Chelsea Clinton and the Problems of American Aristocracy

Politics Features The Clintons
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Chelsea Clinton and the Problems of American Aristocracy

Presently, the clearest example of the hereditary nature of the American political class is concentrated in the Clintons, where the socio-political impact of this privileged coterie has dominated not just elections, but the larger bureaucratic landscape. Their faces and names are easily recognisable and their brand has been seamlessly integrated into American political life. Take for example the foundational mark of Hillary Clinton’s most recent foray into the electoral arena, which wreaked of entitlement. It was Her Turn. From their outlandish book deals, magazine spreads, and speaking engagements of which are covered in the same high-pitched, energized style offered to celebrities—to their admirers, who breathlessly extol them in a comparably sycophantic way. The Clintons are the modern face of American politics, coveted like royalty.

Out of the smouldering remains of Hillary Clinton’s second failed attempt to become president comes Chelsea Clinton, her 37-year-old daughter, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, and former consultant for hedge fund groups McKinsey & Company and Avenue Capital. In 2011, Chelsea Clinton joined NBC News as a special correspondent where she went on to make $600,000 per year, or nearly $27,000 a minute when appearing on air. In Hillary Rising, author James D. Boys writes that during the recent presidential campaign Chelsea Clinton was “utilised to focus on younger audiences”, and should Hillary Clinton have won the election Chelsea would have had the potential “to fill a role unlike anyone since Robert Kennedy.” Boys also writes that “there can be little doubt that Chelsea Clinton sees a role for herself in elected office,” but this is where Chelsea herself comes in, or, more specifically, where her vague but forceful denials come in. After a tweet from Vox senior correspondent Matt Yglesias, wherein he asks who would be challenging Chelsea in the NY-17 primary, she stated that she isn’t “running for anything.”

Whether or not Chelsea Clinton runs for political office is still to be seen, but the fact that anyone is questioning this possibility, or confronting her regarding statements she’s made and actions she’s taken in the past, does not sit well with those who have built their political identities around the Clinton family and the greater liberal establishment class. The hardened belief in the Horatio Alger myth—that anyone can achieve economic success through dedicated, hard work—has lead them to surmise that Chelsea Clinton, the product of two wealthy, white people, is a commoner who has toiled for the privileges she enjoys.

Chelsea Clinton’s advanced degrees from Stanford and Oxford are often wielded in her defense as a way in which to argue that she’s more than her name—she’s smart and thoroughly educated after all. Nowhere in this fantastical, storybook biography that her supporters have scribbled across every public forum they have access to is anything referring to political power or the benefits that children of highly influential, wealthy, white politicians reap. If there is mention of privilege, it’s a cursory reflection, done with the sole intention of making the reader believe they understand or at least acknowledge the role that power plays in one’s access to employment, educational institutions, and celebrity. Calls for young girls to emulate the Clintons, specifically Hillary Clinton, involve this very privilege. Instead of challenging the conviction that we need more women ‘in power,’ or that we need ‘more women billionaires and CEOs,’ there’s an entire industry focused on how women, too, can take part in the capitalist exploitation of the working class. If men can do it, why can’t we?

Seeing the Clintons as a part of one’s own political identity is corrosive and only serves as further indictment of the Democratic Party and its supporters, both of whom are now so out of touch that they’re looking to people spreading Infowars-esque conspiracy theories about a Soviet menace for comfort and direction. Chelsea Clinton, as grounded and benign as she may appear to be on Twitter, is still the wealthy daughter of a former president and Secretary of State. She has not come to prominence because of her own labor but due to the exploitation of the labor of others, and while this isn’t specific to the Clintons, it is part and parcel of the aristocratic nature of American politics. And this deserves challenging.