Has there ever been anyone the media have wanted to see run for public office as desperately as they do Chelsea Clinton?
Asked Monday if she planned to run, the former first daughter told CNN, “Not now,” adding that she currently lived in a city, state, and country where “I really believe in my elected officials, and their ethos and their competencies.”
Then she added, “I had very much led a deliberately private life for a long time, and now I’m attempting to lead a purposely public life.”
Cue the media-hype cycle. “Chelsea Clinton Leaves Door Open to Political Run, but ‘Not Now,’” ABC declared, while the Huffington Post blared, “Chelsea Clinton: I’m ‘Attempting to Lead a Purposely Public Life.’” CNN announced: “Chelsea Clinton still open to running for office,” and the Washington Post helpfully detailed “Where Chelsea Clinton could run for office.”
Clinton is no doubt an accomplished woman: She graduated from Stanford and has since obtained master’s degrees from both Oxford and Columbia; she is currently working on a Ph.D. in international relations. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the Of Many Institute for MultiFaith Leadership at New York University.
But let’s be honest: Virtually no one would care whether she ran for office or not if her last name weren’t Clinton. Yet because of that name, the media remain enthralled — even if Clinton herself rarely returns the love. She has given notoriously few interviews, even telling a nine-year-old reporter in 2008, “I’m sorry, but I can’t talk to press, and unfortunately that means you, even though I think you’re cute.”
One outlet that did get access was Vogue, the hard-hitting fashion magazine that was also home to a glowing profile (“A Rose in the Desert”) of Asma Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator, in 2011; it ran a 6,500-word profile of Chelsea last year. Revelations from the interviews included that Chelsea has “an obsession with elaborate coffee drinks” and that “Unlike most nerdy academic types, however, Clinton is also a social creature, happy to put on a party dress and go out for a good cause.” (Needless to say, if Clinton ever slipped up and said something interesting, Vogue kept it off the record.) For the fashion spread that accompanied the piece, Clinton was photographed by Mario Testino — the same photographer who took Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement shots.
Clinton herself joined the media last year, doing occasional features for NBC. (NBC’s curious obsession with the daughters of top politicians is another topic in itself: Jenna Bush Hager, Meghan McCain, and Abby Huntsman also work at the network.) Critics were not wowed. “Even with network producers and editors, they can’t make her start to look like a competent on-camera interviewer,” wrote the Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik in March; he went on to complain that Clinton talked too much about herself during her interview with author Judy Blume. “In case anyone was wondering how Chelsea Clinton’s cushy ‘special correspondent’ ‘job’ at NBC is going, the answer is awesome, if you like fake interviews about advertising that really just serve as advertising,” snarked New York’s Joe Coscarelli, talking about Clinton’s feature on the Geico and AT&T commercials.
Of course, Clinton is hardly the only figure the media over-covers. (Just consider Lindsay Lohan.) But there is something curious about it. Where, for instance, is the media speculation about whether Jenna Bush Hager or Barbara Bush plans to run for office someday?
The Clinton coverage also belies the fact that, in America, we theoretically believe in meritocracy. Clinton’s opinions and her potential political future should be of no more interest than those of any other random person — yet hers get inches and inches of ink, and squeeze out coverage of, oh, actually elected politicians.
We don’t need political dynasties in America. And if the media want to scrutinize the Clintons’ political progeny, reporters should look not at Chelsea but at Anthony Weiner, whose wedding to Hillary’s top aide was presided over by none other than Bill Clinton. Clean-cut Chelsea may be the person the media want to show as representing the Clinton political legacy, but she’s hardly the most qualified candidate.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.