Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chelsea Clinton

America’s Royals and the 2016 Race

Like most of the rest of the world, a great many Americans spent much of the first half of 2013 obsessing about the birth of a great grandson to the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The spectacle of the American media going bonkers over Prince George of Cambridge’s arrival illustrated once again the way our celebrity-mad popular culture has embraced Britain’s monarchy as a somewhat classier version of homegrown reality television stars like the Kardashians. The disconnect between American republican traditions and the way we worship royals or other varieties of famous persons is a form of cognitive dissonance that may be mocked but can’t be denied. But while the inordinate attention given the Windsors is merely silly, the willingness of the same media to give American political celebrities the same kind of attention is slightly more troubling. It is in that context that we need to treat the hubbub over the announcement of Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy.

The willingness of political commentators to opine on whether becoming a grandmother will help or hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016 is in one sense merely a testament to the obsessive nature of contemporary political journalism in which everything, no matter how trivial, becomes fodder for analysis. But it also illustrates the way the Clintons have transitioned from a political brand to the sort of celebrity status that not even the Bushes—their putative dynastic rivals—have attained. Chelsea and her husband Marc Mezvinsky may not be quite the U.S. version of William and Kate. But the willingness of the press to hype the pregnancy as an event that dwarfs any attention given any Bush babies, let alone those connected to any other presidential contender, shows that the Clintons are now on a par with the Kennedys as personalities rather than merely political figures.

The notion that the arrival of a grandchild should influence voter opinions about a woman who has been a first lady, a U.S. senator, and a secretary of state with a long record that may not be as defensible as some Democrats had thought is risible. But it is pointless to pretend that the media embrace of the Clintons—as opposed to the abuse it generally lobs at most of the Bushes—will not be a factor in 2016. America’s political traditions are rooted in myths about log cabins and self-made men who rose from humble circumstances to power. But dynasties have also been a part of our political narrative since the inception of the American republic. If the Kennedys and the Clintons are a far cry from the dour and duty-obsessed Adams clan, it cannot be denied that famous names have always been an asset at the polls.

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Like most of the rest of the world, a great many Americans spent much of the first half of 2013 obsessing about the birth of a great grandson to the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The spectacle of the American media going bonkers over Prince George of Cambridge’s arrival illustrated once again the way our celebrity-mad popular culture has embraced Britain’s monarchy as a somewhat classier version of homegrown reality television stars like the Kardashians. The disconnect between American republican traditions and the way we worship royals or other varieties of famous persons is a form of cognitive dissonance that may be mocked but can’t be denied. But while the inordinate attention given the Windsors is merely silly, the willingness of the same media to give American political celebrities the same kind of attention is slightly more troubling. It is in that context that we need to treat the hubbub over the announcement of Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy.

The willingness of political commentators to opine on whether becoming a grandmother will help or hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016 is in one sense merely a testament to the obsessive nature of contemporary political journalism in which everything, no matter how trivial, becomes fodder for analysis. But it also illustrates the way the Clintons have transitioned from a political brand to the sort of celebrity status that not even the Bushes—their putative dynastic rivals—have attained. Chelsea and her husband Marc Mezvinsky may not be quite the U.S. version of William and Kate. But the willingness of the press to hype the pregnancy as an event that dwarfs any attention given any Bush babies, let alone those connected to any other presidential contender, shows that the Clintons are now on a par with the Kennedys as personalities rather than merely political figures.

The notion that the arrival of a grandchild should influence voter opinions about a woman who has been a first lady, a U.S. senator, and a secretary of state with a long record that may not be as defensible as some Democrats had thought is risible. But it is pointless to pretend that the media embrace of the Clintons—as opposed to the abuse it generally lobs at most of the Bushes—will not be a factor in 2016. America’s political traditions are rooted in myths about log cabins and self-made men who rose from humble circumstances to power. But dynasties have also been a part of our political narrative since the inception of the American republic. If the Kennedys and the Clintons are a far cry from the dour and duty-obsessed Adams clan, it cannot be denied that famous names have always been an asset at the polls.

Yet the merger of politics with popular entertainment celebrity represents something slightly different than the usual drill in which those with greater name recognition obtained an edge in the polls. Those who think Hillary’s image will soften once she becomes a grandmother are probably ignoring the fact that most Americans have already made up their minds about her. Yet as we will see in the coming year, Chelsea’s transition from White House daughter to the new Princess Kate will allow the already ubiquitous Clinton brand to become even more pervasive. The Clintons are no more intrinsically glamorous then the generally unintelligent and not particularly attractive Windsor family. But the mainstream media’s investment in the notion of both Bill and Hillary is more than enough to compensate for any of their rather obvious shortcomings in terms of character. Like it or not, they are in the process of becoming American royals, with more than enough sleaze in their political baggage to match the Kardashians though without the pizzazz of the Kennedys.

