Anna Quindlen

Stories by Anna Quindlen

  • KEEPING THE ROBES CLEAN

    The man before the bench looks overwhelmed, standing hip deep in a pile of paper. "Abortion," says one document; "capital punishment," another. Government aid to parochial schools, undeclared war, de facto segregation. The poor guy is drowning in a tide of hot-button issues, a sea of cites. This may well be how the next justice appointed to the Supreme Court will feel, but the man in this editorial cartoon is Harry Blackmun 35 years ago. How little the world has changed. The same tide, the same sea.And one other thing has stayed the same: the high court. It has somehow remained a bulwark in a nasty world of inexorable lobbying, knee-jerk anti-intellectualism and self-serving politicking. America's basic insurance is tripartite government, spreading power around: the executive, the legislative, the judicial. The president, the Congress, the Supreme Court. Only the last has maintained a form and a function that merit respect. Its nine members do not press the flesh at picnics. They do...
  • NOW AVAILABLE: MIDDLE GROUND

    In theory, access to the drug called Plan B should be a no-brainer. It's safe, it's effective, it's easily available in dozens of countries. But Plan B is a drug used to prevent pregnancy, and nothing about preventing pregnancy in America is simple, except for the fact that so many women do it as a matter of course.Plan B is an emergency contraceptive that works by inhibiting ovulation, fertilization or implantation. It won't work if you're already pregnant, but it will stop you from becoming pregnant if your everyday contraceptive failed or you've had unprotected sex. But because it must be taken within a few days--it's sometimes called the morning-after pill--it's important to have ready access. Canada, Britain, France and a host of other countries allow women to get emergency contraception without a prescription. It's even distributed at public clinics in Peru, where abortion is largely illegal--and an estimated 400,000 illegal abortions are performed annually.More than a year...
  • THE JACKSON 12 PERFORMS

    Modern life has become a spectator sport. Folks with high blood pressure and no muscle tone look on as the sinewy and buff row, run and scale their way around tropical islands on television. Couples who haven't exchanged a meaningful word for days pay close attention as Dr. Phil advises the quarrelsome on how to put the magic back in their marriages. As the rate of restaurant dining rises and home cooking falls, viewers are glued to the Food Network, watching hollandaise coalesce and homemade bread rise in a TV kitchen set.The motto of us all might be "Do what I watch, not what I do."But perhaps the oddest manifestation of this is in the area of criminal justice. An alarming number of Americans may not know the names of their own members of Congress, but can tell you the identity of the discredited detective in the O. J. Simpson trial, the place where Scott Peterson said he was fishing on Christmas Eve when his wife went missing and the name of Robert Blake's murdered wife.Now they...
  • TESTING: ONE, TWO, THREE

    It's that time of year again, when the sweaters come off, the annuals come out, and the students prepare. For the test, for the test scores, for the test schedule for next year. The kids of America are drowning in multiple-choice questions, No. 2 pencils and acronyms. Along with the ABCs, there are the GQEs (Graduation Qualifying Exam), the SOLs (Standards of Learning), the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) and of course the SAT. A group called the National Center for Fair & Open Testing estimates that public schools give more than 100 million standardized tests each year.Full disclosure: in the interests of informed punditry I recently took a practice SAT test, the first standardized test I have taken since 1969, and by the end I thought the top of my head would blow off. Perhaps it was the reading-comp section on Keats. Perhaps it was the fact that I believe geometry is the Devil's work. Perhaps it was simply that doing any task for nearly five hours challenges...
  • LIFE OF THE CLOSED MIND

    A glorious morning for a commencement, the sky a blue tent cut with wisps of clouds over the Columbia University campus. From time to time a plane bisected the air above, an accidental eavesdropper on the passage of time and the celebration of joy. Clear weather, low-flying jets: it's what some New Yorkers still can't help thinking of as a 9/11 day.All over America graduating seniors are being reminded of what they--and their parents--can scarcely forget. Most of them left home and arrived on campus in September 2001. But that knowledge is particularly sharp here in New York. Some students chose to leave afterward, to migrate to the quiet college towns so many of their high-school classmates had chosen in the first place. But most stuck. After all, if they were scared off by what had befallen the Trade Center, then it meant the terrorists had won.Four years have passed, and it occurs to me, surveying the Columbia undergraduates, their blue gowns mimicking the blue sky, that the...
  • THE SAME OLD (NEW) HILLARY

