In praise of Chelsea

Samantha Meinetz Shapiro

November 17, 1992|By Samantha Meinetz Shapiro

I AM feeling a little post-election smugness because I endorsed Clinton early on.

When I say Clinton, I mean it in the loosest way.

Actually, I mean Chelsea, and her father only in the sense that if he raised her he's got something good going on there.

It doesn't matter whom I endorsed, of course, because I'm too young to vote. Because of this minor hindrance, it's dubious that any president will directly champion my interests or even understand what they are. Politicians' ideas of youth are limited to an amorphous rhetorical device, a first cousin of "the future," if you will. People my age are the reason to uphold rigid concepts of ideal family life, of sexual morality.

It's never narrow-mindedness; it's "Do we really want our children to grow up with this?"

Chelsea Clinton's presence soothes my political frustrations. Chelsea looks like she feels exactly how I felt when I was 13. Her hair is frizzy and she has braces and I think I saw a picture of her wearing L.A. Gears. She just has that "I'm in limbo between Jr. Miss and Misses at Bloomingdale's" look.

I have never seen another politician's child who looks like a true prepubescent vision of awkwardness. (Although I've heard tales about Amy Carter.)

Either they keep them locked up in some closet on Capitol Hill, or money really can buy everything -- including good genes.

The other politicians' kids I see have shiny blond hair perfectly in place, seemingly without the use of any styling product, and lovely, clear skin and wonderfully tailored Polo outfits. (Is that the Gore clan, or a Laura Ashley catalogue shoot?)

Politicians' children usually look sickeningly confident, relentlessly cute and always appropriate. The don't seem like real kids, and they are convincing testimony that their parents are not real people.

Their childhood is a childhood in the same way that sound bites are opinions. Everything seems staged, stilted: the children too perfect to be kids, the words too perfect to mean anything.

One newsweekly attributed Bill Clinton's occasional appearances in jeans to the calculated need to appear more casual and average. Politicians cavort in tanks, don ten-gallon hats, and even (gasp!) wear jeans to convey an image they think will appeal to voters.

But nothing speaks louder to me than awkward puberty. Because Chelsea is imperfect, it is evident that she has not been raised to be a politician's child, which leads me to believe that in at least one facet of his life Bill Clinton is a human being.

And the fact that she is not fraught with alienation tells me that her father must listen to her, allow for mistakes and give her room.

(I am sure he understands that, as president, if he answers a phone call for his daughter and says "Young man, Chelsea can't talk until she finishes her homework," it will carry a bit too much weight.)

He also gives his wife Hillary room to be independent. And he will ensure that the women of America retain the room to choose to have an abortion or not.

If Chelsea, then, is a metaphor for her father, she seems pleasant, a tad confused and at a bit of a crossroads. There are a lot of directions she can head -- she may use her power to invite Madonna to her birthday parties, or to foster student activism.

Or she may just be a low-profile, Gap-shopping teen-ager. Who can tell if four years from now she will blossom into the kind of role model that some cheeseball "Beverly Hills 90210" star never could be, or end up on the Donahue-Oprah circuit?

One thing is certain though: America definitely voted for the candidate of change. And her father too.

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