Riding the Waves

I have taken a few days off and gone to a place where there are beaches, palm trees, tan people, men in shorts and cotton-weave shirts, and women in sky-blue and pink and yellow dresses and broad-brimmed straw hats. It is nice here. The breeze is gentle and unstopping. In the houses you can smell gardenias. At night everything you touch is moist. There is a purple orchid in full bloom at the front door of the house where I’m staying. It doesn’t grow from soil but from the air. Its roots are exposed and hang below the flowers in two feet of gray tangle. It’s ugly-beautiful.

Every night a big white gambling boat goes out beyond the three-mile limit and stays there for hours; it has a long string of white lights stem to stern, and it looks like a New York bridge with all its lights on, floating out there in the darkness. Everyone here is still recovering from the hurricanes of the fall, and half the palm trees are propped up by long two-by-fours as they attempt to reroot themselves. Naturally and in the midst of all this beauty and regeneration all talk at dinner turns to politics.

All my life people have been talking politics at the dinner table, if they talked. I do not remember when it was not so. We all know the old saying, “Never discuss politics, sex or religion,” but that of course is precisely what Americans do discuss, along with sports and business. I actually don’t know what people talked about before these, but I wonder if it was something like, “What do you think is the most reliable path to personal satisfaction in the world we live in?” and “I saw a big bright yellow rose today and had the most wonderful thought, or at least it was wonderful for me, for I am no genius and do not normally go in for big time reflections on beauty,” and, “Did you have a happy childhood or an unhappy one, and if you had the latter what is the best thing it gave you, that unhappy start?”

I’d better tell you what I picked up about politics the past few days.

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Republicans—I have been among many—are now in the stage of the Hillary Conversation in which they are beginning to grouse about those who keep warning that Mrs. Clinton will be a formidable candidate for president in 2008. She won’t be so tough, they say. America will never elect a woman like her, with such a sketchy history—financial scandals, political pardons, the whole mess that took place between 1980 and 2000.

Hillary ClintonI tell them they are wrong. First, it is good to be concerned about Mrs. Clinton, for she is coming down the pike. It is pointless to be afraid, but good to be concerned. Why? Because we live in a more or less 50-50 nation; because Mrs. Clinton is smarter than her husband and has become a better campaigner on the ground; because her warmth and humor seem less oily; because she has struck out a new rhetorically (though not legislatively) moderate course; because you don’t play every card right the way she’s been playing every card right the past five years unless you have real talent; because unlike her husband she has found it possible to grow more emotionally mature; because the presidency is the bright sharp focus of everything she does each day; because she is not going to get seriously dinged in the 2008 primaries but will likely face challengers who make her look even more moderate and stable; and because in 2008 we will have millions of 18- to 24-year-old voters who have no memory of her as the harridan of the East Wing and the nutty professor of HillaryCare.

The Hillary those young adults remember will be the senator—chuckling with a throaty chuckle, bantering amiably with Lindsey Graham, maternal and moderate and strong. Add to that this: Half the MSM will be for her, and the other half will be afraid of the half that is for her. (You think journalists are afraid of the right? Journalists are afraid of each other.) And on top of all that, It’s time for a woman. Almost every young woman in America, every tough old suburban momma, every unmarried urban high-heel-wearing, briefcase-toting corporate lawyer will be saying it. They’ll be working for, rooting for, giving to the woman.

I am of course exaggerating, but not by much.

Can a Republican beat her? Sure. She’ll have to make mistakes, and she will. And he (it will be a he; it’s not Condi, because the presidency is not an entry-level political office) will have to be someone who stands for big, serious and solidly conservative things, and really means it, which will mark a nice contrast with Mrs. Clinton, who believes only in herself. He will also have to be able to do the delicate dance of running against a woman without seeming scared, patronizing, nervous or macho. It isn’t going to be easy. But it’s doable.

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There is more of politics to discuss, of course. There always is. But I am about to walk in the waves. With one parting thought, which has to do with politics and loss. Everyone is upset about Terri Schiavo. Everyone should be. Even Republicans who say Congress and the White House should have no role in this case are uncomfortable with what has been wrought, as are many, many Democrats. A great nation does not like to see an innocent woman put to death. Everyone seems aware: It is not like us. Her death, if it comes to that, will be a big loss. We will ponder what happened here for years to come. The fight for life has many fronts, and the war will not be over in our lifetimes.

For now, may those who fought for life be honored. May Jesse Jackson be honored, and all who fought the fight in Florida. From David McCullough’s “John Adams”: “Adams had, however, arrived at certain bedrock conclusions before [his] end came. He believed, with all his heart, as he had written to Jefferson, that no effort in favor of virtue was lost.” Onward.