Young Hillary's thoughts revealed

The Baltimore Sun

All over America, boomer women are praying that there is no John Peavoy in their past. That is to say, no erstwhile friend who saved their college letters and feels compelled to share them with The New York Times.

Most aren't as famous as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and so wouldn't inspire a long-ago pen pal to dig up their angst-filled ramblings. Nor, we can imagine, are most as literate and thoughtful as Hillary was during her years at Wellesley College.

But everyone of pre-Facebook age must be wondering whatever happened to whatshisname. And those blasted letters!

Given America's intimate knowledge of the New York Democrat's life and marriage, it seemed unlikely that there was anything left to know. Enter the Dickensian Peavoy. He's got mail.

Some of the dozens of letters from a four-year period in the 1960s had been previously quoted by author Gail Sheehy in her 1999 biography, Hillary's Choice. Eight years later, Times writer Mark Leibovich got a peek, and now we're all reading between the lines.

Mrs. Clinton can't feel much embarrassed by her mental doodlings. Her letters reveal that she was self-deprecating, self-aware, intellectually curious and morally demanding of herself.

Her thoughts were not atypical of college students in the tumultuous '60s. The boomer generation marinated in the civil rights and anti-war movements and came of age with the drug and sexual revolutions. It was a heady time but also a period of immense upheaval, not only in the larger world but also within the moral child.

Mrs. Clinton was certainly that. Raised a Republican in a conservative, middle-class home, her cultural experience, as for many boomers, was at odds with that of her parents. Becoming independent of her family was clearly a source of inner conflict.

"God, I feel so divorced from Park Ridge, parents, home, the entire unreality of middle-class America," she wrote. "This all sounds so predictable, but it's true."

She was scornful of complainers and do-nothings. She was also disapproving of, but not judgmental toward, friends who slept over with boyfriends or took drugs. She was toughest on herself, critical of her self-absorption and ramblings about "me," which she described as "the world's saddest word."

Otherwise, young Hillary seemed to be struggling to pull together all the pieces of her intellectual journey to form a cohesive worldview. She invoked Freud, Voltaire, Oscar Wilde and even Doctor Zhivago, but notably skipped cultural icons others of her generation might have mentioned: Dylan, Baez, Leary, Ginsberg, Hoffman.

She was not, in other words, cool or hip, but seems to have been tethered to a more disciplined, intellectualized world.

Most poignant was Mrs. Clinton's struggle between her child-self and her emerging adult-self. Her path was a vivid contretemps between her childish id and her finger-wagging superego. She remembered sweetly the child she was, playing in a shaft of dappled sunlight filtering through the dense elms in her family's front yard. She pretended "there were heavenly movie cameras watching my every move."

The omniscient eye comforts every imaginative child, but her authoritarian superego was contemptuous of the narcissism implicit in the image, the need to be the center of attention. At the same time, she was reluctant to surrender and had compassion for the girl-child.

And so it goes for all of us. It's called growing up.

Some people do it with varying degrees of awareness; some never do it. The trick to healthy adulthood is balancing the two forces - the dueling inner child and disapproving Church Lady - in the service of the ego, but Mrs. Clinton's ego kept coming up short, she wrote.

It seems not much of a stretch to say that her superego won the joust. She married an id boy and let Bill Clinton carry the couple's narcissism for her, while she carried the cross of self-discipline and moral vigor for him.

Mr. Id and Mrs. Superego. Quite the twofer.

Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears Thursdays in The Sun. Her e-mail is

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