I am trying to remember bits of song about Chappaqua: "Chappaqua, Chappaqua, it's a hell of a town"? No. "Autumn in Chappaqua"? No, not that, either. "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere. It's up to you, Chappaqua, Chappaqua"? Not even close.
By now you may have guessed I am about to say something about the Clintons and their purchase of a $1.7 million house in the New York suburb of Chappaqua so that Hillary can run for the Senate. The house is an 11-room Dutch Colonial, and it amounts to little more than a stage set -- as phony as the lyrics I just made up. This house is not only where none of them wants to live, it is not even a home.
Why? Because in the first place, the Clintons have moved into a bedroom community best known for its really good schools when their own daughter is already out of school. In the second place, it has 11 rooms but not, it seems, more than one occupant -- the present first lady. The president is required by tradition to live elsewhere, and thereafter -- he has said -- he will spend time in Arkansas, building his presidential library and, presumably, alphabetizing his books. The time he spent touring his new home may in the end be all the time he spends there.
So what's going on? In Hillary Clinton's case, the answer is obvious. She is constructing a facade, a fiction -- a stage set of sorts that suggests a father-knows-best suburban family. What she really needs -- what she probably really wants -- is a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. That would suit her just fine, and it would, moreover, dramatically reduce the cost of security. No one gets by a New York doorman. Potential assassins would have to be announced.
Mrs. Clinton's back-lot house hardly makes her unique among American politicians. Many presidential candidates begin the official phase of their campaign in the town where they no longer choose to live. Thus Bill Clinton was the kid from Hope and Bob Dole was from Russell, Kan. Dole chooses to live in Washington and Bal Harbor, Fla., and Clinton is not going back to Hope unless it is moved in its entirety to Beverly Hills.
In this election, Bill Bradley has taken us back to Crystal City, Mo., the Mississippi River town where he was born and raised -- and that he left. Elizabeth Dole got all her values from Salisbury, N.C., where she will live again when hell freezes over.
Al Gore, a true Washingtonian who lived for a time in the old Fairfax Hotel and attended the local private schools, started his campaign in Carthage, Tenn., his ancestral hometown. That's where he used to farm (on occasion) and where, on a starry night, he conceived of the Internet.
Dan Quayle, the little engine that couldn't, went back to Huntington, Ind., the small town where he was raised. He now lives in Phoenix, where, in the winter at least, the golf is better. It is to George W. Bush's credit that he did not drag the press back to some Little House on the Prairie town where, as it happened, he spent several years.
American politics has always had its share of hokum. For a time, it was necessary to claim birth in a log cabin. But since the end of the Cold War and the onset of the current age of prosperity, ideological differences have been so blurred that candidates feel compelled to show or tell what sort of person they are -- not what sort of policies they favor. It is as if these candidates are saying that bad people cannot come from good places -- and these are very good places, indeed.
But the worst place, if not New York, is Washington itself. It is worth noting, then, that the most vociferously anti-Washington, anti-political establishment candidate of them all is Patrick Buchanan. His hometown? Washington, D.C. Buchanan arguably is also the most socially conservative of the major candidates -- what is often called pro-family. Yet he has no children. He can be both from Washington and childless because he actually has something to say. I don't like it, but I hear it.
So it would have been refreshing had Hillary Clinton simply rented a place in Manhattan -- a bedroom for her, a convertible couch in the living room for Chelsea, a hook in the hall for Bill. The honesty of the approach would have been nothing less than exhilarating. But the 'burbs were considered politically safer, and so the faux family house (for the faux family) was bought from a couple named Jeffrey and Cheryl Weisberg. Start spreading the news.
The Weisbergs are moving to New York.