Monday, March 31, 2008

Chelsea and Kid Gloves

I'm getting extremely bored with the current campaigning and can't wait until the Dems resolve their mess so we can get back to a legitimate national dialog about ideology and progress. I intend to spend more time in the next few weeks writing about issues independent of the 2008 Presidential Election before turning attention back when we get closer to April 22nd and voting in Pennsylvania (where I am currently registered and where I will cast my ballot for Barack Obama). One thing on my mind today, unfortunately, is the role of Chelsea Clinton in her mother's campaign.

This has gone on for quite a while, but I think it's getting to border on ridiculous. Chelsea has been enlisted to campaign on behalf of her mother in places where high youth turnout promises to affect the election. That's great. It's good to see the young woman who grew up in the White House spotlight now out in public, using her voice, and intelligently supporting the cause of her political family. What's unacceptable is the insistence by the Clinton people that Chelsea is off limits to reporters during her stumping. Of course she's not politically sophisticated enough at this point in her life to deal with a few sneaky, contrived questions, but they sent her out in public on behalf of a public servant and I believe she is then accountable for her words, positions, and personal connection to the candidate. She must be allowed to speak to reporters and no questions ought to be out of bounds. If she doesn't want to answer, "no comment" is a perfectly acceptable response, but she has to be open to dialog with the 4th Estate.

That issue, however, is secondary to this situation. The primary complaint here is that Chelsea has agreed to answer questions from the students at her events, yet gets her back up when asked something uncomfortable. Several students have now asked her about the Monica Lewinsky situation and she has repeatedly reacted with near revulsion at the idea that someone dare ask her about that personal moment. I agree that it's something close to sleazy, but (1) it was a major national event and hardly something we can consider private, anymore than Watergate or Iran-Contra, and (2) she put herself in public to answer questions. Again, I believe that (1) the president's affair doesn't nearly approach the breach of trust that Watergate or Iran-Contra caused, and (2) she has the right to a "no comment." However, it is a part of her family's public history and affected her father's ability to govern. He put himself in that position, and the Right wing took advantage of it. She can't get away with standing up there promoting her mother, refusing the press, and only taking softball questions from adoring fans. This is politics, not American Idol.

Instead of being horribly insulted by the questions, she should take them in stride, learn a little poise in the face of sticky public situations, and open herself up to the press, who would presumably ask more high minded questions (except for Fox, of course). This is a young woman who graduated with honors from Stanford University, earned a Masters in International Relations from Oxford, and now holds down a job at a high power hedge fund in Manhattan. She is intimately familiar with her father's work, as her undergrad thesis was on his mediation of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, and her work has been provided to her by financial supporters of her parents political ambitions. I'm not saying that she didn't earn her degrees and her professional position, but we're not even allowed to scrutinize her while she's out on the stump. If the Clinton's insist on putting her out there, but demand she be afforded child-like protections, they might as well keep her home. Give us all a break.


mike's spot said...

well said Plugh!

is she would just address the scandal 1 time with something resembling decency it would probably go away, or at least fade to the background. by showing us how enraged and unresponsive she can become, she invites hecklers to press issues and shut her down before she says anything meaningful.

that would assume she has something meaningful to say- but whatever, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

Mike Plugh said...

I may have been a little harsh in my assessment of her responses. I saw it again on the news last night and I think she handled it with a bit more composure than my characterization here. That said, most of the people behind her and behind her mother's campaign are reacting in a kind of ruffled-feathers way about the whole thing.

I don't think she has to say anything, but I think it's a silly game. Here's why:

1. The students asking questions are probably plants from anti-Clinton groups.

2. They are probably surrogates for reporters.

3. She has now made herself a political figure by stumping, so she should be open to reporters.

If all these things are true, open it up to recognized journalists and let the mainstream press cover your appearances. At least they're somewhat accountable to the people. The "students" who are asking questions for anti-Clinton groups and for reporters are non-accountable and able to be far more disruptive in the end. It's stupid and silly.

mike's spot said...

do you really think they are anti-clinton groups? maybe some of them are, but I think thats just a little too 'right wing conspiracy' for me.

A lot of people just downright don't like 'them clintons'

Mike Plugh said...

I don't think there are any specific "anti-Clinton groups" but I think there are groups that happen to be anti-Clinton. Does that clarify the distinction?

No conspiratorial anti-Clinton beast, just groups with agendas that include hating Clinton.

mike's spot said...

ah. understood. that all being said, Chelsea isn't nearly as heinous as she was in the white house. she definitely had an 8 year awkward phase there.

Mike Plugh said...

She's okay with me. I think she's probably a decent person with a good education and all the rest. She just happens to be teetering on the verge of being a spoiled brat (politically) because she's treated like she's fragile.

Matt C said...

I think you've got to be in or out. If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen.

I don't think Chelsea's response was all that bad, but I think she really could have saved the day by simply saying something along the lines of:

Obviously, that's a very personal issue, and I don't want to get into specifics. But my mother's ability to lead and help this country was not in any way damaged by what happened, and I'm here because I believe in her absolutely and know that she's the best candidate out there, no matter what happened the last time my family was in the White House"

No specifics and a much stronger response. If she wants to campaign, she should be both more accessible and more adaptable.

Mike Plugh said...

Good point Matt.