But the problem with this public-relations coup is that being elected president is not quite the same thing as becoming ubiquitous. Celebrity status can make a person famous for being famous and get your picture on the covers of the magazines at the checkout line at the supermarket. But being a royal doesn’t necessarily bring with it a majority of electoral votes. Indeed, the arrival of the next generation of the Clinton family—a prospect that has caused many to joke about the baby facing off against a Bush grandchild in a mid-century presidential election—will not win over those who dislike the idea of another Clinton presidency or who want the nation to move on from a dependence on dynasties. Hillary already has all the name recognition anyone could desire. American voters are not stupid. They may like to gape at celebrities for entertainment but to the extent that Hillary tries to cash in on the baby hype, those not already in her camp may only be further alienated.

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Same Old Clintons Back at Work

The process of preparing Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 presidential candidacy is bringing some new scrutiny to an institution that has largely flown below the radar of the mainstream press in the last decade: the Clinton Foundation. Though it has garnered a lot of good publicity and huge corporate donations due to the visibility of the former president at its head, little is generally known about the philanthropy that has given a useful platform to Bill Clinton and his family since he exited the White House in January 2001. The governance of the foundation as well as questions about its practices and its incestuous ties with various corporations can’t be ignored any longer since Hillary Clinton is set to use it as a convenient landing spot while she prepares to run for president. It is in that context that a lengthy front-page feature in the New York Times today on the foundation should be read. While the article raises far more questions than it answers, it should remind Americans that the once and possibly future first couple of the land are the same characters that presided over a corrupt Little Rock governor’s mansion and a White House where ethical considerations were checked at the door.

The causes—health, AIDS, obesity and poverty—that the Foundation has funded are unexceptionable. But the team of old Clinton loyalists and faithful family retainers that has operated the global initiative has played fast and loose with its finances and management. More to the point, it’s hard to see where the foundation ends and the influence peddling begins. The story of its operations is also rife with conflicts of interest that have a familiar ring from those who remember the Clinton White House’s shameless fundraising record that had such trouble staying on the right side of the law. A major housecleaning now going on in order to try to sanitize the foundation for Hillary’s arrival and its renaming to include the former first lady and first daughter makes it clear that the foundation is going to have to be on its best behavior lest its hijinks sabotage their political ambitions.

Read More

The process of preparing Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 presidential candidacy is bringing some new scrutiny to an institution that has largely flown below the radar of the mainstream press in the last decade: the Clinton Foundation. Though it has garnered a lot of good publicity and huge corporate donations due to the visibility of the former president at its head, little is generally known about the philanthropy that has given a useful platform to Bill Clinton and his family since he exited the White House in January 2001. The governance of the foundation as well as questions about its practices and its incestuous ties with various corporations can’t be ignored any longer since Hillary Clinton is set to use it as a convenient landing spot while she prepares to run for president. It is in that context that a lengthy front-page feature in the New York Times today on the foundation should be read. While the article raises far more questions than it answers, it should remind Americans that the once and possibly future first couple of the land are the same characters that presided over a corrupt Little Rock governor’s mansion and a White House where ethical considerations were checked at the door.

The causes—health, AIDS, obesity and poverty—that the Foundation has funded are unexceptionable. But the team of old Clinton loyalists and faithful family retainers that has operated the global initiative has played fast and loose with its finances and management. More to the point, it’s hard to see where the foundation ends and the influence peddling begins. The story of its operations is also rife with conflicts of interest that have a familiar ring from those who remember the Clinton White House’s shameless fundraising record that had such trouble staying on the right side of the law. A major housecleaning now going on in order to try to sanitize the foundation for Hillary’s arrival and its renaming to include the former first lady and first daughter makes it clear that the foundation is going to have to be on its best behavior lest its hijinks sabotage their political ambitions.

Calling it the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation gives the operation a homier feel that suits both its philanthropic image as well as their desire to associate the likely 2016 presidential candidate and the family’s crown princess, who has political hopes of her own, with its good works. But suspicions about the way the foundation mixes charity with old-fashioned influence peddling won’t go away when Hillary and her staff (including their unofficial “adopted daughter” Huma Abedin) move into the operation’s New York headquarters.

The problem is not just that, as the Times details, Clintonistas like Ira Magaziner and Doug Band run a philanthropic endeavor with the kind of predilection for red ink that would do the federal government proud. It’s that the line between the good works and lucrative private capital ventures headed by many of the same people has been so blurred as to be largely indistinct. Teneo, a consulting and banking firm founded by Band (described by the Times as the president’s “surrogate son”) is also mixed up in the foundation’s business and largely profits from Clinton’s donors.

