As Bill and Hillary Clinton depart the White House, its fitting to acknowledge that whether we love them or we hate them, weve got to admit they got one thing right: Chelsea. Shes the kid anyone would want to have: poised, loving, smart and hard working.
She went through her teen-age years, maybe the toughest time in anyone's life, with the whole world watching her, and she seemed to take it all in stride.
Perhaps most impressive is that she survived this town that can be so incredibly mean spirited without becoming the subject of nasty stories. Even when White House insiders leaked tales about her parents' personal problems (thrown briefing books and Oval Office assignations), no one had anything but praise for Chelsea's conduct.
By all accounts she was polite to the White House staff, respectful to her parents and down-to-Earth at all times. Her school friends were incredibly protective, and even though lots of them hung out at the White House, none sold their stories to the National Enquirer.
Miraculously Chelsea managed to escape most of the carping and criticism that dogged other first daughters, from the Johnson girls to the Nixons and Amy Carter. And even in an age when some journalists were digging into video rental records of Supreme Court nominees, Chelsea was left pretty much alone.
No one tried to dog her on her dates; no one tried to get her report cards; no one even trailed her around the Stanford University campus. The main reason for this seems to be that her parents were absolutely vigilant about protecting her. The rule seemed to be that Chelsea could be seen, but could never talk or be talked about by anyone who actually came into contact with her.
The Clintons realized that if their daughter gave one speech, or even one interview, that it would be considered an open invitation to invade her privacy. Early on in the administration, when she was publicly ridiculed by Saturday Night Live, and much later when People magazine ran a story speculating about her activities, the Clintons let it be known that they were furious. The offending organizations ended up on the defensive.
So what do we know about Chelsea Clinton? She once wanted to be a doctor, but has developed an interest in public policy. She' s majoring in history and will probably study in England next year. She's been spotted at rock concerts and also waltzing at the Kennedy Center. She's had several (cute) boyfriends.
She's extemely well traveled, having accompanied both her mom and dad on official trips all over the world. She's got a cat named Socks (the family dog Buddy is really Dad's pet).
On the rare occasions I have observed her in person, and even chatted with her, I have been impressed by her graciousness and good manner, but I can't pretend I know her.
In fact the public doesn't know what she thinks about anything: what it was like to be first daughter, how it felt to have her parents vilified in some quarters, what it was like to learn about her dad and Monica Lewinsky, what the world leaders she met over the years said to her, what made the biggest impression on her and what she hopes to do with her life.
Her silence had annoyed some journalists, but I haven't minded it. As a mom myself I've wanted her to be shielded from pushy reporters like me. I think it's been great that she could sneak out to the movies in Washington (where I would see her sometimes) without worrying that it would end up in the papers the next day.
And I think she has earned the right to be left alone by virtue of not doing anything newsworthy. Somehow she managed to get through eight years of being the first daughter without ever messing up even once. Still, I hope that we'll see more of Chelsea Clinton in years to come. I have this feeling that when she's ready, she'll have plenty to say and we'll all want to listen.