    In 1992 I spent part of the day with the wife of the putative Democratic candidate for president. We covered the issues, the campaign and her husband's plans for the future. And we talked about faith, about how both of us believed our religion had led us toward a heightened interest in various social-welfare issues.That's the real Hillary Rodham Clinton. A lifelong Methodist, she's as reticent about her faith as a Sunday-school teacher--and she once did teach an adult class, back in Arkansas. Yet recently when she's mentioned God, knowing snickers have erupted. Ultraconservative pooh-bah Gary Bauer was quoted as saying it was "the ultimate makeover."Actually, a makeover has been underway since the former First Lady went to Washington under her own steam as a senator. It's just not the one Bauer means. People are finally seeing past the stereotypes and fabrications. In New York state her approval rating is just shy of 70 percent. After years of free-floating propaganda, her...
  • SEPARATE, NOT EQUAL AT ALL

    Here is where we begin: with Easter, the holiest day of the Christian calendar, with the visit by Mary Magdalene to the tomb in which Jesus is laid after the crucifixion. The body is gone, and she runs to find the apostles Peter and John to tell them so. They look, run off, and she remains, distraught. A man approaches; she mistakes him for the gardener.He says, "Woman, why are you crying?"The very first word Jesus says after his resurrection is our name. And perhaps that explains why Roman Catholic women who have been so poorly served by our church refuse to leave. The members of the hierarchy do not engage us in conversation, but their founder did.You need only look at photographs of the pope and his cardinals to see the essential problem. A phalanx of identicals, the closest they come to daily contact with women is with the nuns who keep house for them. Half the world is out of bounds. The Catholic Church is not alone in this. Many religions have found some way to make women both...
  • COMPLEX AND CONTRADICTORY

    St. Andrew's or St. Bernadette's?" asked the stranger on the train. "St. Andrew's," I replied. Part of the last generation of Americans who grew up cocooned by Roman Catholicism, the two of us nodded in mutual understanding. Our world was our parish. Our teachers were nuns. Our lives were simple: confessing minor sins on Saturday afternoons to the faceless silhouette behind the screen, attending an incomprehensible Latin mass on Sunday mornings with the priest's back turned to the pews. Pagan-baby collections at Christmas, May procession as the winds grew warm. Mantilla in my pocket, catechism on my desk. Form as much as faith.It was a simpler time, with only one answer for each question, unless you happened to know some Jesuits. The world today is more complex and contradictory, and it is fitting that the man who oversaw the Catholic Church during these years was complex and contradictory as well.John Paul II was the first pope of the celebrity age, his face as recognizable as that...
  • WE'RE MISSING SOME SENATORS

    A question in honor of Women's History Month: what does the United States have in common with Brunei, Somalia, Sudan and Oman? The answer: we are among only a handful of nations on earth that have refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a mouthful commonly called CEDAW. Jimmy Carter signed the treaty in 1980, and ever since it has languished in legislative limbo, waiting for the Senate to take action. While country after country, including such feminist strongholds as Iraq and Afghanistan, has at least paid lip service to the idea of an egalitarian society by supporting the treaty, we now stand alone as the sole industrialized nation that has not done so. "We've abdicated a leadership role in the single most important ongoing international women's-rights process," says Jessica Neuwirth, president of Equality Now.Of course, we can boast that we're right up there with Somalia.If only this were an aberration. I...
  • ODE TO JOY, IN BRIGHT ORANGE

    If you were a New Yorker in the '70s, people were always asking if you'd ever been mugged. (No, but my apartment was burglarized. The lowlife fed my dog to keep her quiet.) In the early '80s, it was whether you'd ever made it inside Studio 54. (Took my teenage sister.) The '90s: have you met Jerry Seinfeld? (Stood behind him and his wife at the marathon once.) And at the moment there is one question we New Yorkers get wherever we go: did you see "The Gates"?Suddenly they were gone, all 7,532 of them, vanished completely. But for a little more than two weeks visitors to Central Park were welcomed as though by bevies of long-legged bridesmaids, their gaudy skirts rippling in a winter wind. Said to be saffron but really a Hare Krishna orange, "The Gates" consisted of a line of giant croquet wickets edging the park paths as far as the eye could see, their crossbeams hung with a deep flutter of fabric that embraced the walkers beneath.The only significant vandalism encapsulated an age...
  • THE GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER

