Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chelsea charmed

Skeptics like Sean Hackbarth and Don Surber have scoffed at my accounts of how the McCain magnetism magically attracts the Clinton ladies, but their scoffing would have ended Wednesday if they'd have seen the magic in action.

You see, guys, it's hereditary. Wednesday, I traveled to Shepherdstown, W.Va., to report a Cllinton campaign event for The American Spectator. Both Hillary and Chelsea would be there, so I brought along two of my sons, Jefferson, 9, and Emerson, 7. Knowing these two young McCain men would be irresistible to the Clinton women, I strategically stationed them in the front row, next to the barricade:

After the event, Chelsea moved along the barricade shaking hands and signing autographs. When she got to where the boys were stationed, I saw Chelsea -- wearing a biege jacket and jeans -- lean over to talk to them:
Then she signed an autograph for them:
If you'll click that photo to enlarge it, you can see Emerson's light blue shirt sleeve through the throng. Chelsea continued working her way toward me -- it's magic, I tell ya -- until finally, our eyes met:

I told Chelsea thanks for talking to my sons and she said (I quote): "Jefferson and Emerson? Oh, they're so cute!"

In all sincerity, I was impressed by the interest Chelsea showed in the boys. She leaned down to talk to them, and stayed there chatting for a minute, despite the crowd of other fans imploring her attention. She even remembered the boys' names.

Chelsea appears amazingly unspoiled by her circumstances. This event at Shepherd University had originally been scheduled as a solo gig for Chelsea, but at the last minute, her mom was added to the schedule -- a substitute media exposure after the Clinton campaign canceled Hillary's planned appearances on the morning news shows. Yet Chelsea didn't at all seem bothered by having to give up the spotlight for her mother, whom she introduced as "my Mom, the next president of the United States."

After the speech, there was what they call a "candidate availability" -- otherwise known as a press conference. Meet the press:

They may look harmless, but don't be deceived. They were like pirhanas smelling blood in the water, and all their questions to Hillary -- as I explained at the AmSpec blog -- were variations on a theme: "Hey, lady, why don't you quit already?"

Somehow, despite her obvious fatigue, the candidate kept her composure and answered these question politely:
From the angle of the photo, you can probably guess I was seated on the grass. Seated right next to me was -- I'm not making this up -- Gail Sheehy, who is covering the campaign for Vanity Fair. She and I talked a bit, and I told her about covering Hillary in Greensburg back in March, when the national press was already writing her political obituary.

I didn't ask any questions during the press conference, and never do. I'm content to leave the questioning to the traveling press -- "the travelers," in campaign shorthand -- who follow the candidate around on a full-time basis. You're not going to get anything exclusive at a press conference anyway, and the travelers are probably best qualified to grill the candidate about the topic du jour.

In one sense, I feel sorry for the travelers. They cover so many campaign events, they inevitably get jaded and don't pay much attention to the carnival hooplah that a big campaign brings to a small town like Shepherdstown.
For the local residents, whatever their politics, it's a chance to see somebody famous, and the supporters at these events are almost always endearingly enthusiastic. But the full-time campaign reporters have deadlines to meet and editors to please, and they seemingly pay little attention to the crowds and the scenery. For instance, I saw one young woman who got tired of broiling in the noon sun and decided to chill out on the bank of the creek that runs through a stone-walled course beside the the building where the rally was held:
A full-time campaign reporter for Associated Press or the New York Times never gets to take time to notice little vignettes like that. Instead, they're consumed by the competitive frenzy of the whole thing. And if, after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, the big angle is "when will Hillary quit?" the travelers will all be going after that angle with everything they've got.

It's kind of embarrassing to watch. And anyone who looks at Hillary Clinton and sees a human being -- a pandering liberal human being, but still a human being -- cannot help but feel sympathy while watching her stand in front of a gang of reporters slinging hostile "gotcha" questions.

A painful thing to watch, and the pain is doubled when this arena bloodsport is being witnessed by the candidate's daughter. While Hillary fielded questions, Chelsea was standing off to one side, smiling politely. Imagine watching your own mother getting raked over the coals. I'd be tempted to start shouting: "You miserable little media twerps! Leave her alone! I don't care how many times you rephrase the question, the answer is still no. She's not quitting, OK? Now, shut up before I come over there, grab your laptop and shove it where the sun don't shine."

Yet Chelsea just stood there, mute and smiling. Amazing.


  1. A very sweet campaign story, the kind we could use much more of. Kudos to you! Now, maybe next time you can work Hunter in?

  2. Shawn, if you really want to escalate the Gonzo one-upmanship, just remember I was digging Thompson before you were just a gleam in your father's eye.

  3. No, no, I kid and defer to you on the subject entirely. This is such a great blog, too.

    By the way, that was less a gleam, I think, than a look of 'Oh, shiiit.'