Politics & Policy

Chelsea Clinton Is Not the Great Democratic Hope

(Reuters photo: Andrew Kelly)
The media should stop making the former first daughter out to be more than she is.

Chelsea Clinton is not fascinating. But the repeated insistence that Chelsea Clinton is fascinating . . . is actually rather fascinating. It’s like a giant social experiment, in which everyone who has spent decades building connections to the Clinton political dynasty attempts to make the world see the president’s daughter as someone she isn’t.

Witness the recent insistence that we’re seeing a new side of Chelsea Clinton . . . because she’s tweeting a lot of critical things about President Trump. This is not particularly unusual behavior for a Democrat with a Twitter account. Yet Politico declares that she “lets loose on Twitter” with “a spicy, sarcastic online personality.” CNN concurs that “Chelsea Clinton embraces her Twitter sass.”

Almost every time the younger Clinton opens her mouth, it is treated as inherently newsworthy. Neontaster notices that The Hill has tweeted about her 70 times since the beginning of the year.

Why is Chelsea Clinton news? She’s the scion of America’s most famous Democratic dynasty, sure, but her own accomplishments in public life are meager. When can we stop pretending that hers is a voice worth listening to?

In fact, she’s pretty much the worst possible person to be speaking on behalf of Democrats right now. At a time when one of the preeminent problems in American life is a sense of declining economic opportunity and social mobility, she’s the living embodiment of inherited privilege.

After a few years of attempting to work in consulting and at hedge funds, she concluded she “couldn’t care about money on a fundamental level.” Then, with no experience in television journalism, she had her people call up the networks and set up a bidding war for her services as a correspondent. She made $600,000 per year for part-time work at NBC, generating what the Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik called “a handful of reports that no self-respecting affiliate in a top 20 market would air.” 

She was named an “assistant vice provost” at NYU at age 30.  She was picked to give the keynote address at South by Southwest, and honored as one of Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year.” Now she makes $1,083 per minute speaking to public universities. And almost everything she does is decreed to be extraordinary by a pliant, pro-Clinton media. The New York Times even interviewed her about her favorite books.

The uptick in Chelsea coverage since November has a transparent purpose, of course: to pave the way for her entry into politics. In Bustle, Charlie Beckerman declares, “though there’s certainly an argument to be made for the need for new blood in the Democratic party, it’s hard to make the case that Clinton would be ill-suited to politics if she chose to pursue it as a calling.”

Really? Yes, she has a famous last name and her parents’ Rolodex of powerful donors and friends. But what does she herself bring to the table that any other educated 37-year-old doesn’t? Do you remember anything from her address at the 2016 Democratic convention? Any of her statements on the trail for her mother, other than her shamelessly inaccurate claim that Bernie Sanders wanted to “strip millions and millions and millions of people of their health insurance”? Even her greatest strength, the family name, isn’t what it used to be: It’s been more than decade since a Clinton won any race for public office, and Hillary’s stunning loss to Trump is still fresh in Democrats’ minds.

Yet quite a few powerful people in Democratic politics and the media remain heavily invested in the Clinton dynasty, and those investments seem less valuable than ever now. It makes sense that they’d be desperate to recoup something from years of sucking up, and thus eager to float Hillary for mayor of New York City or Chelsea for Congress.

In Chelsea’s case, such pipe dreams only seem plausible if you believe that she is a natural leader, waiting in the wings for the right opportunity to save a Democratic party in ruins. And if you believe that, you must not have been paying attention the last 30 years.

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