    There was a kind of carelessness to my childhood. I wandered away from time to time, rode my bike too far from home, took the trolley to nowhere in particular and back again. If you had asked my mother at any given time where I was, she would likely have paused from spooning Gerber's peas into a baby's mouth or ironing our school uniforms and replied, "She's around here somewhere."By the new standards of mothering, my mother was a bust. Given the number of times I got lost when I was young, she might even be termed neglectful. There's only one problem with that conclusion. It's dead wrong. My mother was great at what she did. Don't misunderstand: she didn't sit on the floor and help us build with our Erector sets, didn't haul us from skating rink to piano lessons. She couldn't even drive. But where she was always felt like a safe place.The idea that that's enough is a tough sell in ourcurrent culture, and not simply because if one of my kids had been found wandering far from our...
  • NO PRINCIPLE, JUST INTEREST

    You didn't need to be a political consultant to predict the likely linchpins of the president's State of the Union address. Safeguarding Social Security, the entitlement program whose cost accounts for a fifth of the entire federal budget. Continuing the tax cuts that George W. Bush embraced during his first term and defended during the election. And bankrolling the war in Iraq, for which the administration is seeking $80 billion in its current budget.Any homeowner with scratch paper and a checkbook could look at those plans and figure out that there's a disconnect at their core. Reduced revenues and astronomical expenditures don't add up. Yet this essential fiscal contradiction has ceased to register with Americans for the simple reason that many of them mimic it in their own lives. The Bush administration is in luck; it has embraced magical thinking about spending just as many citizens have done the same.Home foreclosures have become commonplace in recent years as consumers bought...
  • CONNECTING UP THE DOTS

    There is now only a single abortion clinic in Mississippi. Once there were seven. There are nearly 3 million people living in the state. No other state with only one abortion clinic has as many residents. Mississippi has enacted every restriction on abortion possible within the limits set by the Supreme Court.Among them is a provision that a woman must be counseled in person about the procedure and then wait 24 hours before being permitted to have it performed.In 2000, researchers published a study of the effects of the waiting period. It showed that the number of later abortions increased sharply among Mississippi residents who relied on local clinics but not among those able to travel to neighboring states. The study showed that after the waiting period went into effect the number of second-trimester procedures in the state rose from 7.5 percent of all abortions to 11.5 percent.That study was done before the legislature passed a bill that would bar all clinic abortions after the...
  • THE GHOST OF POLITICS PAST

    I miss Paul Wellstone. It is not that the senator from Minnesota was liberal, although he was, or smart, although he was that, too. It was that when he said he was going to do something, he did it, and because he believed it was the right thing, not because he'd been bought and paid for by lobbyists and pressure groups. His last major legislative act was to vote against the resolution authorizing the war in Iraq. He was the sole Democrat in the Senate facing a significant election challenge to do so, but he told a reporter, "I'm not 38, I'm 58. And at this point in my life, I'm not making any decision that I don't believe in."A month later, Senator Wellstone was dead in the crash of a chartered campaign plane. I like to think that at least he passed over carrying a clear conscience.And while I don't believe in ghosts, I hope the memory of Paul Wellstone will haunt the Democrats as they go about the very public business of finding themselves in the wake of their November defeat. Not...
  • THE SPIRIT OF THE SEASON

    Without even breaking a sweat you could find at least a dozen performances of Handel's "Messiah" in New York City during the month of December. There was one at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, at Avery Fisher Hall, at Queensborough Community College, at Carnegie Hall, at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. The Mormons had a sing-along version at their building near Lincoln Center: "For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! Alleluia!"From the plastic creches on the lawns in the boroughs to the giving trees set up in the back of churches downtown, Christmas came in all its many manifestations to New York. This is a city of nearly a million Jewish residents, where Muslims are one of the fastest-growing religious groups. But the Christian holiday is celebrated in all its red-and-green glory, with lights and candles and gifts and prayers. And in the spirit of the season, let us make this solemn vow: we will not insist, in the name of piety, on rubbing the faces of those who don't...
  • I'LL NEVER STOP SAYING MARIA

