Apr 21, 2017

Regarding Chelsea

We need to have a talk about Chelsea Clinton. More to the point, we need to have a talk about how the media talks about Chelsea Clinton.

Look, I’d prefer to not have to write this. I am not what Annie Karni of Politico derisively calls a "Chelsea lover." Unlike T.A. Frank stated in his rambling Vanity Fair piece about why Chelsea Clinton annoys him so much that he just has to write 1,300 words about it, I don't believe that the "love of Chelsea correlates closely with love of Hillary." 

I'm not a Chelsea hater. I am, in fact, Chelsea agnostic -- something that is becoming as rare as a winged hippopotamus in the irritable bowels of political Twitter. The truth is that I've never thought about Chelsea Clinton much. And I've always gotten the impression that she prefers it that way. And I've never gotten the impression that anyone is trying to push Chelsea Clinton on us as so many journalists seem to believe. 

In 1993, when Bill Clinton was inaugurated, I thought that it was pretty spiffy that he had a daughter who was just a year older than me. I felt for the awkward pre-teen who was suddenly shoved into public view, and, as she aged in that public light, occasionally felt pangs of sympathy when she was teased by perverted grown men who should've known better than to comment on a teenager's journey into puberty. Past that -- past those things that were reflections of my own insecurity with my changing body -- I had no opinion of her, bad or good. I certainly didn't have bitchy takes about her smiling on magazine covers.

I don't know Chelsea Clinton. I don't know her parents either, but I know a lot about them having seen them on the public stage for 25 years, as well as having read their autobiographies and various biographies written about them. I admire her folks. And unlike many Americans, I like most of what I know about Bill and Hillary Clinton, separately and together, and like them enough that I can accept their various warts and imperfections as part of the package. I don't know enough about Chelsea Clinton, good or bad, to form an opinion. What I do know is that this is bullshit:

Chelsea Clinton is not a political figure. Chelsea Clinton is a woman who has political figures as parents. There is a difference. Ivanka Trump is a political figure. Jared Kushner is a political figure. They, respectively, work in their father and father-in-law's administration, and that's political. Chelsea served as a surrogate for her mother. Now you can criticize her for things she said while serving as a surrogate for her mother -- that is fair -- but she is not a political figure.

But I understand where one would get that impression. For example:

This, of course, has no basis in reality. Clinton herself has said that she is not running for public office. And yet the idea of Chelsea Victoria Clinton running for House, Senate -- oh my god, perhaps even president! -- is a fear that keeps dudebros of these United States up at the darkest hours of the night. It's so galling that it turns into recurring nightmares that yank them out of bed before dawn, drenched in sweat, terrified for their lives, forcing them to spill their greatest fear out into the endless void of fucking ridiculous political tweets. 

No, no I've never had that "unsettling feeling". What's unsettling to me is that Josh Barro spends what many would consider an unhealthy amount of time thinking about some dreamt up hypothetical that Chelsea may run for office, and that he spends the rest of his time fretting over the idea that Chelsea would get an award from Lifetime Television Network.

The World is Being Run by Irresponsible Spoiled Brats (and You're One of Them). 

There's a part of me that could come to understand this resentment. As I mentioned earlier, I'm around the same age as Chelsea. Unlike Chelsea, however, I was raised by a single father who, when he wasn't laid off and delivering pizzas for Dominos, worked as a machinist. I had to scratch and claw my way to my current position in life. My position in life isn't all that great, not even with the chipped, bloodied, dirt-encrusted nails I have to show for my minor achievements in life. I can understand being a little pissed off.

But Josh Barro has no reason to feel that way. His father is Robert Barro, the famous Professor of Economics at Harvard University, who no doubt greased the wheels for his son's entry into the college and into an internship for Grover Norquist. I've seen little about Josh Barro that convinces me he'd have advanced to his current stature without having the boost of well-to-do parents.

Matt Yglesias's father is the one and only Rafael Yglesias -- you might remember him as the screenwriter credit on Death and the Maiden, directed by Roman Polanski and starring (my hero) Sigourney Weaver, and From Hell, starring Johnny Depp. His grandfather, Jose Yglesias, was also a writer -- albeit not as recognized as he should have been, especially for his beautiful, eye-opening "A Wake in Ybor City." But I digress: Matt came from a background of well-established writers. Chelsea's privilege should not rankle him.

Olivia Nuzzi? I know nothing about her. But at 24, she either has great connection, luck, or talent that I haven't seen demonstrated yet. Regardless, she should not, with all her success, have a reservoir of resentment for Chelsea Clinton.

What's Your Damage, Heather? 

So what causes that resentment towards Chelsea?

I'd love to chalk it all down to simple misogyny. It would make writing about it much easier, because then I could combine it with the obvious misogyny her mother faced in 2016.

But not all female offspring of politicians get this. Let me present to you an example from T.A. Frank's article "PLEASE, GOD, STOP CHELSEA CLINTON FROM WHATEVER SHE IS DOING," which I linked to earlier:
But let’s have a reality check. No one bothers George W. Bush’s daughter, Barbara Bush, who quietly works on her nonprofit, Global Health Corps. On the other hand, if you’re posing for magazine covers, granting interviews, doing book tours, placing your name on your parents’ multi-million-dollar foundation, and tweeting out daily to 1.6 million people, then—guess what—you’re a public figure. And if you’ve openly entertained the possibility of running for office if “it was something I felt called to do,” then assurances to the contrary aren’t quite good enough. You’re a public hazard.
He conveniently left out Jenna Bush, who is very much in the public eye. Why did he do that? He explains that below.

