Chelsea Clinton didn’t announce she was running for office last night at the New York Historical Society, but she did an impressive job interviewing her father about the ideas in his just-published book, Back to Work: Why we Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy. The former president was making the publicity rounds yesterday, including appearances on NPR, “The Today Show” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
At a few minutes after 7pm last night, Chelsea and Bill stepped onto a stage at the Historical Society for an event hosted by publisher Knopf. After being introduced by Knopf head Sonny Mehta, father and daughter took their seats on two upholstered chairs in an intimate auditorium filled with around 200 attentive guests and talked for a little less than an hour.
Chelsea, dressed in a sleek black sheath dress and black patent leather pumps with four-inch spike heels, her blonde tresses framing her broad smile, seemed completely at home on stage. Before starting a series of mostly softball questions, she admitted she is “unapologetically biased for my father.” Though she had a stack of note cards in her lap, Chelsea didn’t look at them, but rather spoke extemporaneously, like her father and Secretary of State mother, spinning out complex ideas in articulate paragraphs. She wanted to know about the proper balance between the private sector, government and NGOs, and she challenged her father on one critical point he makes in the book, where he argues that the Obama administration should have raised the government debt ceiling prior to the 2010 midterm elections.
Chelsea got an interesting response to that question. “I’m trying to force myself to say once a day, ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I was wrong,’” said the former President, “because I think it would be therapeutic if everyone in Washington did that.” After putting the book to bed, he said he had an email exchange with his former National Economic Adviser Gene Sperling, who is now counselor to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Sperling wrote that even before the Republicans had the majority in Congress, they were prepared to filibuster any attempt to raise the ceiling. “So I was wrong about that,” said the former president.
As the two rehearsed the themes in the book -- increased infrastructure spending, the need for government to support green businesses like solar and wind power through subsidies and incentives, commitments by private sector players to expand hiring -- father and daughter both seemed completely engaged in the material.
Though Chelsea has been making polished public appearances since she came out late in her mother’s 2008 Presidential campaign, speculation about her political future heated up this fall as a report surfaced and then was quashed, suggesting that she was considering a run next year for the Westchester, N.Y. Congressional seat of Clinton family friend Nita Lowey, 74. Chelsea, 31, is currently studying toward a doctorate at Oxford, while also working with the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation, where she serves on the board. Chelsea formerly worked at McKinsey and at hedge fund Avenue Capital. In September, it was also announced that she would serve on the board of Clinton friend Barry Diller’s media company, IAC, for which she would receive $50,000 in annual compensation and $250,000 in stock. Chelsea also sits on the boards of the School of American Ballet, Common Sense Media and the Weill Cornell Medical College. Two other public steps drew attention in September: Chelsea interviewed her mother on stage at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting and she started a Facebook page.
All of this could simply add up to a young woman who is keenly interested in public policy and who is ready to play a more public role after being shielded for years from the limelight. What’s clear is that she has the poise, self-confidence and intelligence to feel at home there. Her closeness and chemistry with her parents has always come through clearly. At the end of the discussion last night, she reached up and gave her father a kiss.