    Sixteen years ago something unexpected happened: I became the mother of a daughter. Our assumptions about the unlikelihood of this had a weird logic, my husband the eldest in a family of six boys, our first two children sons. Third time around I looked exactly the same (enormous), and my habitual nausea had given way to my habitual urge to eat anything with salt or sugar and most of what lay in between. Which explains why, when our doctor said, "A little girl," I upended that newborn right there in the birthing bed and double-checked.Having a daughter can be a complex matter for a woman. Despite those who burble about someone to shop and chat with, the truth is that in their search for self, girls challenge their mothers in a way that boys rarely do. The ruling principle of burgeoning female identity seems to be a variation on Descartes: I am not my mom, therefore I am. Prudence Quindlen's revenge, my father once called our youngest child, figuring she would give me the agita that I...
  • LIFE BEGINS AT CONVERSATION

    I've been an opinion columnist for 15 years, and the public debate that has advanced least during that time is the one about abortion. (For the record, the discussion of gay rights has come the farthest.) From the time Roe v. Wade was first handed down by the high court, leaders of the opposing sides have been frozen into polar positions. Autonomy versus maternity. Coat hanger versus cradle. Constitution versus church.Those are oversimplifications, but too often oversimplification has seemed to be the ruling principle on this extraordinarily complex issue. And so many of the discussions of abortion from both sides have felt remote from everyday concerns. Maybe you know someone who watches the little stick turn blue and sits down on the toilet to think about a culture of life or the right to privacy. I don't. Lots of women have decided to end a pregnancy wondering why the so-called debate seems to have no connection to what they're thinking, feeling and doing.We talk about how the...
  • A PRESIDENT WHO LISTENS

    Red state, blue state, old state, new state. I vote in the indigo city, a place so politically monolithic that people in line at its polling places are quick to note that they don't have a clue about the outcome. "We don't really live in America," one man said. Yet even here there are nonpartisan markers for the future. Over the exit of PS 199 is a large sign that says, in glittery letters, WORK HARD. BE KIND.Reach out, listen closely. If we've heard it once we've heard it a hundred times: this is a historic election. Not since J.R. was shot have I met so many Americans concerned about a denouement. Friends took time off from work and went to Ohio, boarded buses and canvassed in Pennsylvania. We pundits, who had "apathetic," "unengaged" and "low turn-out" programmed into our computers, have had to reach for some new turns of phrase. "Energized young voters." There's a good one.But this race won't have been historic if it turns out to have been a blip of civic engagement in the...
  • AN OPEN HAND, A CLOSED FIST

    A rare moment of unanimity in the presidential debates came when the candidates were asked about Darfur, the western region of Sudan. As the ruling government has pursued a ruthless policy of ethnic cleansing designed to destroy the village structure there, more than a million people have fled their homes. Women have been systematically raped, children have been kidnapped and turned into slaves and an estimated 70,000 people have died because of the conflict. Both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry used the same word to describe the situation, a word that in semantic currency carries a heavy weight. "It is a genocide," the senator said. "I agree," said the president, "it's genocide."Then they went on to tussle over Iraq.Reasonable people can disagree about exactly what the United States ought to do as one group of Sudanese is being intentionally slaughtered by another. Kerry argued that more needed to be done but that the president had overcommitted American troops in Iraq...
  • FREEDOM'S JUST ANOTHER WORD

    We introduced the Australian exchange students to Honey Nut Cheerios. They introduced us to compulsory voting. In class, they'd heard about the woeful turnout in American elections. "But aren't people concerned about paying the fine?" one of them asked.It turns out that the laid-back country in which our two curious, self-possessed and intelligent houseguests live requires its citizens to vote. Really requires it. If you don't show up at your polling place on Election Day, you are asked to provide an excuse in writing afterward. "The dingo ate my ballot" will not do. Unless you have a good explanation--a heart attack that morning, say--you are fined. The result is that Australia has one of the highest voter-turnout rates in the world, around 90 percent.Lest we forget, only 51 percent of all voting-age Americans bothered to show up in the last presidential election, which means that while Australia may be a forcible democracy, we are barely a participatory one. (Unless you count...
  • MORTAL KOMBAT, ELECTION LEVEL