He also leaves out that Barbara Bush has put herself out there. Barbara not only attended a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in Paris, but she also served as a keynote speaker at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser.

Jenna's obvious life as a public persona and Barbara's obvious political stances didn't make it into Frank's article. They didn't fit into his preferred narrative.

I haven't looked that far into his other writings, but a quick scroll through his Twitter feed shows propensity to retweet The Young Turks and Michael Tracey. And while that certainly indicates latent misogyny, it also indicates an unhealthy case of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

Clinton Derangement Syndrome: Candidate for the DSM 6

There was always a part of me that thought that CDS was bullshit, even after years of sitting through my grandparents' Nazarene church services where I was shown videos about Bill Clinton supposedly trafficking drugs through a podunk airport in Arkansas while Hillary Clinton, who was obviously a lesbian, shot her supposed lover -- a man -- in the head and then dragged his body to a public park in Virginia.

No one actually believed that shit -- right?

But they did. And people believed other equally batshit insane things, such as the idea that Bill and Hillary married and made some pact about being joint POTUSes for 16 years straight.

I never considered any of that. When I learned that Bill Clinton brought his brilliant, educated Yankee girlfriend down to Arkansas and that she left great career options to do so, I thought, "Woah, that was stupid. Love is fucking stupid." I made a similar choice, only it ended with me leaving a really great opportunity in writing to work as a corporate peon and spending far too many years with a dude who, as it turned out, was a heroin addict. (Pro tip: Sometimes moving to be with your man won't work out for you. Other times, he becomes POTUS.)

But a lot of people saw all of this as suspect. And a lot of those people were in the media.

Bullying is About the Bully

In 1992, the New York Times published an article by Jeff Gerth about what came to be known as the "Whitewater Scandal." The article got most of the facts wrong, and years of investigation on the matter would prove that, only coming up with an unrelated scandal regarding an affair that Bill Clinton had with an intern.

The New York Times never wanted to accept culpability for this story and its aftermath, not even upon realizing the reporting was bad. Rather than publicly admitting their mistakes and moving on, they made it their goal to prove that the Clintons were as corrupt as they had claimed. None of their reporting of fumes ever came to anything resembling smoke or fire, but, heck, it saved some face and gave them bi-partisan credibility.

It also created a divide between the Clintons and the press that exists to this day. The Clintons, quite understandably, were wary of the press. The press (most of whom were obviously not the NYT), also understandably, became wary of the Clintons because they pushed back on their availability.

Hating TheClintons -- and pushing that together wasn't a typo -- became de rigueur amongst journalists. It became the fashionable thing to do, especially when it became clear to people in the then-establishment DC circles that TheClintons would decline party invitations and nights at the opera to stay home with their kid. They thought it was a rejection. It was considered an insult.

Politically -- at least outside of Arkansas -- Bill and Hillary Clinton were tone deaf. They paid for that. They continue to pay for that.

The New York Times hunts them down because the New York Times is insecure about fucking up so hard 25 years ago. They don't want to admit to having been wrong, so they seek to find the wrongdoing, even if it means paying for rights to the Breitbart-funded "Clinton Cash", talking endlessly about "shadows and optics", and putting numerous stories about Comey's October surprise letter above the fold when there was no "there" there. 

Bullying is Generational

You've seen the Back to the Future series, right? Of course you have. If you haven't, watch it.

If you've watched it, like a proper American, then you know that bullying has a tendency to be passed from one generation to another. And we all know we can trust in the wisdom of the Back to the Future series because it predicted the rise of Donald Trump

And so my hypothesis -- and I believe it is a solid one -- is that journalists have projected their negative feelings about Bill and/or Hillary Clinton onto the one thing is undoubtedly their accomplishment: their daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

There is no other reason to hate their daughter, whom they've taken such care to guard against public scrutiny, to the degree that journalists seem to hate her.

At some point, it became "cool" amongst journalists to shit on the Clintons. Junior staffers sensed that and adopted it as a way to insert themselves into the cool crowd. And with the results of the 2016 election, there are no Clintons in politics to openly shit upon, and they feel aimless and in danger of losing their Cool Kids Club cred. That's why you see random tweets like this:

Chelsea has certainly not earned such vitriol on her own. Her forays into public life -- even her Twitter presence -- has been focused on pushing issues she cares about, not about promoting herself. 

I've known this woman's name for 24 years and still have no idea what her favorite ice cream flavor is. Your snarky tweets and (for whatever reason) published hot takes have very little to do with her and a lot to do about you.

Grow the Fuck Up

It's time to get past your weird Chelsea Clinton obsession and face the reality of what faces us right now, which is a fight for the very soul of our country. What we do -- what we write -- over the next few years is what will define our history. I hope that what we have to say is more important than snarky takes on Chelsea Clinton's children's books. 


  1. From 1993-2001, we had peace and prosperity. The Republicans hated that, because they had lost control of the country; so to get it back, they did everything possible to vilify the Clintons. The Left basically hates everything, except Obama for a few months, and they thought that the Clintons were keeping us from the revolution the they yearned for. The media hated the Clintons because the media is run by right-wing corporations, and becaus Bill and Hillary were not to the manor born.

    This concentrated hatred turned into an insane dogma which became ossified into myth and superstition. Chelsea is the only Clinton left who might actually attain political power, so they have to destroy her, too. It has become what they live for. How a family which has done immense good for the country and the world, and which actually cares about the lives of ordinary people, has become such a hobgoblin, must be akin to the superstitious rituals of earlier centuries, now transposed to modern times.