Commentary: The odd persistence of Clinton Inc.

Former US President Bill Clinton (L), Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) and daughter Chelsea Clinton attend the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) September 24, 2013 in New York.


The Clintons, America’s foremost would-be presidential dynasty, are apparently sticking around. Chelsea Clinton has new children’s book in the works. It’s called “She Persisted,” a title provided by kid favorite Mitch McConnell.

Chelsea also has a Twitter account with over 1.5 million followers – some of whom, we must assume, are actual living human beings. Her tweets, Politico tells us, are proof of a “spicy and sarcastic online personality” that has emerged since her mother’s defeat.

But it’s not just Chelsea; Hillary persists as well. She said last week that she wants to “come out of the woods” and rejoin public life. There are also now at least two movies in production about her life, and that’s not including the various dramatizations of the 2016 election we’ve been threatened with

One concerns her brief fish-gutting days in Valdez, Alaska, after graduating from Wellesley in 1969. Being Hillary, she’s told a few different versions of the story over the years, which should provide the screenwriter with a little extra room for creative license.    

There must be an audience for all this Clinton stuff, right? I’m no actuary, but if “Hillary Clinton: Fishmonger” costs very little to make, and everyone on the Upper West Side buys a ticket to see it, maybe it could make a modest profit?

Meanwhile, The Hill, a particularly traffic-savvy online outlet, writes up just about everything Chelsea tweets. There must be people who click these stories, if only because they keep getting written.

Yet the Clintons have been unusually immune to the laws of supply and demand. The Democratic Party, in its questionable wisdom, made a conscious decision to discourage primary challengers to Hillary in 2016. Her most recent memoir, the one with the title you can’t quite remember, earned her a $14 million advance only to sell at a disappointing pace.  

It can be said with confidence that there is at least one remaining audience for the Clintons. It exists among the denizens of certain neighborhoods of Washington, New York and L.A. who spent a lot of time and money over the last 25 years getting in with them. The payoff was supposed to come in 2017, when they were rewarded with ambassadorships, White House jobs, photo-ops, and the like. Clinton Inc., we should remind ourselves, was a Strong Buy until only recently. Perhaps market realities just haven’t set in yet among investors.

In any event, it’d be foolish to expect that a machine like that would just shut down completely. The Clinton Global Initiative reportedly remains open, albeit smaller. The infrastructure they’ve built can’t go away with the flip of a switch. Nor should it, as far as the good work they do.

It could be that Clinton nostalgia is a real phenomenon. It certainly is among the aforementioned affluent people who supported their various endeavors. To make matters worse, Hillary won, or so they tell themselves. The Clinton restoration would be complete if it weren’t for the archaic Electoral College, and those dastardly Russians, and those gullible rubes who’ll lose their insurance.

This belief is common among those of the high-professional class – the urbanites who work in, say, publishing and the movie industry. The ones who can spend a few million on a ghostwriter for Chelsea and an ingénue to play Hillary.

We’ll see soon enough if Clinton nostalgia stretches beyond the coastal enclaves. But liberal nostalgia is, broadly speaking, having a moment. Lyndon Johnson has been rehabilitated in recent films and Broadway plays. There were two well-received movies about a young Barack Obama that hit theatres before he even left office. That Jackie Kennedy quasi-biopic starring Natalie Portman nearly snagged her another Oscar last month.

But the Kennedys have their tragic romance. LBJ, although far less romantic, was a tragedy too. Obama’s story is a happier one. Wedged between George W. Bush and Donald Trump, millions of progressives will remember his tenure as an all-too-brief golden age.

But what’s the selling point of the Clintons, anyway? Is their story a tragedy, a farce, something else? If it’s a tragedy, it’s likely now one of sunk costs; that the Clintons’ benefactors in the culture industry, having given so much over the years, just can’t accept that it’s all over.

Hillary’s loss was heartbreaking to many, but the story of that rich and directionless campaign will never easily inspire sympathy. The Clinton administration that was, with its costly deregulations and crime bills, not to mention Bill’s extramarital adventures with women decades younger, tends to look worse in hindsight.

Chelsea, meanwhile, is closing in on 40 without ever having what most would consider a real job. She seems busy, no doubt, but busy doing what? Sitting on corporate boards? Tweeting? Giving interviews? 

She’ll run for office at some point – what could she be qualified to do otherwise? She might even snag a House seat one day. The appetite for Clintonism may be limited, but probably still can be found here and there around Manhattan. For whatever reason, it persists. 

  • Will Rahn

    Will Rahn is a political correspondent and managing director, politics, for CBS News Digital.