Mother of the Year

Feb 18 2008 @ 4:45pm

by Reihan Is George W. Bush a good dad? I honestly have no idea. I wouldn’t say I’m indifferent, exactly. The United States would be better off if the president weren’t spending his off-hours loudly demanding that his children not use wire hangars. But really, questions of child-rearing should be left to the president and his wife and possibly Uncle Cheney, better known as "Bad Cop."

Which is why I found this op-ed in The Badger Herald so strange.

Growing up, Hillary was like a second mom to all of Chelsea’s friends (we are sure you know the type of mom we are talking about from your own adolescence). She was a constant presence at school events, sleepover parties and family gatherings. She was the hit of the annual Mother’s Day Skit in high school, imitating Chelsea in tights and ballet slippers with her nose buried in a book. She was a shoulder to cry on after a particularly bad high school break-up and taught us that sometimes, after a terrible day, a giant chocolate brownie is truly the best medicine. She encouraged us to work hard in school, converting the White House kitchen into our exam study room. She taught us how to make sweet potato soufflé when we decided to attempt our first Thanksgiving. She was a source of solace and love when we lost a parent.

There’s more. It seems that Senator Clinton also inspired Chelsea’s friends to believe that they too could achieve great things. Now, I don’t know these young people, and perhaps many of them did grow up under hardscrabble circumstances and not in the manicured precincts of Upper Northwest Washington, a neck of the woods a friend of mine once affectionately called "Upper Caucasia." But my guess is that attending a wonderful, nurturing school, highly selective school probably went a long way towards opening their eyes to the bountiful opportunities available to bright young people in America, and that being close to the First Family was icing on the cake.

I have to say, I’m perhaps a little sensitive on this subject because my parents weren’t a constant presence at school events. That’s because they both worked six if not seven days a week, thus making it impossible for them to take part in any extracurricular activities. My sisters attended parent-teacher conferences on their behalf, and I’m grateful to them. One of the best weekends of my life happened when my mother made it up to my college campus to see me perform in a play. I was amazingly proud and pleased, but I was always amazingly proud and pleased because I had really wonderful, cool parents. Granted, they weren’t always "down to hang" with my cronies, and they didn’t inspire my friends to believe that they too could achieve. My friends were mostly inspired by the hard work of their own parents and by teachers and by kids who were a few years older.

Clearly this testament to the singular excellence of Hillary Clinton as a mother and role model isn’t meant to denigrate my immigrant parents. But that’s the trouble with our pharaonic presidency: we shouldn’t expect our president to be a moral exemplar in every respect. Character does count, but it counts in certain contexts: prudence, humility, judgment, resilience, an ability to lead. That all matters, as demonstrated by the many failings of the often-petulant, allegedly incurious President Bush. But parenting skills? There are many different ways to be a good parent, and I’m powerfully vexed by the idea that a particular bobo parenting stye constitutes a noteworthy qualification for office.

While we’re on the subject of parenting, I have to wonder: given the reflexive hostility of many in our political class against the titans of finance capital, doesn’t it seem odd that Senator Clinton’s daughter and proxy-in-chief works for a hedge fund focused on distressed securities? I see nothing wrong with this because I think that this work is vitally important, not just not morally suspect. But given the privileged circumstances of the younger Clinton’s upbringing, the lens of personal politics leads us to ask questions like, "Does this really reflect your most deeply held values, Senator Clinton?" And of course the fact that some privileged people do choose less remunerative work has implications for the inequality picture, but I digress.

Once we praise Hillary Clinton for being a truly terrific mother, do we then ask about John McCain’s alleged infidelities, or Bill Clinton’s? There is plenty to say on both subjects. This is a trap. It never stops.

If I were to choose a candidate based on her purely personal qualities, I think it would have to be John Edwards. Some time ago I listened to Elizabeth Edwards answer a radio interviewer’s question about privacy, and Edwards said, refreshingly, that she never cared much for privacy: the neighborhood kids would stroll right into her bedroom and say, "What’s cookin’?" She wasn’t trying to be "relatable" (I make sweet potato soufflé!"), but rather she was saying, "I’m an incredibly social weirdo who loves talking to strangers." That’s my kind of woman. By winning her over, John Edwards demonstrates his mettle and keen intelligence. Then, of course, there is the fact that he has embraced the Soviet interpretation of American life, which I find problematic. You get my point.