That may be par for the course in the world of high finance and do-gooding that the Clintons move in these days. But while it may have been considered a non-issue while the Foundation gave Bill something to do in his post-presidency, it will be a bigger deal as his wife uses it as a platform for her candidacy before she formally declares sometime in the next two years. That makes it imperative that the foundation not be a liability but also raises concerns about its use as political platform with tax-exempt status.

The foundation has been the perfect vehicle for the Clinton family as they cleaned up the former president’s image and kept their ties to former political donors and big business partners for future use. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion after reading about it in depth that it is just as much the function of the Clintons’ absent moral compass as their past political operations often were. As with the Clinton presidency, we are expected to let their stated good intentions wash away any doubts about their behavior or inattention to ethics. Let’s hope the press as well as responsible legal authorities keep a sharp eye on the foundation rather than let it play the same game as Hillary transitions to the next stage in her long slog to the top of the political heap.

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Frenemies, a Love Story

There is a fluffapalooza of an article in today’s New York Times about the unlikely “alliance” of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Mark Landler and Helene Cooper read quite a lot into Hillary’s taking a meeting with Obama after she heard of her husband’s recent heart trouble:

But the fact that she first spent 45 minutes plotting Iran strategy with the man who beat her in a divisive primary campaign shows just how far Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have come since the bitter spring of 2008, when he sniped that her foreign-policy credentials consisted of sipping tea with world leaders, and she scoffed that his consisted of living in Indonesia when he was 10.

The tragedy is they were both right. When they joined forces it was like two bad tastes that go bad together.  Over a year into this administration, all we have to show on the diplomacy front is presidential pledges of global empathy and a lot exotic teatime. We have a foreign policy of pure esthetics, no less superficial than the piece in the Times. Landler and Cooper lay it on real thick, describing what sounds like the world’s worst sitcom:

They now joke about their “frenemies” status and have made gestures toward each other’s families. When Mr. Obama learned that Chelsea Clinton had become engaged, he turned to Mrs. Clinton and asked, “Does she want a White House wedding?” a senior official recalled. (Mrs. Clinton declined, saying the offer was “sweet” but would be “inappropriate.”) And when Mrs. Clinton traveled to Honolulu in January, she paid tribute to Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in a speech she gave while looking over a garden dedicated to Ms. Dunham.

“Frenemies” has it about right. That’s what the Will and Grace of international affairs have made of every global player — good and bad: Vladimir Putin? Frenemy. Bibi Netanyahu? He’s a frenemy, too. When you get nicer to your antagonists and rougher on your allies you end up too invested in the former to threaten them and too distanced from the latter to get their cooperation. Well, at least an “alliance” is being forged somewhere.

There is a fluffapalooza of an article in today’s New York Times about the unlikely “alliance” of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Mark Landler and Helene Cooper read quite a lot into Hillary’s taking a meeting with Obama after she heard of her husband’s recent heart trouble:

But the fact that she first spent 45 minutes plotting Iran strategy with the man who beat her in a divisive primary campaign shows just how far Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have come since the bitter spring of 2008, when he sniped that her foreign-policy credentials consisted of sipping tea with world leaders, and she scoffed that his consisted of living in Indonesia when he was 10.

The tragedy is they were both right. When they joined forces it was like two bad tastes that go bad together.  Over a year into this administration, all we have to show on the diplomacy front is presidential pledges of global empathy and a lot exotic teatime. We have a foreign policy of pure esthetics, no less superficial than the piece in the Times. Landler and Cooper lay it on real thick, describing what sounds like the world’s worst sitcom:

They now joke about their “frenemies” status and have made gestures toward each other’s families. When Mr. Obama learned that Chelsea Clinton had become engaged, he turned to Mrs. Clinton and asked, “Does she want a White House wedding?” a senior official recalled. (Mrs. Clinton declined, saying the offer was “sweet” but would be “inappropriate.”) And when Mrs. Clinton traveled to Honolulu in January, she paid tribute to Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in a speech she gave while looking over a garden dedicated to Ms. Dunham.

“Frenemies” has it about right. That’s what the Will and Grace of international affairs have made of every global player — good and bad: Vladimir Putin? Frenemy. Bibi Netanyahu? He’s a frenemy, too. When you get nicer to your antagonists and rougher on your allies you end up too invested in the former to threaten them and too distanced from the latter to get their cooperation. Well, at least an “alliance” is being forged somewhere.

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