Last Thursday, at a Clinton Foundation event in New York City, Chelsea Clinton casually announced her pregnancy in her remarks, saying, “I certainly feel all the better – whether it’s a girl or a boy – that she or he will grow up in a world so full of so many strong young female leaders. I just hope that I will be as good a mom to my child, and hopefully children, as my mom was to me.” Because the American news media and punditry cover the Clinton clan’s every move like fourteen-year olds do One Direction, there was immediately a barrage of tweets, articles, and soundbites on how Hillary’s status as a future grandmother will affect her presidential candidacy, which is already seemingly old news, albeit not yet confirmed. Though 34 year-old Chelsea’s pregnancy, by spouse and Manhattan financial magnate Marc Mezvinsky, comes as no surprise, the extent and tone of the media coverage surrounding it was more sexist, prolonged, and overdramatic than could have been predicted.
On his Monday show, Jimmy Fallon crassly commented that, “If it’s a girl, it’ll get some of Chelsea’s old hand-me-downs, and if it’s a boy, it’ll get some of Hillary’s” to audible booing from his studio audience. Similarly, Charlie Rose posed the dichotomic question to his viewers, asking “President or grandmother?”, refusing to entertain the compatibility of the two. Worse still, news outlet Politico speculated as to how the littlest Clinton will affect Hillary’s ‘thinking’, writing, “Yet for months- at least- many in the extended Clinton political orbit have also shared the view that Chelsea Clinton’s family status would weigh on her mother’s 2016 calculus in one way or another…having a grandchild may make the Iowa State Fair a less appealing place to spend the summer of 2015. Why beg donors for money at dozens of events a month when there’s a happy baby to spend time with in New York? On the other hand, a grandchild could also heighten the pull of history for Clinton—the sense that she owes it to the daughters of future generations to walk the rest of the path toward becoming the most powerful woman in history.” Although this kind of speculation may appear merely painstaking, the deep-rooted sexism apparent in this dubious speculation about whether Hillary could be a grandmother and a presidential candidate is extremely troublesome.
Not surprisingly, Mitt Romney has 22 grandchildren (he infamously miscounted them in a tweet late last year), the consideration of which never came up in the 2008 election cycle. Nor did the fact that Obama would be co-raising two young daughters in the White House. The notion that Hillary’s having one granddaughter in New York would distract her from the work of running for, or occupying, the highest office in America, inappropriately relegates her to the ‘domestic sphere’. For years, the press has sometimes dwelled on her pantsuits and coiffed ‘do instead of her politics as New York state Senator and later Secretary of State, and this inordinate focus on Hillary’s domestic and aesthetic qualifications has been further present in the continued commentary on the announcement of Chelsea’s pregnancy. Assuming Hillary will indeed run, the electorate would be disserved by this tone and scope of media coverage. Though the boundaries regarding the American media and assumed candidates are admittedly unclear, the ‘celebritization’ of Hillary, and the media coverage that entails, establishes her in the public consciousness as a less-than serious figure, which could be a dangerous precedent for female candidates running for the most serious office in American politics.
Aside from being sexist, the coverage of the Clinton-to-be has been downright overblown and unnecessarily extensive. Commentators on the far right were baffled that an openly pro-choice woman could be choosing to keep a baby, possibly the height of neocon nonsense. Fox News media analyst Lauren Ashburn even speculated that the pregnancy was calculated to boost Hillary’s popularity in time for the primaries, cynically speculating that, “I think a lot of reporters think maybe this was planned.” This overblown, paranoid reaction is worryingly not confined to the overtly partisan media, with New York Times Andrew Sorkin commenting on “Morning Joe” that this is political calculation attributable to former President Clinton, and that the pregnancy will “change the dynamic of the campaign”. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza of The Fix tweeted that Chelsea had “stepped on” President Obama’s announcement of the signup of 8 million Americans to purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Many news outlets indeed reported the two simultaneously, overly politicizing Chelsea’s pregnancy to the utmost extent. Though by no means suggesting that we should handle the Clinton clan with undue sensitivity, the overdramatic element of the Clinton pregnancy coverage risks oversaturating and alienating lukewarm liberals who are not as “Ready for Hillary” as the eponymous Super PAC suggests. Right-wing hatred and anatagonism may be heightened as a result of the prevalence of this cloying and overdramatic media attention to the Clinton family.
If the media hailstorm continuing to surround her daughter’s pregnancy is any indication, we’ll all need to invest in steel umbrellas in preparation for the seeming eons-long 2016 election cycle ahead.