Chelsea Clinton announced she’s going to be a mother this year. That should elicit the same reaction reserved for the daughter of any former president: a polite ... how nice. But this is a Clinton; everything with the Clintons gets filtered through politics. It is fitting (and equally crass) that this news is met with this reaction: "Hillary in 2016, does it help or hurt?”
Indeed that is precisely how pro-Hillary pundits reacted, leaping to profess this will succeed in adding warmth and humanity to Hillary’s image in the years to come. But put the celebration on hold. This was surely the same concept the Democratic pundits had in Little Rock when Chelsea was born in 1980, and the warm image never really stuck.
It’s easy to say Chelsea Clinton never chose this life for herself, and certainly never deserved what her parents put her through in the national embarrassment of 1998. The media (including most conservative news outfits) never disturbed her childhood, which is good. What is not good is that many reporters never let her childhood end.
Coverage of Chelsea campaigning for her mother in 2007 and 2008 demonstrated that tendency. New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor penned embarrassing paragraphs about how Chelsea’s "a focus of public fascination," co-workers find she has a "deeply admirable ability to yield focus" and "people seem delighted just to watch her lips move and hear sound emerge." Then remember David Shuster being banned from MSNBC for suggesting “Chelsea's sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way.”
That’s too crude, but it’s undeniable that Bill and Hillary Clinton have long performed a hypocritical one-two step in their political salesmanship. Chelsea was off-limits, until it was crucial for them to plant their daughter next to them to improve their own tattered images.Their energetic media defenders danced those steps as well.
If the Clintons were truly retired from running for office, this baby news would be easy to celebrate. But since Hillary is making it obvious she’s running for president again, the media’s hyper-enthusiastic coverage makes the whole thing feel like a partisan event, right down to ABC cooing about how the Clintons are America’s “royal” family.
In fact, ABC spent almost 13 minutes over five days on Chelsea-baby news, but failed to spend a second on some more substantive Washington stories, like Obama’s latest delay of a decision on the Keystone pipeline.
It also feels partisan when compared to 2012, when Jenna Bush announced she was pregnant on NBC’s “Today” show (where she, like Chelsea, is an occasional contributor). That drew 33 seconds on NBC, and the other two networks said nothing. Someone might argue that Bush had been out of office for a term, so that wasn’t as newsworthy. But that only underlines that this baby rollout carries the promotional echo of a future campaign.
It certainly is more promotional than the coverage of Republican offspring in 2012. The Romney sons were questioned again for their lack of military service. The liberal website Slate slammed Rick Santorum’s kids for getting “too much vacation” from home schooling and started a caption contest about Santorum’s daughters – including a middle-schooler -- where liberal commenters predictably started mocking how these girls were on contraceptives, or wearing chastity belts, or were improperly touching themselves. Radio host Randi Rhodes begged that Santorum’s home-schooled kids should never try to be surgeons, pilots, or nurses.
These families could only wish for the Clinton treatment.
Chelsea Clinton should enjoy first-time motherhood just like any other American. But the “royal family”? Let's turn down the volume on the hype.