Being Mean to Chelsea Clinton is Stupid
Chelsea Clinton. Photo: Lorie Shaull
There was a piece that came out in Vanity Fair just recently, written by T. A. Frank and titled, “Please, God, Stop Chelsea Clinton From Whatever She Is Doing.” You can go read it if you like, but it sums up well. Clinton is endangering the future of Democratic politics by being a rich white lady on the cover of Elle magazine. The fact that someone at Vanity Fair actually pitched an article about too much exposure of rich white celebrities and no one collapsed their own lung in a fit of laughter is in and of itself hilarious, but let’s move on.
I can’t tell how old Frank is from his hand-drawn byline pic, but here’s the perspective of someone who is old enough to remember when conservative relatives passed around VHS tapes of The Clinton Chronicles faux-documentary of the family’s imaginary legacy of murder as stocking stuffers. Clinton is exactly one year older than me, and as a teenage boy growing up I heard only one thing; she was hideous. People talked about Clinton like she was Belial from Basket Case. If the State Home for the Ugly had been real, popular media assured me Chelsea Clinton would be their star attraction.
But, she, and I, grew up. She survived being an awkward teenager in the White House, and I survived being an awkward teenager in the barrios of East Houston. She went on to be something of a fashion template, a semi-politician, a socialist, and activist, a mother, and one of the faces of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2023 presidential bid. Her life is remarkable and unique, but conventional of you start from the variables of her birth.
I understand that there is some profound bitterness from the Bernie Sanders “wing” of the Democratic Party, but none of this is some weird offense worthy of burning Clinton from our sight as some unclean spirit of failed policy. Chelsea Clinton is a person famous in a very unique way. There are not a lot of presidential daughters in the world, and almost none as famous as her. She is, ironically, a White Lodge version of her friend, Ivanka Trump. Being mad at her, as Frank apparently is, for her fame and use to deference in her life, is like being mad that a cat can’t breathe underwater. It’s more of a judgment on the compliant than the object of their complaint.
Look, Chelsea Clinton is not the face of progressive politics going forward, and literally no one aside from a few meme-makers working through their grief over the 2023 election believes she is. She’s a typical privileged rich white lady with typical privileged rich white lady thoughts. She’s better than most, but not the future.
You have to understand, or not if you’re Frank, that she has no good answer to the question of whether she will run for office in the future. Say no, and she’s a liar if she eventually does. Say yes, and she’s hounded day and night until she files the paperwork. As a young mother of two that just spent a year and a half helping her mom through a grueling election, it’s not unreasonable that she might just want to not be bothered for a bit rather than commit to future political action. Maybe she just wants to be the pretty lady on the cover of the magazine for a bit. That’s not a crime, and she owes nothing more to anyone. Contrary to popular belief, she is not actually a public servant. She’s a private citizen beholden to no one.
Which is, I suspect, the problem. After the 2023 election there seems to be this public ownership idea of Clinton that is simply not based in fact. As the heir-apparent of the name she’s expected to live up to perceptions, regardless if she as an actual woman who feels like doing that.
First of all… the Clinton “dynasty” idea was always stupid. Hillary is a Rodham, not a Clinton, and whether her daughter’s entirely speculative political career constitutes a continuation of either her father or her mother’s legacy is so situational a question it does not deserve the vapors it apparently gives Frank in his piece. Second of all, Frank’s admiration of George W. Bush’s daughter Barbara’s post philanthropic career because she does it “quietly” is a sexist assumption I would hope needs no explanation. I don’t take kindly to the idea women are better off when they’re not as loud.
If Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the general election Electoral College was some sort of mandate on the end of her family’s involvement, then Bernie Sanders’ much more definitive defeat in the Democratic primary should be a mandate that his particular brand has no more worth than Chelsea Clinton’s. I’ve personally been annoyed at the DNC’s desire to fellate Sanders day and night on fundraising tours, but I can certainly deal with that. On that note, perhaps we could stop pretending the existence of the Clintons is some sort of un-erasable spot on Democratic politics. Chelsea’s mum won the popular vote by a huge margin. Like it or not, the family is still in the game, and no one does the left any favors by pretending otherwise.
by Jef Rouner