I had a dream recently that involved two people who, ordinarily, are never in my dreams: Hillary Rodham Clinton and her daughter Chelsea.
It was set in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia where Hillary and her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama had just finished their "debate." Although maintaining her toothy smile and calculatedly up-beat pose, Hillary seemed as if shrouded in a smoggy gray haze, not entirely in focus, not entirely there.
Chelsea looked at her mother, and called a warm smile to her face, resisting a deep sense of foreboding in her heart. She had watched the debate. An awful thought had slowly begun to seep into awareness. "My mother needs to stop. This isn't right. This isn't her." Her first and second instincts were to suppress the thought, with all her might. The more she tried to suppress it the more the "thought" intruded, the more it seemed she might break into tears.
"Oh no," she thought, in near panic! "Not that." Never show public weakness! Never let them see you cry. She knew the family mantra. She was a member of the Clinton iron circle. No wimps in the White House.
Rather than suppress the thought with a great effort of will she managed to hold it aside, compartmentalize "the thought" at least for the moment. She no longer fought it, however. The thought had claimed its place in her mind and, more importantly, in her heart, but she managed just to put it out of sight for now. "There will be a time, or a moment, to deal with this later," she told herself, struggling to maintain her steely resolve. She watched her mother shake hands and greet well-wishers. All the while the haze about her mother seemed to grow thicker. As Hillary drew closer, Chelsea found it harder and harder to see her mother amidst the gathering cloud.
As the cloud seemingly engulfed her mother entirely, and with "the thought" wrangling to break into full consciousness, Chelsea could hear an over-loud voice and almost braying laughter coming nearing. She sensed this must be her mother, now almost directly in front of her. But all she could see was the deepening gray cloud and all her ears could discern were a cacophonous voice claiming a space on the stage.
And then the words hit her like a blistering hot wind off the Iraqi desert: "How'd I do sweetheart?" She could not recognize the voice as that of her mother. Yet, behind the hovering cloud she thought she caught a glimpse of the toothy, over-eager smile, but she was not sure. "Never give in!" she heard an inner voice tell her and with that Chelsea blurted with false bravado: "You did great, Mom!"
"No wimps in the White House!" the rasping voice behind the clouds said. "Yeah, Mom. No wimps in the White House," Chelsea said, without any feeling.
Chelsea thought she heard voices saying the car was ready, time to go. But by this point her head was spinning, the cloud was an impenetrable shroud totally surrounding her mother, and "the thought" was now surging out of the shadows of her mind, refusing to be ignored any longer.
As the limousine door slammed shut Chelsea began panting out loud and taking in great gulps of air. It had required such a singular act of will to get to the car without breaking down that she had not been breathing during the course of the entire walk from the auditorium floor.
"Are you ok dear? What's wrong?" said a frightening voice deep behind the swirling gray cloud in the seat next to her.
Without thinking, without sugar-coating it, Chelsea just blurted it out: "It's time, Mom! It's time for you to quit! I don't recognize you anymore. No one does. We used to stand for something. People used to be thrilled when you showed up. Now everywhere you go I see people wincing in discomfort as you speak, applauding politely sometimes, but mostly feeling ill at ease. This isn't you. This isn't what we should be about. It's over! It's over! It's truly over! Can't you see that?"
"Oh, are those pesky questions about Monica Lewinsky bothering you, my dear?" a treacly rasp hissed from behind the cloud. "Don't let it trouble you. Your father and I are done with it. No one in the Beltway cares anymore, not even Republicans."
"I don't care about that!" Chelsea snapped back. "Don't you get it? You can't win. You can't win at this point. You are hurting the party. You are hurting the man who is going to be the Democratic nominee. And most of all, you are destroying a reputation and image you built over a life time. Every new thing you try in this campaign is more embarrassing and lower than the tactic before it! Don't you see how awful you now look to other people? Don't you see how even our friends are pained –deeply pained — to see us? The Presidency is not worth losing your soul, Mom! You stood for something at one point. Have you lost sight of everything?"
The cloud seemed motionless. Perhaps the words were getting through. May be "the thought" had finally penetrated the cloud made a deep steel gray by too many toothy smiles, too many shouted slogans, too many sniping remarks, too many calculated one-liners, too many spin-meister confabs, too many fear-mongering ads. "This will pass, dear. Would you like an Ambien?"
Chelsea wept. Under her breath, too softly for the cloud to hear, she asked "Have you no shame?"
Well, I said it was a dream.
Lawrence Bobo is the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.