I’m looking for a piece the late – and much missed – Michael Kelly wrote for the New York Times Sunday Magazine May 23, 1993. It was entitled Saint Hillary, and was apparently much-remarked about, much written-about in its day. Can’t seem to come up with it on the search engines and it is not in Nexis-Lexis. While letters to the paper about the article may be found, it doesn’t seem to be in the NY Times archives, which is curious to me, given that it is a feature on the American First Lady, but perhaps the magazine was not archived, back then? Would anyone know? I can’t find articles referencing it by other writers, either. It seems to be a very difficult article to find, although you can see Anita Krunz’s cover illustration here. To my eyes, she looks more like Bill Clinton than Hillary but I wonder if that was an intentional blurring of both Clintons by the artist? Perhaps not.
UPDATE – Thanks to reader Sue, a link to an excerpt from Saint Hillary (taken from Things Worth Fighting For, a collection of Kelly’s writing) and it is fascinating reading. The Hillary here is so much more interesting than the Hillary we have come to know in that past 15 years of fluffy pieces in the mainstream press and the caricatures from the far-right. Michael Kelly seems to have caught Hillary in all of her complexities. A few bits:
“The very core of what I believe is this concept of individual worth, which I think flows from all of us being creatures of God and being imbued with a spirit,” she says. She speaks carefully, sitting upright and leaning slightly forward at a small table in a neat and modest White House garden.
“Some years ago, I gave a series of talks about the underlying principles of Methodism,” she goes on. “I talked a lot about how timeless a lot of scriptural lessons were because they tied in with what we now know about human beings. If you break down the Golden Rule or if you take Christ’s commandment—- Love thy neighbor as thyself—there is an underlying assumption that you will value yourself, that you will be a responsible being who will live by certain behaviors that enable you to have self-respect, because, then, out of that self—respect comes the capacity for you to respect and care for other people.
“And how do we just break this whole enterprise down in small enough pieces? Well, somebody says to themselves: ‘You know, I’m not going to tell that racist, sexist joke. I don’t want to objectify another human being. Why do I want to do that? What do I get out of that kind of action? Maybe I should try to restrain myself.’
I don’t disagree with any of that. I simply don’t think you can legislate that sort of behavior into being without seriously affecting personal liberty and creating a culture of social intimidation.
There is a Niebuhrian hardness under the fuzzy edges of Mrs. Clinton’s discourses on the politics of virtue—an acknowledgment that some sorts of behavior are acceptable and other sorts are not, that every right is married to a responsibility that a civilized society must be willing to condemn those who act in ways destructive of that society. “We do this in our own lives,” she says. “I mean, we pass judgments all the time. I can remember sitting in a law school class years and years ago in which a hypothetical was being discussed about terrorists “And I remember sitting there listening to the conversation as so many people tried to explain away or rationalize their behavior. And I remember saying, ‘You know there is another alternative. And the other alternative is that they are evil. [emphasis mine - admin] I mean, you know? There are evil people in the world. And they may be able to come up with elaborate rationalizations to attempt to explain their evil, and they may even have some reasonable basis for saying their conduct needs to be understood in the light of preexisting conditions, but their behavior is still evil.’”
Fascinating and impressive. Beholden as she is to the netroots and the moveon.org folks, I wonder if she would dare utter those phrases again?
She cites a recent article by Daniel Patrick Moynihan on what the New York senator called “defining deviancy down.”
“Senator Moynihan argues very convincingly that what we have in effect done is get used to more and more deviant behavior round us, because we haven’t wanted to deal with it,” she says. “But—by gosh!—it is deviant! It is deviant if you have any standards by which you expect to be judged.”
This line of argument, central to Mrs. Clinton’s view, is, of course, precisely what social conservatives have been saying for years. Social liberals, who dominate the national Democratic Party, have held that it is not the place of either government or society to lay down a set of behavioral standards based on moral absolutes, and that individual freedom necessitates moral relativism.
“I think that is a theoretical and to a great extent an elitist argument:’ says Mrs. Clinton, with some heat. “I think a person would have a hard time making that argument to the kind of people who I know who are working hard and living in fear and are really taking the brunt of a lot of the social and political decisions that we’ve either made or failed to make in the last twenty years. There are standards. We live by them. We reward them. And it is a real fallacy to jump from what we do in our individual and work lives to expect us not to have standards in our social community lives.”
Gosh, I’m wondering why this thing is so difficult to find online? Or, scratch that, maybe I know.
Mrs. Clinton argues that the concepts of liberalism and conservatism don’t really mean anything anymore and that he politics of the New Age is moving beyond ideology. But that is not at all true in the area of values where she seeks to venture. It is easy for social conservatives, who have been writing and debating for years about the moral values Mrs. Clinton is now addressing, to speak bluntly about what is morally right and what is not. Conservatism is purposely, explicitly judgmental. But liberalism, as defined by Mrs. Clinton’s generation and those who came after, has increasingly moved away from the entire concept of judgment and embraced instead the expansion of rights and the tolerance of diversity.
Returning to moral judgment as a basis for governmental policy must inevitably mean curtailing what have come to be regarded as sacrosanct rights and admitting a limit to tolerance. And that will bring the politics of meaning hard against the meaning of politics.
Wasn’t Michael Kelly just a phenomenal writer? I could try for months and never manage to put it out there so lucidly, so succinctly! I’m so glad to know this posthumous compilation exists and am ordering my copy today!
UPDATE II: Jonah Goldberg references Saint Hillary in a piece for NRO.
UPDATE III: Seedubya was nice enough to send me the text of another Michael Kelly piece, this time on Bill Clinton. The link to the Times article requires cash money, although this piece about moderate Democrats feeling deserted for a left-leaning Bill Clinton, was written a few months earlier and is available for you to read. Interesting stuff – and isn’t the tone of the NY Times in 1992-1993 remarkably different than it’s tone today?
More excerpts from Michael Kelly’s writing here.
At the Times he was the author of the first and still definitive Hillary Clinton take-down, the brilliant “Saint Hillary,” a Sunday magazine cover story. Do you remember it, with Mrs. Clinton posed all in white, ethereal and serene? Her people must have been sure it would be a Timesian puff. It was instead a hard-eyed look of the intersection of vanity and liberalism. No one denied it was brilliantly reported and written with sly spirit, but it was controversial in high end journalistic circles because it did not exactly reflect the reporting of a liberal mind at work.