    When I was a kid, the games people played could be divided into those of the body and those of the brain. Stickball and bocce, poker and chess. I had kids of my own by the time the dominant form became that hypnotic hybrid, the videogame. Hand on the joystick, mouth ajar, moving warriors and wizards around the screen. Some had two versions, designed for the comfort level of parents: blood or no blood. To win, someone had to die.The political game today parallels that change in the form. In 1992 the media agonized about the character issue, about whether the fact that Gennifer Flowers said she'd been Bill Clinton's mistress meant he was somehow unfit for the highest office. In only a dozen years the bar has been lowered, from the character issue to the character-assassination issue. Mortal Kombat, the election version: the more you shoot, the more you score.Too much of the national dialogue has stuttered and stopped at what might be called "bad people" issues. Those who oppose legal...
  • THE WAR WE HAVEN'T WON

    In 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson made history during his first State of the Union speech with this sentence: "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America."From that declaration a host of government initiatives sprang, including Head Start, an expanded food-stamp program, and sweeping reforms in health care for the needy. It worked. The poverty rates fell and living standards for many in poor communities rose. And all because the president had had the political will to say that having one in five Americans living in the kind of abject conditions their fellow citizens associated with Third World countries and the novels of Dickens was as dangerous as any battlefield enemy.The problem with declaring war, of course, is that sooner or later people believe the conflict will end and peace will break out. But 40 years after Johnson led the charge, the battle against poverty still rages. The biggest difference today is that there is no call to arms by...
  • LEAVING ON A JET PLANE

    Most politicians think it's so radioactive, they won't go near it, and government officials keep insisting it's not going to happen any time soon. But the military draft is a subject that just won't go away, particularly for young Americans and the adults who love them.A round-robin letter has been circulating furiously among mothers on the Internet, expressing concern that two bills parked in committee may prefigure the resurrection of conscription, this time without the old protections of gender or student status. "Please send this on to all the parents and teachers you know," the message reads, "and all the aunts and uncles, grandparents, godparents." A newly released poll by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation found 58 percent of the respondents concerned that the draft could be revived in the near future, and 55 percent of the high-school students surveyed by the Horatio Alger Association said they believe there will be a draft in their lifetime.As the conflict in Iraq...
  • A LEAP INTO THE POSSIBLE

    At the end of Barack Obama's keynote speech to the Democratic convention, I stood up and cheered at the TV. I was alone in the den with two dogs, a piece of needlepoint and a cup of Sleepytime tea. I must have looked like a solitary lunatic, but I'm certain I wasn't alone in my reaction.As much of the country knows by now, the Senate candidate from Illinois is a born orator, passionate yet reasonable in a venue that seems to bring out the inner screamer in even the most seasoned politician. He galvanized a gathering long on orchestration and short on surprises. And one more thing: he revived the power and the glory of American liberalism just by showing up.We liberals have fallen on hard times in recent elections. At the very least, like feminists, we are not supposed to say our name. Certainly none of the sanctioned speakers were supposed to describe either John Kerry or John Edwards using the L word. That will be left to the Republicans, who will use the description as a...
  • WHAT IF THEY GAVE A PARTY

    Maybe it's hearing the Bostonians I know talk about finding refuge elsewhere at the end of the month, or my fellow New Yorkers strategizing about how to skip Penn Station in their daily commute. Or maybe it's because as a reporter I covered these non-events and combed my notebooks for some color to arrange artfully around the emptiness like journalistic landscape architecture. But every time I consider the upcoming political conventions, a single word comes to mind: why?It was hard enough four years ago to discern the point of these empty exercises in film-clip hagiography and ideological self-congratulation. The networks had rightly given up full-scale coverage because the conventions had become, as one exec complained, "an endless sea of blah." The nominees already signed, sealed and delivered, the platforms set to music in private meetings and focus-group reports, the Republican and Democratic conventions seemed to be of interest to no one but placard manufacturers, local...
  • A FOUL MOUTH AND MANHOOD

