“Why we root for Chelsea Clinton” was the latest from the Washington Post’s new culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg. “For those of us who were once curly-haired, awkward daughters, Chelsea Clinton’s arrival on the national stage at age 12 meant years of sympathetic wincing. The barbs directed her way landed on us by proxy,” including Rush Limbaugh’s old “family dog” joke.
Youngsters might not realize that almost everyone in politics treated Chelsea with deference to her parents throughout the Clinton presidency, which ended when she was 20. The weirdest part is how Rosenberg can complain about Clinton opponents mocking Chelsea instead of the “adult Clintons” while she talks about 2008 and 2010, when ahem, Chelsea headed into her thirties:
The people who harassed and criticized her could cloak their behavior in the argument that they were commenting on her parents’ choices and their parenting style...
Chelsea’s growing grace and seeming comfort in herself in the years since have been a rebuke to the people who used her parents’ role on the world stage as a license to take swipes at her. The width of her grin at her 2010 wedding or the clear closeness between Chelsea and her mother during the 2008 campaign all make the people who insulted her, who nibbled at that bond between Chelsea and her parents, look ineffectual. Her tormentors may never really repent, convincing themselves that they were pulling off satire or commenting on the adult Clintons.
But every time Chelsea Clinton is happy, it proves how little they accomplished. All of us with awkward adolescent photos tucked safely away in the albums where they belong can raise a — now non-alcoholic — glass to her ongoing victory.
Rosenberg did not address the other side of that coin. Clinton-boosting reporters routinely played the Chelsea card to build sympathy for her parents and all the terrible things being said about them – as if the Clintons didn’t play rough.
Take NBC’s Maria Shriver as the re-election was getting under way on January 16, 1996. She asked Hillary: "In the book [It Takes a Village], you write about preparing your daughter Chelsea for the negative things people might say to her about her father, but you don't say in the book about preparing her for the negative things people might say about her mom. What's this past week, two weeks been like for her?"
That's a reference to the fallout over Hillary testifying before a grand jury about her shady Whitewater legal work. Chelsea was also employed to downplay Clinton’s sexual incontinence. He may be guilty of adultery and sexual harassment, they insisted, but hey, his daughter turned out well, so lay off:
"At the very moment that her father is in the headlines for this sexual harassment suit by Paula Jones, and I think there's always an edge of surprise in our voices that Chelsea has turned out so well. And it's not just because she's in the White House, but because, well, look at all the criticism of her father and the character question. But I think this is another example that it's not the measure of a man, it's not the total measure of a man whether he's you know, quote 'caused pain in his marriage.' The children we give to the world are a better measure of that, and I think she's a great example that there's a side and there's a goodness to Clinton as a father that we don't accept when we see her." -- Time columnist Margaret Carlson in a June 5, 1997 Good Morning America segment on Chelsea graduating from high school.