Posted by Rojas @ 3:30 pm on February 26th 2007

Hillary’s old stompin’ grounds

I spent the weekend at Hillary Clinton’s old high school in suburban Chicago. As an adolescent, the current frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nomination was, famously, the scion of a hyperconservative family, and was herself a Goldwater supporter. In those days, or so I’m told, Illinois was very much a swing state, and well-off Chicago ‘burbs like Park Ridge helped to electorally offset Mayor Daley’s machinations in the rest of the city.

Hillary’s well-remembered at her old school; her photo hangs on the wall near the school’s main entrance, accompanied by a plaque detailing her role as a student leader and some of her later accomplishments. Her old high school certainly “looks like America”, to borrow her party’s phrase. Indeed, to judge by the photos of CURRENT student leaders just down the hall, it may look a lot more like America, ethnically, than it did in her day. Maine East is the only high school I’ve ever visited which boasts student organizations dedicated to Serbian and Mongolian studies. As a red-stater, I am of course ignorant of the vast cultural tapestries involved; I found myself indulging guilty thoughts of the Mongolian club staging raids upon the eastern european student organizations and building pyramids of human skulls in the school cafeteria, or of the Serbian club striving to fend off annexation by the Turkish club. No doubt a more sensitive blogger would omit mention of such thoughts, but Brad and Adam brought me here to be their pocket reactionary, and I am nothing if not a reliable role player.

It seems, to judge by the photos of the student leadership of these and other ethnic studies groups, that their membership is largely confined to students whose ancestors came from the countries being studied. This, too, “looks like America”; cultural diversity, as currently practiced, tends to more involve specialization by any given individual in the culture of his or her ancestors, rather than attempts to make him or herself more cosmopolitan.

Yet even here, even now, there’s a big chunk of Red State America on bold display. For all that’s been accomplished at Maine East, the city of Park Ridge chooses one particular achievement to celebrate on their road signs: “Home of the 2006 National Cheerleading Champions”.

How ’bout THEM apples, eh, Hillary? Not exactly the model of young womanhood that Hillary’s core constituency would encourage, one would think. Yes, yes, yes, I know…cheerleading is itself a serious athletic competition now, and great perparation for leadership, yadda yadda yadda. Look, all of that may well be true. But in most communities, at most times, by most viewers, cheerleading is thought of as it always has been–as an adjunct activity to football and other men’s sports. Many (most) administrations view the activity through that lens. The participants are placed in an ornamental, supportive role, on the sidelines; the coaches’ selection process prioritizes attractiveness over any other instrinsic skill set. Yes, ESPN airs competitive cheerleading, but the 3 am time slot tells you what demographic they’re targeting (hint: there are laws preventing many of these viewers from travelling within 500 yards of a school). Cheerleading is very, very red state.

Would Hillary take delight in her old school’s banner achievement? I suppose that depends on which Hillary we’re discussing. Remember, in 1992, when it was politically useful to do so, Hillary found time to bake cookies. Went out of her way to be PORTRAYED baking cookies, in fact. And she’s still one of only two Presidential candidates in my lifetime who’ve not only permitted the media to refer to them by their first name, but have actually ENCOURAGED it–to the point of having her supporters wave her first name around on sticks. So maybe there’s room for an unconditional embrace of the cheerleading community within the new Clinton campaign.

Though we certainly won’t see the candidate herself in a skirt, cheering the team on from the sidelines. That’s Bill’s role now.

There was a lot to see at Hillary Clinton’s old high school; there were a lot of aggressively contradictory cultural phenomena jostling for prominence. What was missing, so far as I could tell, was anything that would enable the synthesis of said phenomena. There was more “or” than “and” about the place. Viewed from a distance, the school might have appeared purple; up close, though, all I could see was a maelstrom of bright, elemental reds and deep primary blues, each color fighting to assert itself.

True colors can be hard to ascertain amidst such a swirl. I did note, in passing, that the sports teams at Hillary’s old school are known as the Blue Demons.


  1. Nice piece.

    I think that Hillary would get the cheerleading outfit on herself if she thought that it would work to her benefit*.

    An interesting point you make about how things only look purple from a distance. I guess that there’s no real solution to that; people like to belong to their own groups and then generally prefer to set about demonising the others.

    *Please God, no (embarrasingly, I noticed just before I hit ‘submit comment’ that instead of ‘Please God, no’ I had written ‘Please God, now’. There are some things that could take a long time to live down).

    Comment by Adam — 2/26/2007 @ 4:42 pm

  2. Good piece. Some food for thought.

    Comment by Paint CHiPs — 2/26/2007 @ 10:36 pm

  3. […] palette. Additionally, at the larger scales (such as for Congressional Representatives), as Rojas mentioned yesterday, there’s inevitably red and blue there. The aim isn’t to make homogeneity, it’s […]

    Pingback by The Crossed Pond » California redistricting shenanigans — 2/27/2007 @ 9:05 am

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