    In 1962, when the New York Times quoted President John F. Kennedy during a dispute with the steel industry as saying, "My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of bitches, but I never believed it till now," the White House went ballistic. The press office complained, the publisher of the Times apologized and the AP noted that other newspapers had found the quote unfit to print.That was then. This is @#*!%.Or the F word. Or expletive deleted. Or what have you: the powers of expurgated invention fail me. What does it mean that today it means nothing when the vice president unrepentantly uses a word in public that this magazine won't use in print? It means that standards have changed since 1962. Not just standards of obscenity--standards of masculinity.Dick Cheney's decision to advise Sen. Patrick Leahy to perform an anatomically impossible sex act (thereby creating a journalistically impossible quotation situation) has been discussed in terms of the rise of the potty...
  • TO HELL WITH WELL BEHAVED

    Recently a young mother asked for advice. What, she wanted to know, was she to do with a 7-year-old who was obstreperous, outspoken and inconveniently willful?"Keep her," I replied.Not helpful, but heartfelt. I have never been a fan of tractable women, having mostly experienced self-loathing when I tried to masquerade as one. Yet despite progress and change, liberation and self-examination, she has a way of resurrecting herself, the girl who sits with her hands folded, the woman who keeps her mouth shut.WELL-BEHAVED WOMEN DON'T MAKE HISTORY, says the T shirt a college student sent me. It's been worn and washed so often, it's the texture of tissue.Here she comes again, the fantasy and the reality. Hollywood has showcased her in a remake of "The Stepford Wives," in which judges, doctors and executives are remade by their husbands into Stay-at-Home Barbies, and apparently the most shocking thing a woman can admit is that she's more accomplished than her spouse. As punishment for this...
  • PERSONALITY, NOT POLICY

    When the rumor began floating around Washington that John McCain might be prevailed on to take the second spot on the Democratic presidential ticket, you could almost hear the sibilant sound of political operatives gleefully rubbing their hands together. A war hero! A former POW! Even when McCain demurred, the buzz continued. A straight shooter! A plain talker! A Republican!How confusing this was to those who understood that the poor cannot eat plain talk and that many a straight shooter is antagonistic to gun control. Senator McCain has opposed so many positions that Sen. John Kerry supports that the notion of the two running together was the ultimate Jekyll-Hyde ticket. Women who care about abortion rights knew that McCain had a zero rating from pro-choice groups; African-Americans knew he had been hostile to affirmative action. But none of that mattered as the dream (or, if you care about issues, nightmare) ticket was hashed over publicly. McCain the stand-up guy utterly trumped...
  • Casting The First Stone

    It was nearly 25 years ago that Robert Drinan, a member of Congress and an outspoken Jesuit (a redundancy if there ever was one), so enraged the Vatican with his defense of abortion rights that an order came down from Rome demanding priests withdraw from politics.It appears that someone has had a change of heart.Or at least that's how it seems now that certain segments of the Roman Catholic hierarchy are behaving like wholly owned subsidiaries of the Republican Party, hellbent on a course that will weaken the church's moral authority and eventually deplete its membership. And all because of abortion, the issue the celibate male leadership is least equipped to personally understand.To paraphrase a Gospel passage, my Father's house is a house of prayer, but they have made it a den of partisanship. The archbishop of St. Louis announced that if John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, showed up for mass he would be denied communion. After threats from clerics in New Jersey, the pro-choice...
  • An Apology To The Graduates

    Members of the class of 2004: I'm so sorry. I look at all of you and realize that, for many, life has been a relentless treadmill since you entered preschool at the age of 2. Sometimes, as though I am narrating a fairy story, I tell my children of a time when the SAT was taken only once and a tutor was a character in an English novel, when I could manage to pay my own college tuition with summer wages and find both a good job and a decent apartment when I graduated.Now cottage industries have grown up around the impossibility of any of that: specialized learning centers to supplement schools, special loan programs at usurious rates to supplement college grants, companies that will throw up instant walls to turn a one-bedroom apartment into a place where three people can coexist.There's an honorable tradition of starving students; it's just that, between the outsourcing of jobs and a boom market in real estate, your generation envisions becoming starving adults. Caught in our...