Anyone entertaining an unpleasant thought about the Clinton White House is almost certainly a victim of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” which Mrs. Clinton (formerly Ms. Rodham-Clinton) has blamed for her husband’s travails. For many years, the Clintons have used the word “children” as an odd euphemism for “government,” Joycelyn Elders and Marian Wright Edelman being but the best known of their associates in this regard. In any case, Mrs. Clinton, woman of letters, is back, following up her compelling It Takes a Village with the present remarkable volume, which will set to rest any unwarranted suspicions or hostilities, and by the surest of methods. Dear Socks, Dear Buddy should allay whatever fears or apprehensions the public may have entertained about the sinister mentality of the First Family.

In the first place, no reader need be concerned that any profits from Dear Socks, Dear Buddy will be diverted to the m.any legal defense funds of the President, the First Lady, or their allies. The proceeds will go directly to the National Park Foundation, because Mrs. Clinton is devoted to the integrity of the nation, to historic preservation, and to the maintenance of national memory. In short, she thinks like a matriarch. She is selflessly devoted to the transgenerational sense of our country and voices only the noblest of patriotic sentiments. Though Mrs. Clinton presents herself as a First Lady through and through, some may be as disappointed as I was that she did not choose to reveal her secret method for making a 10,000 percent profit on an investment in one year. (No doubt she will answer that, and many other questions, in her next book.) We just have to remember that this book was devoted to kids’ letters to the First Pets. Let’s try to stay focused, shall we?

Secondly, Dear Socks, Dear Buddy is definitely the best book about kids’ letters to Socks and Buddy that I have ever seen. I don’t mean that all the letters are here—it’s just a vibrant sampling of a vast outpouring. But before I dispense some enticing quotes, I think it would be nice to stop and think about how many letters there were, and how nice it was of Mrs. Clinton to let the veterans at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington handle all the mail and answer the letters, and how nice again to let us know how nice she was. There aren’t any nasty letters here, thank goodness, of the “How come you SOBs don’t go back where you came from? Signed, Dave” variety, or of the “Why they so many Lisbeans in yo cabinette?” stripe, or of the “Socks and Buddy ain’t the only animals in the White House” ilk. The letters from our nation’s selected children are sweet, humorous, and kindhearted. The texts could only be properly appreciated by the unredeemed Ebenezer Scrooge, but on the whole it’s nice to know that this is a book that anyone can read without getting all upset, and you don’t even have to read much because there are so many pictures of Bill and Hillary in intimate family snapshots, in color.

Mrs. Clinton does not say, either because she could not do so without inviting horse laughs or because she just did not want to, that there is much here to invite a sense of pride in the nation’s parents and teachers. The triviality of thought and the illiteracy of much of the expression in the letters does not bode well for the future of the nation that Mrs. Clinton cares so much about. She does say, “What touches me most about the letters is how much the children give of themselves.” I wish she had been able to say, “Our children have mastered the elements of orthography, grammar, and rhetoric. Besides that, they are serious youngsters, properly concerned with our culture and civilization.” The evidence is otherwise. Perhaps Mrs. Clinton simply thinks that “giving of themselves” means “revealing their lack.” Or maybe what she is thinking is that in ten years these “children” will be “voters.”

These young students seem not to take school very seriously, and I don’t know why they should. Aimee Buchanan writes, “The stuff I like in school is math, lunch, music, gym and trips. We went to a show and it was fun. We ate lunch before we went and we went on a bus. We watch TV in school.”

Looking for any irony or discursive reflection among the letters is unrewarding, but Anna Campbell makes a stab at providing some: “Does the president drink a lot of coffee? He might want to switch to decafe!

“Ha! Ha!”

Gregory Kohl’s closing question to Socks brings a welcome gothic element: “have you ever seen the Ghost of Lincoln?”

The most tragic letter is from Willy DeCamp, addressed to Socks. “Is it nice living at the Whitehouse? I used to have a Dog but we had to sell it because it scratched a little boy on a tricycle then the police officer.”

Emily Forden asks Buddy an astute question: “Do you help the president make new laws and government decisions?” And Jillian McGaffigan, referring to cat/dog conflict, uses the suggestive word “JELLUS,” which should have been stricken from this volume for reasons needless to relate.

So here is my third point (I’ve been counting). There is little spark in these letters. The subtextual interest in Dear Socks, Dear Buddy is in Mrs. Clinton and her projection of an idyllic home life in the White House, which is somehow related to a vision of the nation that is at once kitschy-koo nice-ums and imperial. She cannot write many words (if, in fact, she writes any at all) without references to her own virtue or to the government which she seems to have confused with those powers formerly attributed to the Deity, citing it as the authority on education, literacy, writing, and pet care. “(Mrs. Clinton recommends neutering without exception for all pets, which I thought a bit much until I remembered how that policy jibes with others concerning “reproductive services.”)

I don’t doubt for a second that Dear Socks, Dear Buddy is a provocative look at hot-button issues, written with bold frankness by a woman who once scorned baking cookies and standing by her man. Made over on a recent cover of Vogue, Hillary Rodham Clinton knows how to manipulate the American public. What Dear Socks, Dear Buddy tells me—in its nuanced, piquant, poignant, starry-eyed, heartfelt, and cornfed way—is that the non-author of this non-book is running for office.


[Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets, by Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York: Simon & Schuster) 203 pp., $20.00]