Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Judge Not the Presidential Daughters For Their Fathers, But No Free Passes, Okay?

Oops! It happened again – Chelsea Clinton was asked about the Monica Lewsinky scandal while stumping for her mother.

There is some unanimity among mainstream media pundits and bloggers, including some who have been otherwise critical of Hillary and Bill Clinton, that such questions should be off limits. Their reasoning, such as it is, is that Chelsea was a teenager at the time, she surely has attained some sense of closure by now, and the whole subject is . . . well, yucky.

I beg to differ – up to a point.

The children of presidents should not be blamed for their fathers' failures, or for that matter praised for their achievements. But if they choose to become players in campaigns or otherwise promote themselves they become fair game for reasonable questions from the news media.

Hillary and Bill Clinton did an admirable job of shielding Chelsea from the press when she was First Daughter and the press largely acquiesced. But she has chosen to become an active participant in the 2008 presidential campaign and should not be given a free pass.

Laura and George Bush are doing an admirable job of shielding daughters Barbara and Jenna from the press and beyond some self-inflicted bad publicity, the press largely acquiesced.

Neither has been active participants in their father's administration, but should that have changed when Jenna went out on tour last year to promote Ana's Story: A Journal of Hope, a young adult's book that she co-authored?

Yes, as I argued here, because the book was being promoted as the work of the president's daughter and the likelihood that it would have been published in the first place if she was just another elementary school teacher is not great.

Ana's Story is a true account of the struggles and triumphs of a Latin American teenager born HIV-positive, not a true account of being in the White House on 9/11 or flying over New Orleans with her father after Hurricane Katrina. But that did not mean that Jenna was not fair game for questions about her father.

As it was, interviewers did ask Jenna what she thought about the Iraq war, among other topics. She could have brushed the questions aside, but answered with circumspection that nobody wants war, her father included.

The Iraq war is pretty yucky, too, but it was an appropriate topic for a question as was Jenna's answer.

There is an unfortunate confluence of circumstances in the case of Chelsea and Monica.

Hillary Clinton has pretty much gotten a free ride concerning the Lewinsky scandal, which was one of the defining event of the Clinton co-presidency and American political history. The yuck factor notwithstanding, she needs to address that event, most notably how she apparently was able to forgive her husband and be a key player in his defense when he was impeached.

Hillary Clinton is more than fair game as a self described hands-on First Lady. Chelsea Clinton also is fair game, but only within the context that Jenna Bush was fair game. She can choose to brush aside questions about the Lewinsky scandal, as she has been doing, but that does not mean that the questions should not be asked.

Photograph by Reuters

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