Judging by the back-and-forths of last few days, Chelsea Clinton is well on her way to joining Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Ron Paul, and Beyoncé as an executive platinum member of the Club of the Praetorian guard. Just try it: Say a few words in public that are critical of any of them, and out will come the apologists — vehemently, angrily, at length. Chelsea hasn’t even run for anything yet and already she’s garnering more loyalty than her mother ever did.
It’s not merely the scale of the reaction that is notable; it’s the extraordinary depth of the witlessness it involves. On the many occasions that I have criticized Sarah Palin, I have watched in amusement as her name became a stand-in for America itself. “You don’t like Palin?” I would be asked. “But she’s a real American. So you must hate real America.” So it was with Donald Trump, albeit in a slightly different manner, and with Ron Paul, who represented to his fans the very distillation of American liberty. To criticize any of them, it seemed, was to exhibit a moral failing.
With Chelsea, the same dynamic applies. It cannot be that the PR push is awkward and obvious; that Chelsea is embarrassingly mediocre, despite the abundance of coverage; that her denials of ambition are parsed to perfection. It cannot be that people are irritated by her desire to comment on politics without suffering any pushback. It must be something else: sexism, racism, fragility, a lack of love. It must be obsession. It must be mental illness.
T.A. Frank has written a perfectly pitched takedown of Clinton in Vanity Fair. But nobody — nobody — has engaged with its substance. Rather, they have attacked T. A. Frank. It’s a peculiar thing, to whom the Gods give vigorous acolytes. We’ll see what they have in mind for Chelsea.