Chelsea Clinton’s interview with Vogue suggesting she’s changed her mind and may be open to running for public office is hardly a surprise. All the presidents' children have always been a magnet for public fascination and attention, and plenty of them end up in – or on the periphery of – politics. (Think of those children of presidential politics who have not faded into obscurity: Caroline Kennedy and her brief flirtation with running for the US Senate and her endorsement of President Obama; Mary and Liz Cheney who have been active in Republican politics; not to mention "W" son of the first President Bush).
White House families are the closest thing to American royalty. Presidential family-watching can be great relief from partisan politics if you’re not a hard-core political junkie. The Obama girls – the oldest of which, Malia, is already sparking speculation she'll be stumping for dad – are as interesting to watch as Prince William and bride Kate.
Likewise, in 1993 when Chelsea became the first child to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since 1981 when another frizzy red-headed kid in braces, Amy Carter, left the White House, she was as fun to read about as Princess Diana was at the time.
A story I wrote at the time about the obsession with Chelsea quoted Bill Trice, a Little Rock attorney and a Clinton family friend whose son was close to Chelsea since preschool: "Chelsea is not newsworthy. Even positive press is, in a way, an intrusion into living a normal life."
But the fact is, White House kids – and the kids of those who aspire to the White House – are newsworthy. Any parent knows that their families are a reflection of them in some way – their tastes, values, and character are symbolic, fair or not. Fortunately the eyes of just our small civic circles are on us and our families - but a president simply can’t avoid public interest in his or her family. As a parent, I like watching the first families – the Obama girls seem poised and worthy of holding up to my own daughter as examples of tasteful dressing (no bare bellies and bra straps there), Michelle Obama's anti-childhood-obesity campaign is a genial model for our household (we keep the McNuggets to a minimum); I liked Laura Bush's seeming calm through her kids' teen years (there's something soothing about literacy advocacy).
As Barbara Kellerman, a leadership consultant who wrote the book “All the President’s Kin” told me when I wrote that 1992 story: "We don't have a royal family, 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."
A president can, on the other hand, bring all his powers to bear on drawing a ring around the child. Often the press lays off – the press was generally soft on the Bush girls until they came of age and did what kids coming of age generally do.
Chelsea, it turns out, is quite newsworthy. Now an NBC news correspondent, granting a lengthy interview, and glamorous photo shoot, with Vogue is clearly a calculated publicity move – to what end, she has a long career ahead to show us.
For those who love to read about White House families, here are some links to some enlightening coverage of presidential families past:
* Whatever happened to Amy Carter?
* Liz Cheney: More political dynasties?
* Political kids: Legit news or tabloid topic