A Bit Of Advice: Don't Go There!

Dear Hillary,

Love the hair. Like the house. All the best. Think you're nuts. Not nuts to move to New York, of course, which I consider the center of the universe (although you overshot the epicenter, the corner of 57th and Fifth, where I've asked that my ashes be scattered someday). But to move to New York to run for the United States Senate? What can you be thinking, to think so small?

Perhaps you're in a time warp, Hillary, like the furniture they unloaded at the new Chappaqua house that had been in storage for years while you lived in government housing. (Get thee behind me, Danish modern!) Sometimes it seems you've frozen in the aspic of your marriage, a.k.a. The Long Enchantment. You were pretty audacious pre-Bill, when you got up on that podium at your 1969 Wellesley commencement, the first student speaker in the history of the school, and ad-libbed the line "The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible."

Oh, I know. In the intervening years, like the rest of us, you grew up. But the Senate grew down. The list of its members on the day you graduated from college takes your breath away. Abe Ribicoff, Barry Goldwater, Scoop Jackson, Jacob Javits, Mike Mansfield, Frank Church, Birch Bayh. Minnesota had both Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale, Tennessee Howard Baker and the elder Albert Gore, Missouri Eagleton and Symington. Your home state of Illinois was represented by Everett Dirksen and Charles Percy. They were giants.

But that was 30 years ago, Hillary, and the pygmies have prevailed. Vietnam, Watergate, the Clarence Thomas nomination, your husband's impeachment: any spirit of bipartisanship broke down as those divisions rent the fabric of political civility. Last year a gun-control bill was rejected by both conservatives and liberals in the House because it had been homogenized into such pap to please everyone that it was barely acceptable to anyone. That is the job you seek, a job of taking grand notions and grinding them into the gray sand of sad consensus. You take steak, and after a while it becomes stew. You take stew and after a while it becomes soup. You take soup and after a while it becomes mush.

Why would someone so smart and so strong want to make mush for six years? What happened to the woman who defied Congress to go to the World Conference on Women in Beijing and criticize the host nation, saying, "It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will"? Here's what is so clear in that speech, and in the Wellesley speech, too: you are saying what you believe. Not what Bill believes, or thinks he ought to believe at any given moment. Not what operatives say you ought to believe to carry Dutchess County. People have suffered and died for free speech; you're going to give it up for a seat on the shuttle and a studio apartment with a minifridge within walking distance of the Hill?

Some people hypothesize that you want this job for its bully pulpit. But you carry your pulpit with you always now, by virtue of your intelligence, eloquence and position, not the polling-place kindness of strangers. You could have given speeches at $75,000 a pop, and had a life, too, lunching with women with sharp minds and tongues, sitting on corporate boards, writing a book on your new porch by your new pool, looking at the occasional swatch. If the point of this exercise is, as some wags suggest, to give Bill the swift kick in the patoot he so richly deserves, you've chosen the wrong venue. Getting a bigger book advance than your husband: that is the best revenge.

Surely it can't be that this is a stepping-stone to the Rodham presidency. Surely you've noticed that Carter, Reagan and, of course, Clinton all came from the statehouses. When Bill Bradley stepped down from the Senate, he said that politics was broken. It ain't fixed yet. Al D'Amato, who once held the job you now seek, was sometimes described as a retail politician, devoted not to great notions but to federal funds for highway improvement in Utica. Much of the Senate has become a retail outlet, and you are likely to have as your opponent an inveterate retail politician. In a city that offers unparalleled opportunities to reflect on the national divisions between black and white, rich and poor, the current mayor will go down in history as the statesman who bested squeegee guys.

Those of us who have lived with you through headbands, health care and the right-wing conspiracy understand that you may genuinely want to put your hair behind you and be a public servant. But here's another thing that happened during The Long Enchantment: government gave up on public service and concentrated on prisons. Perhaps the tipping point was the Reagan administration, when couture was king and ketchup a vegetable. Slowly, quietly, liberal thought notwithstanding, good works became privatized. Any halfway decent nonprofit agency does more to improve the daily life of Americans than the Senate does.

So you've announced. But it's not too late to change your mind, say that you'd had a brainstorm because of the strain of the last two years. Let someone else answer questions about adultery from middling-market radio jocks in the service of a job that isn't worth holding. If you do go ahead with this crazy thing, keep the dark pantsuits; much better than the candy-colored skirt suits of days of yore. Don't bring Kaki Hockersmith from Arkansas to do your house; if there's one thing New York has plenty of, it's decorators, and they vote! And remember what Gloria Swanson said about Hollywood in "Sunset Boulevard": "I am big. It's the pictures that got small."

It was bad enough when you were making cookies. But mush? I don't think so.