`First Kid' in America's Fishbowl
Clintons seek normal life for daughter Chelsea, but history shows that may be difficult
SHE will dance in "The Nutcracker" this Christmas season. She plays third base on a softball team. And, all tinsel-toothed giggles and blushes, she talks on the phone for hours.Skip to next paragraph
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Basically, insist those who know her, she's your ordinary 12-year-old American girl.
"Not!" says anyone observing the coterie of Secret Service agents, press, and general gawkers who, for at least the next four years, will be Chelsea Clinton's constant companions in public.
Living in the White House is not your usual backdrop for American adolescence.
As Bill Clinton moves into the seat of world power and onto the pages of history, Chelsea - happily or not - will be living the biggest civics assignment a kid could get.
Perhaps none of the Clinton team's public policy is as fiercely staked out as its policy on first family matters. Reporters talking to aides and close friends of the Clintons can't scribble fast enough to get the endless bubbling of folksy detail on Bill and Hillary. But they're in danger of getting their noses caught in slamming doors when they ask about Chelsea - where even good news is bad news for handlers charged with keeping her life "normal."
For the first time since Amy Carter - another daughter of the South - there will be a child living at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue. Though it won't exactly be the pitter-patter of little feet (more likely the patter of Hammer, a rap favorite of her friends), Chelsea's presence there will definitely add a new dimension to White House politics, say those who have been in her shoes in previous administrations and those who study such things. Being like royalty
It will be a tender side of politics for what amounts to an innocent bystander being swept into a not totally incidental role in national affairs, they say. But it is politics, nonetheless.
"We don't have a royal family," says Barbara Kellerman, a leadership consultant and former political science professor who wrote the book "All the President's Kin." "But this man and those closest to him are the focus of all the intellectual, spiritual, and political energies [for the nation].... The lines between political, rock, and Hollywood star roles are blurred, and the first family takes on the vestments of political stardom."
Her book contends that virtually all close relations of the president play some kind of political role, and so have a political impact on the presidency. Children's roles range from symbolically capturing and channeling the insatiable public curiosity about them, to performing real political jobs, she suggests.
For example, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who met with reporters on behalf of her father during the Watergate scandal, was a visible, fiercely defensive, moral support to President Richard Nixon. The "blatant use" of Amy Carter as a "decorative" political symbol, says Ms. Kellerman, was captured in photographs of her selling lemonade in Plains, Ga.
Already, Kellerman observes, Chelsea "may have made more of an impression for [Hillary] than for [Bill].
"Hillary needs softening, she's such a powerful lady, and as a first couple it's very helpful politically to be seen as a family. It was no accident that at the end of the campaign they all were photographed for the cover of People."