Hillary Clinton's village Lessons from children: First lady's book contains no sharp edges.

January 22, 1996

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON's new book about children, their needs and our obligations to them contains no real surprises. Ironically, if it did, they would have helped to divert the current glare of publicity away from questions about Whitewater and the White House travel office imbroglio to the substantive issues to which she has devoted so much of her career.

"It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us" is full of anecdotes, reminiscences and homey advice, laced with statistics and passing references to relevant research. It is not a prescription for policy.

It covers so many issues so cursorily that it is difficult to tell what her priorities would be if, say, she had to rank the importance of funding child care, school lunch programs, Medicaid or immunizations for young children. That's precisely the advantage of a "first lady" book -- the author is not expected to make tough calls.

But Mrs. Clinton is no ordinary first lady, and maybe she shouldn't try to be. Having built a high enough policy profile to make her a prize target of her husband's political enemies, she has also raised expectations for projects like this book or her weekly newspaper column. An essentially innocuous book is not likely to change her image or to persuade policy makers long deaf to child-centered issues that "the village" is their concern too.

We all know that today's "villages" have many problems. What we don't know is how best to manage the finite resources, public or private, that are available for children and family programs. Mrs. Clinton doesn't address this issue or take risks like pointing out that even a venerable program like Head Start needs a major overhaul to help it meet the needs of families in the 1990s.

Hillary Clinton clearly has much to add to the national debate about children and families. Whether she can do that effectively as first lady is by no means confirmed by this book.

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