Just when I had started warming up to the Clinton family in the Democratic race, Chelsea went ahead and said something that brought me back to square one and reminded me of what I hate most about politics.
Campaigning at Butler University a few weeks ago, the former first daughter was playing her part in bringing in the youth vote. All was well until she began taking questions from the audience full of college students. One student asked if Chelsea thought that the Lewinsky scandal had damaged her mother’s credibility among the American people.
“Wow, you’re the first person actually that’s ever asked me that question in the, I don’t know, maybe 70 college campuses I’ve now been to,” Clinton replied. “And I do not think that is any of your business.”
As a voter, the credibility of a woman we may be electing as our next president is very much my business, as are important decisions she has made in her personal life. It’s no secret that Momma Clinton has some of the highest negative numbers in the country, and that many disapprove of the nonchalant way she handled the Lewinsky scandal. If the American people were exposed to the scandal and are now being asked to vote for one of the key actors in it – how is this none of our business?
The office of the president is not simply a programmed machine. An effective leader of the free world must balance policy and personality. Clinton has spent every moment on this campaign trail harping on her experience. It’s time she start talking about her character, too. To this end, her values and judgment, as seen during one of the most difficult times in her life, are certainly fair game in this political season. If we are to assign our votes to Clinton, we are certainly not asking too much to know more about the woman behind the mask.
What’s more, the Clinton campaign seems to be focused on this separation of home and state more so than other political leaders, even those who have suffered because of the access allowed to the American public.
Former Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York is the first to come to mind, who was busted by both the authorities and the press for soliciting “affections” from a young prostitute. After betraying personal and public trust, he could have told the country to get out of his private life, arguing that his personal problems in no way impeded on his ability to govern the state (sound familiar?). Instead, he stepped down and allowed inquiries into his private mistakes.
Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York was a candidate for the Republican nomination, but also carried serious baggage. With two divorces and one affair, voters questioned Guiliani’s values and judgment in his personal life. Instead of angrily responding back with indignation, Giuliani responded at one campaign event, stating, “the responsibility is mine.” He didn’t try to hide his personal life or act like it was beyond the reach of the voters. Instead, he told America who he was and perhaps lost the primary race because of it.
These examples show that public honesty can be a bipartisan value. These men knew that, fundamentally, nothing is beyond the realm of the voter when considering whom they want to hold the public office.
Yet Chelsea doesn’t seem to be on board. I wasn’t expecting some eloquent, witty response. She could have simply said, “I love my mother for who she is, and I think she is a great statesman.” Instead she gave a very blunt answer which the meaning was not lost.
The Clinton family can follow that path. But the voters may decide that if they’re not interested in being frank, well, we’re not interested in them either.
The writer, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.