Over at Say Anything, my blog-chum (and sometime colleague) Rob Port discusses an encounter between Chelsea Clinton and a nine-year-old “reporter.” I’ve made a point in the past about excluding children of politicians (hell, children in general) from the normal course of politics, but this story hits several key points.
First, with all respect to my chum Rob (who’s recovering from recent surgery), I don’t think Chelsea Clinton was rude. She did give the kid a brush-off, but a polite one.
“Do you think your dad would be a good ‘first man’ in the White House?” Sydney asked, but Chelsea brushed her question aside.
“I’m sorry, I don’t talk to the press and that applies to you, unfortunately. Even though I think you’re cute,” Chelsea told the pint-sized journalist.
You might make an argument for Chelsea being a bit condescending, but rude? I don’t think so.
Second, I don’t think it’s quite fair for Chelsea to campaign for her mother, yet still insist on her privacy. If she’s going to talk, she can expect to be asked questions. And the kid’s question was not out of line. Her whole point of appearing and speaking at campaign events is based on her expert status — in theory, she knows Hillary Clinton (and Bill Clinton) better than a lot of people, in ways that most everyone else can’t. To ask her about how she thinks the historical potential dynamics of a former president returning to the White House as “first spouse” will play out is a valid question.
Third, I’m a bit uncomfortable at the thought of a nine-year-old “journalist.” It’s clear that Sydney (or, rather, Scholastic News) is exploiting her youth and “cuteness” to try to get around rules and restrictions, while insisting that she be treated like any other reporter. It’s a stunt, and I don’t like it.
Fourth, back to Chelsea. She is a private citizen, and she is fully entitled to insist on her privacy. She never chose her parents, and I don’t like the idea of her having to “live with” the fact that her parents are public figures.
But now she’s trying to have it both ways. She’s showing up at campaign events, not speaking, but lending her mother support by her presence. She’s talking to voters, but only to ask them to support her mother — not on any issues of substance. She’s talking to them, but she’s not talking WITH them.
And she’s having nothing to do with reporters. Can’t say I blame her there.
She’s treating her status as a public or private figure as a game. But to me, that status is kind of like pregnancy, or virginity — it’s an “all or nothing” thing. She’s trying to dip one toe into the “public figure” pool, while keeping the other nine in private. Sorry, kiddo, it really doesn’t work that way.
There are reasons why the voting age is eighteen. And there are reasons why we don’t have a “draft” for politicians. Participation in the political process is entirely voluntary, and no one is — or should be — compelled to get involved to any degree. And you can walk away from it at any time, for any reason — or no reason.
But while you’re in, you’re all the way in. This is no cafeteria, where you get to pick and choose when and how you’re “public.” It might be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t.
Chelsea, you have every right to your privacy. But not while you’re choosing to step into the spotlight.