The Obama daughters have been offered a gig on Hannah Montana, the Disney Channel show that is catnip for girls their age. I assume her parents will forego this dubious honor for their children, but this raises an interesting question about the next four years. There hasn’t been a pre-pubescent kid in the White House since Amy Carter, and the sense of respect for her privacy was total. It was also a different time, during which the balance of power between adults and children was firmly weighted toward the adults, such that when Carter tried to use Amy as a rhetorical tool in his 1980 debate with Ronald Reagan in discussing nuclear weapons, he was widely derided.
None of that applies now. Malia and Sasha Obama are part of the new world of childhood, a vastly more public world, with scores of television shows directed toward their age group, consumer goods specifically targeted at them, and the celebrity journalism sector completely without shame in exploiting performing children to keep itself in business. The question may not be what the adult Obamas will want, but what the junior Obamas will want. What if they decide, over the coming years, that they hunger for the company of Hannah Montana, that they would be thrilled to be on the cover of People?
More disturbing, perhaps: What if their school classmates decide to post cellphone videos of them on YouTube? What if rumors about their conduct hit shameless, willing-to-say-or-publish-anything sites like Gawker? One heard things, almost certainly invented, about the Clintons and their relationship with Chelsea from Washington people who claimed to know the truth because their kids went to school with Chelsea. But that was before the Internet really exploded.
Protecting Sasha and Malia from the mainstream media will be easy for the Obamas, because the mainstream media will go along. Protecting them from the world beyond it will be harder. And protecting them from the desires they may themselves feel when they know they can have or be anything they wish to be might be the hardest job of all.