Seeing Things: Lame in the Backstretch

Just when I think I have understood everything there is to understand about the Clintons and Clintonism, something happens that makes me realize what a strange and inexhaustible universe lies all around us.

John Keats once compared his surprise on looking into a translation of Homer with the way “stout Cortez” [sic] must have felt when he climbed an ordinary hill and, looking out, discovered the vast Pacific Ocean. Poor Keats must have really gotten a jolt since, in his excitement, he forgot the discoverer actually was Balboa. But I can’t blame him. Reading the papers the past few years, I have come to sympathize with how easy it is to lose bearings, memory, reality.

My latest experience in this line came as I was browsing through a paper that has decided to run Hillary Rodham Clinton’s column, “Talking It Over.” Now, I have to confess that I had never bothered to read a Hillary column before, so I may be partly to blame for my own shock in this case. Still, there is always something surprising about actually coming upon a thing, even if, as in the Balboa business, you kind of suspected that it was there all along.

The column was titled, “The ‘real-life politik’ at the White House.” Real-life politik, the first lady explains (in case we missed the clumsy play on words), is like the balance of power in Realpolitik, but it deals with “how we live and work together and how we achieve balance in our lives.” A group of working women with families, from professionals to more ordinary laborers, met recently at the White House to discuss this new notion. If there is any silver lining in this cloudy scenario, it is that “real-life politik” seems a term so lame as to be already on its last legs. But the spirit lives on, and the first lady’s reflections on its future bear careful attention. She says some see these kinds of subjects—how to get day care, how to balance career and family responsibilities, etc.—as the “feminization of politics.” Hillary Rodham Clinton, however, thinks of such subjects as part of the “humanization of politics.” What we have seen being played out in the political arena, she opines, is “how people’s personal concerns can become political if they use their voices—and their votes—to define them.”

The civics-textbook rhetoric here should not distract us. As Confucius, who lived too early to get mixed up in real-life politik, once said, the first thing needed to govern properly is to call things by their right names. In that spirit, I offer the following translation: Real-life politik means that anything anyone now finds unsatisfactory or out of balance in his/her life can be turned into a federal case. Not only does this fly in the face of the very notion of limited government, it beggars the imagination to consider how the myriad “concerns” all of us have about everyday existence are going to be addressed by government. But “voices” and “votes”? Isn’t that what America is about?

Not exactly. The founders feared giving votes to people without property, not, as is often claimed, because they were elitists, but because they thought people who did not have to pay for government actions should not be allowed to vote for them, lest they vote themselves other people’s money. It was not until the past several decades that we grew numb to these dangers, and now think it perfectly fine even for middle-class voters to make claims on one another’s pocketbooks for any reason.

What is really being talked about here are demands—for subsidies, for arrangements, for a “humanization of politics” that makes politics responsive to anything a human being can want. All this is, of course, concealed by both Clintons’ sheer genius for appearing to say the moderate thing while proposing the most radical political departures.

Item: “Regardless of our political affiliations or where we stand on any particular issue, or even where we come down on the question of how we attain a balance of power in our own lives, we must acknowledge that much is at stake for women collectively in these debates.”

Translation: We’re going to make these issues a part of politics in a way that advances the total politicization of society. If we decide we need something to achieve “life balance,” we will treat anyone who disagrees the way Bismarck treated anyone he thought represented “imbalance”—with manipulation backed by threats.

The Clintons both went to Yale Law School. Presumably, at some point in those years, someone showed them a copy of the Constitution. Nothing about real-life politik there, alas. The ratifying states would have been surprised that this document, carefully crafted to spell out—and therefore limit—federal powers, is now thought to embrace all of life; It takes not a village, but a stout Cortez like the first lady to find the Pacific Ocean of real-life politik in those few and simple founding words. Or was it Balboa?

Robert Royal

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Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of TheCatholicThing.org, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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