Let’s Ease Up on the ‘Princess Chelsea’ Coverage
Congratulations, Clinton and Mezvinsky families. It’s a wonderful time for you. Lest I be accused of attacking a pregnant woman, let’s hope that impending parenthood brings wonderful joy to Chelsea and her husband and their families, that they all enjoy some time out of the spotlight and the insufferable 2016 battlespace-preparation narratives.
Because that spotlight and those narratives can get pretty damn insufferable. Sunday I strolled through Barnes and Noble and spied on the magazine rack:
The cover text reads, “She’s Got Power, Influence, and a Plan To Change the World. Any Questions?”
Sure, let’s start with what she’s done, or what she would have done, without her father’s name or her mother’s influence.
The piece tries to dance around its obvious mission of glamorizing a young woman whose adult life consists mostly of stepping through doors opened by her parents’ power and meandering through the highest levels of high society without actually doing much:
For a decade after graduating from Stanford in 2001, Chelsea experimented with the world beyond the Clinton machine. In peripatetic bursts, she tried out international relations, then management consulting, then Wall Street, then a PhD. She even signed on for (an embarrassingly lightweight) gig as an NBC News “special correspondent.” Chelsea rationalizes this career promiscuity as a hallmark of being just another millennial, experimenting liberally until she figures out her professional purpose. But, of course, she’s not just another millennial. She’s political royalty.
Well, that’s one way of describing all that. Her brief stint at NBC represented an epic achievement of nepotism, in which she, with no experience in the field at all, somehow managed to set up a bidding war for her potential work:
To get the TV gig, Chelsea’s team played off rival networks, holding a series of meetings in New York last fall with all the major television news outlets, including ABC, CBS, and CNN. “Her agent calls, asks if you want to meet with Chelsea Clinton, you take the meeting,” one network executive tells BuzzFeed.
There was a sense in the meetings that that the news channels were auditioning for her — not the other way around — which rubbed a few of those she met with the wrong way. “They acted like we should be grateful” that she was offering herself to the networks, says the exec.
For non-political-royalty journalists, a position as a correspondent for a major network news operation’s prime time show is a major achievement, reached only after paying their dues and working hard for years, even decades. For Chelsea, it was an entry-level gig.
Early on, the Fast Company profile mentions “her White House–Stanford-Oxford-Columbia-McKinsey–hedge-fund grooming” but most of that long list stems from her familial affiliation with those first two words. How many colleges dared turn down the daughter of the president and perhaps a second future president?
Are we really to believe her path to her past jobs at McKinsey or “associate at Avenue Capital Group LLC, a New York- based hedge fund firm” was any harder than the one to NBC?
She was the youngest in her class [age 23 or 24], hired at the same rank as those with M.B.A. degrees. Her interview was more like a conversation, said D. Ronald Daniel, a senior partner. “That’s why she was a good consultant, because we are professional question-askers and professional listeners,” Mr. Daniel said.
Chelsea assures us that her past workplaces were “incredibly, fiercely meritocratic.” Sometimes in past interviews, the interviewer inadvertently expresses surprise at the seemingly high-level jobs Chelsea Clinton gets handed:
So you currently work for NBC and you’re studying for a PhD.
Well, thankfully, I’m no longer studying. I’m slogging away on my dissertation.
You’re finishing your dissertation, and you’re a provost at NYU?
Well, I was never the provost. The provost is the head academic —
So NYU, like most universities —nthis is just for your own edification, I didn’t know this either until I took a job at NYU — I took a job at NYU to fund my doctoral studies, which started there. But ultimately, the person that I really wanted to work most with was at Oxford, so I transferred back to Oxford. But in NYU, like most universities, the provost oversees all academic affairs, so everything relating to what classes get taught, and ensuring quality control there, to student life. [Editors’ note: According to the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times, Chelsea Clinton was “assistant vice provost for the Global Network University at NYU.”]
Chelsea took that “Assistant Vice Provost” position in 2010, at age 30.
Now Chelsea’s “making her move”, which warranted that Fast Company cover piece:
Now, finally, she has decided to join the Clinton family business. As vice chair of the recently rebranded Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, she is helping one of the world’s most notable philanthropies grow up.
She must have been extraordinarily talented to be named vice chair of an organization that has her name in its title, huh? What are the odds?
Throughout the piece, there’s this assumption that Chelsea Clinton was and is an exceptional achiever, without citing anything to support this: “She behaves as the overachiever that she has always been.” “She is turning the Clinton Foundation into a more entrepreneurial enterprise.” “In front of several hundred people, she displays all the earmarks of a natural leader: command of the subject matter, passion that feels authentic, and off-the-cuff comments spliced in with academic favorites such as gestalt and milieu.”
Fast Company’s correspondent Danielle Sacks deserves some credit for squeezing in some details about how Chelsea Clinton’s public image is hyper-stage-managed and airbrushed, even if the cover of the magazine completely plays along with this process:
Chelsea’s handlers are likely auditioning for White House gigs, should Hillary become president, and they bring to their current jobs all the paranoia that may serve them well in Washington. One repeatedly urges Chelsea not to change her facial expression during the cover shoot for this issue, standing so close that it’s a miracle the staffer’s mug isn’t on the cover alongside Chelsea’s. Another sits in on her interviews holding an iPhone like a stopwatch (“you have two minutes”), whisks her away when she’s in the middle of answering one final question, and scolds this journalist for even mentioning Doug Band’s name in Chelsea’s presence. It’s all an odd, occasionally funny blend of control and confusion. Their four-page press release pointing to Chelsea’s impact at the foundation only obfuscates her true accomplishments by mentioning such ephemera as visiting rural Myanmar “where she delivered the six-billionth liter of clean water to a family” or “a Starkey Hearing Foundation event in Uganda, where Chelsea helped fit patients for hearing aids.”
Dear friends on the Left: You can’t bemoan the death of opportunity in America, and rail against the richest 1 percent, and then devour puff pieces on how exceptionally talented and wonderful the offspring of our super-wealthy political leaders are, earning plaudits just by showing up with their famous last names. Paul Krugman declared that Horatio Alger was dead back in 2003. The self-made success story may not be dead, but she’s impeded by every powerful institution that sets up sweet, high-paying, low-responsibility gigs for the special children of the gilded class.
What’s really astounding is how our friends on the Left can turn their elite-status-and-wealth-resentment on and off as if it were attached to a light switch. You may recall Jim Hightower at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, sneering that George H. W. Bush was “born on third base and thought he had hit a triple.” (The quote is frequently attributed to Ann Richards.) Yeah, that 55-combat-mission naval aviator who got shot down over the Pacific and who lost his four-year-old daughter to leukemia sure lived a life of ease and comfort.