When is a baby not a baby?
When it’s a baby Clinton.
Thursday, Chelsea Clinton announced that she is expecting a baby in the fall, and instantly we all proved why no one — certainly no one in U.S. presidential politics — is allowed to have nice things.
“But what does it mean for 2016?” everyone asked, before the stork-themed paraphernalia had even shipped. “What is the geopolitical significance? How soon until the baby is elected, retires and begins its painting career?”
The amazing thing about the Chelsea Clinton pregnancy is how — like any change in the weather conditions immediately around you — it confirms exactly what you believed before. Look into the baby long enough, and you see whatever you want to see. It’s like an unskewed poll.
Vanity Fair has compiled some of the worst responses, but they keep piling up fast and thick. Did you know that this is confirmation of your pro-life stance? Did you know that this is just what Hillary ordered?
Well, it is.
It’s a 2016 gamechanger. Let Politico writer Alexander Burns explain. “Now, Clinton will be something else entirely: the most prominent American politician ever to become a grandmother. As far as sympathetic roles go, it doesn’t get much better than that.” Steve Malzberg agrees that this is a magical prop baby — spun out of thin air just in time to gin up sympathy for Clinton, who currently sports a 49% favorable rating.
What are we doing? Everyone, what are we doing?
Don’t we realize how we sound? This is straight out of Veep.
“It’s unclear how Chelsea’s pregnancy will affect Hillary, who is considering a run for president in 2016,” wrote USA Today.
“YOU WOULDN’T SAY THAT ABOUT A MAN!” some are already shouting. Well, obviously not. A man wouldn’t be a grandmother. (This is always safe to shout no matter what the other person has just said about Hillary. It is often true, but not always exactly applicable just there.)
On Slate, Jamelle Bouie is already asking whether Chelsea’s baby will become president someday in response to everyone else’s shouts of “DYNASTY! DYNASTY!”
You would be forgiven, after just reading the coverage, for assuming that babies controlled the entire American electorate.
I am terrified to shut any of my browser tabs, because I am sure when I open them again this will have mutated and spawned and the entire Internet will be overrun with thinkpieces (I use the term “think” loosely) asking “How will the Chelsea baby impact climate change?” “What does Chelsea’s baby think about the situation in Ukraine?” “How does Chelsea’s baby impact Obamacare registration?” “Which Chelsea baby clickbait are you?” (this one is a quiz) “Does Chelsea’s Baby know who did the thing on Game of Thrones?” “Will Khaleesi Clinton defeat North West in the Hunger Games?”
HOW WILL THE BABY CHANGE THE POLLS? HOW WILL THE POLLS CHANGE THE BABY? SEO OPTIMIZATION AND HASHTAGS! CLICKBAIT!
The Clintons exist at that particularly pernicious intersection of politics and celebrity where everything seems personal. If they were merely celebrities, this would be harmless — the job of a celebrity is to make you feel a personal stake in whether Jen stays together with Justin for the baby. You care. You can opine at length, attribute motives — and all you have are a few lines of announcement, some interviews and a few images of people going into and out of buildings that have been analyzed by a “body language expert.” No matter. You feel that you know these people. You buy the magazine.
“Taylor wasn’t a good fit for Jake,” you explain. “He didn’t respect her music.” You feel that you get it. “If I ever meet Jennifer Lawrence, we’re going to get along.”
With the Clintons, this popular sense that you know these people — not just the image, but the man behind the curtain — leads to the kind of embarrassing tabloid-style excess that happened with the Chelsea wedding and is happening now. The Clintons aren’t just politicians — or even politicians with a few memes behind them, like, say, Joe Biden. They’re celebrities. They’re a story. They’re a dynasty. Or so we claim.
And so we get things like this.