter on education she says that:
I have never met a stupid child, though I've met
plenty of children whom adults insist on calling "stupid" when the children
And a bit later she says:
[W]e would do well to learn to ask how rather than whether someone is smart.
One must assume that Ms Clinton has only ever met the children of Lake Woebegone, all of whom are above average. For, in the real world, we've all of us met stupid children and we know that many people aren't smart in different ways, but rather aren't smart. What Ms Clinton betrays here is the extreme egalitarian utopianism that underlies much of the Left's thinking over the past two centuries, the delusion that Man is essentially good and that all men have inherently equal abilities. Under this view, any divergence in people's fortunes later in life, the inequality that makes one man a wealthy doctor and the other a poor ditch digger, must therefore be the result of external forces that hold the one back and unfairly advantage the other. Thus the Left's disastrous belief that if only they structure government properly they can guarantee that just as we all begin life's race with a toe touching the Start line, so will we all break the Finish tape at the same time. In their minds, given complete equality of conditions, every human being will be completely equal and Einstein and Mike Tyson will get the same scores on their SATs.
It's easy enough to see why folks who believe this nonsense would favor the extensive use of government. The inequalities of life must plague them and the temptation to impose equality must be powerful. However, that is what their vision requires, the imposition of "equality". They have to exchange the idea of human freedom and of organic society, for that of a social structure that the governing elite craft themselves.
This then is the paradox of Ms Clinton's book: she extolls the family, the village and the Russian folk doll, but at every turn she seeks to replace the layers that surround our children with a one-to-one relationship between them and government. For all the lip service she pays to traditional families and communities, her ultimate faith seems to reside only in government. In effect, since she's even chosen a life in government--first as a spouse and now as a legislator in her own right--we might say she trusts only herself to tell us how to raise children. Maybe that's the point of the whole exercise, because what this book is really telling us is one simple thing: it takes Hillary Clinton to raise a child.
GRADE: D (as in Democrat agenda)
-ESSAY: A 'Zone of Privacy' With Calculated Polish: Hillary Rodham Clinton's wildly hyped new memoir is anartifact of our age, in which confession and "sharing" have become talking points for public figures. (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, 6/10/03, NY Times)
-ESSAY: Bestseller-or sell-out?: Sharon Lerner looks at why some feminists can't stand Hillary (Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of Living History by Hillary Clinton (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)
-REVIEW: of Living History (Joy Press, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of Living History by Hillary Clinton (Mark Steyn, Daily Telegraph)
Book-related and General Links:
-BOOK SITE: It Takes a Village (Simon Says)
-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
-Biography of Hillary Clinton (White House)
-News Front Page > Full Coverage > U.S. > Hillary Rodham Clinton (Yahoo!)
-PROFILE: The Psychobiography of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Paul Lowinger, zpub)
-It Takes A Village (Liberty Net)
-ARTICLE: First Lady Defends Views On Raising Children (Mo Barrett, Aug. 27, 1996, CNN)
-ESSAY: Hillary Clinton's Anti-Individualism (Libertarianism)
-ESSAY: It Takes a Village to Raise a Child... ...but for an abortion, you only need a doctor and a nurse or two. (John Wilson, 7/3/00, Christianity Today)
-ARCHIVES: The Kids Are All Right (Reason)
-ARCHIVES: "hillary clinton" (Find Articles)
-REVIEW: of It Takes a Village (Florence King, American Enterprise)
-REVIEW: of It Takes a Village (Gwen J. Broude, Reason)
-REVIEW: of It Takes a Village (Kerby Anderson, Probe Ministries)
-REVIEW: of It Takes a Village (David Gordon, The Mises Review)
-REVIEW: of It Takes a Village (New Statesman, Alexander Chancellor)
-REVIEW: of It Takes a Village (Martin Amis, Times of London)
-REVIEW: of It Takes a Village (Honoria Begone)
-REVIEW: of It Takes a Village (David Gordon, Mises Review)