Thursday, May 22, 2008

One-time Hillary Rant (As Far as I Know)

I’ve never liked Hillary Clinton. I’ve never trusted her. I’ve never thought she was real. In the beginning, I wondered things like, what’s with this I-need-to hit-upon-the-right-image-thing? Why does she care if people don’t like her hair or clothes? Who cares whether she wears a headband? And more troubling—what was this supposedly great advocate for children and the working class doing on the board of WalMart? Almost immediately after Bill took office, there was Travelgate. Then the health care debacle, in which her stubborn, wonky disregard of anyone’s ideas but her own wrecked any chance of fulfilling her husband’s campaign promise to fix the system that made (and still makes) it impossible for millions of Americans to get the care they need.

The secrecy and paranoia she exhibited during this time have been mirrored in the management of her campaign. There's been an agonized repeat of trying to figure out what image she wants to portray--the experienced Washington insider, the emotional, compassionate woman, the beer-guzzling, shot drinking hardass? Why wouldn’t her presidency play out in exactly the same way?

The presidency to which she seems to feel entitled.

Well, she's not entitled. It’s not her turn. It’s not anyone’s turn. We get to choose the next president, based on what We, the People think is best for our country. Not based on some deal Bill and Hillary cut to salvage their marriage.

Not because she's a woman, either--mainly because gender is no reason to vote for anyone, male or female. But also because--at least in my view--she's not kind of the First Woman President that we could really be proud of.

Think about Monica Lewinski, Jennifer Flowers, Paula Jones--and who knows who else might have caused (and may yet cause) a scandal of epic proportion. Then think, why in the world a woman with Hillary’s intelligence, education, and virtually unlimited resources would stay with a man who humiliated her again and again? Did love make her so gullible? So weak? Or did she stay with Bill because she believed it was the only way to get a shot at being the first woman president? As mother of two daughters, neither seems to me a good message for young women who are growing up, coming of age, trying to understand how to live.

All that said, the thing that made me so angry at Hillary and keeps making me so angry every time I think about it that I need to rant about her here and try to get it out of my system is her response a while back to the persistent swift-boat rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim: “There is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”

With those five words, once and for all, she played the card that revealed her true character. She has become exactly the kind of person she blames for the ugly lies and innuendos surrounding her own life.

Pogo said it best: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Okay. That's it. I'm done.

As far as I know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

(Forty Years Later) Right on!

I missed the Sixties—that is, the political part. I was married in 1967, at nineteen, and my first daughter was born when I was barely twenty. I finished college going part-time because that’s what we could afford; my husband went to law school nights. Our second daughter was born during his final week, in 1972. I am embarrassed to reveal that many times during these years people our parents’ age commented on what a “nice young couple” we were--i.e. we were not like those filthy hippies and anti-war protesters. I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I voted for (AARGH, I can hardly bear to type it…) Richard Nixon. I believed he’d stop the war in Vietnam. Still…

By the time I surfaced a few years later and began to discover my true self, the protests were over. I saw the damage the Sixties had done to our country, to families, to our sense as young people of what was possible. I was left with a lingering sense of regret that I didn’t stand up for what I knew in my heart was right, along with a cynicism about politics so deep and bitter that I could not imagine myself ever truly believing in any presidential candidate that politics produced. Catch 22: anyone who wanted that kind of power had to sell his (or her) soul to get it; thus, by the time made they got to the presidency, they were so indebted to so many people that whatever campaign promises they’d made were way down the list of what they were actually going to attend to. I figured that teaching was my only shot at changing the world for the better—one kid at a time. I still believe that there’s a place in the world where each one of us can make small, significant changes that really matter. I believe, too, that these real, one-to-one encounters with people who need us yield the deepest pleasures human life can offer.

But I think I always knew that something would make me stand up in a larger, more visible (dare I say it…political?) way. I assumed it would be against something; God knows there’s plenty to be against, especially right now. But I found I didn’t have the energy to work actively against something, no matter how wrong I believed it to be. The simple thought of trying overwhelmed me with hopelessness and exhaustion.

It never once occurred to me I’d become a political activist because of something or, even less likely, someone I was for. But a few weeks ago, there I was knocking on doors for Barack Obama in Indianapolis—knocking for hope! Good God. Who’d have thought?

I wasn’t an Obama supporter from the start. I liked Edwards—where he came from, what he stood for, and—mostly—the kind of real toughness and courage he and his wife, Elizabeth, showed, continuing to fight for what they believed despite personal circumstances most of us could only imagine. I liked Obama, too. But he hadn’t been tested, like Edwards had, and I worried about that.

But I turned toward Obama last December, after reading a piece in The Atlantic by Andrew Sullivan.

At the crux of it was the question, “…how do we account for the bitter, brutal tone of American politics?”

And his response.

"The answer lies mainly with the biggest and most influential generation in America: the Baby Boomers. The divide is still--amazingly--between those who fought in Vietnam and those who didn't, and between those who fought and dissented and those who never dissented at all...This is the critical context for the election of 2008. It is an election that holds not only the potential to intensify this cycle of division but to bequeath it to a new generation, one marked by a new war that need not be--that should not be--seen as another Vietnam...If you are an American who yearns finally to get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today's actual problems, Obama may be your man."

Oh, my God, I thought. He's right. Along with this came the sudden understanding that I knew exactly what would happen if Hillary Clinton became president (Edwards by then having been more or less dispensed with by the press); I also knew exactly what would happen if any of the Republican contenders became president. But I didn't know what would happen if Barack Obama became president. I'm no gambler, but considering the fact that everything America was supposed to stand for was (and continues to be) at stake, I decided that voting for him was worth the risk.

By April, it seemed no risk at all. In fact, voting for Barack Obama seemed the only way out of the ugly morass we Baby Boomers had made of American politics, given our turn. We, meaning me, too--because letting others hijack our generation's dreams for their own motives made me complicit.

So as the Indiana Primary grew near, I hit the streets. A political activist, me.

Right on!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Stranded in Beech Grove

Week before last, I was standing in line to board a plane for Las Vegas, and this very attractive young woman behind me asked, "Are you Barbara Shoup?"

"I am," I said, wracking my brain to remember her name. I'm terrible at remembering names, which is a constant source of mortification for me.

But it turns out, I didn't know her. Lauren Cram recognized me from the photo on the back flap of Stranded in Harmony--which she was teaching in two of her English classes at Beech Grove High School. That very week!

Since we were both on our way to Las Vegas, the appropriate response to this unlikely coincidence was, "What are the odds of that?"

We maneuvered to switch seats on the plane and chatted about books and teaching and teenagers for most of the flight, which made the time go by quickly.

Last Thursday, I visited Lauren's classes to talk about Stranded in Harmony and about writing and the writing life. Her students asked intelligent, perceptive questions about the book, reminding me for the millionth time why I love to be in the company of teenagers.

I'd write more, but I was having so much fun, I was so happy among them that I wasn't thinking, just being. It's all just one big blur of light in my mind.

Thanks, you guys! I hope you aced the test!

Note to self: Do more of this!