Children of political figures no doubt become reduced to campaign props and the public knows it. For every Chelsea Clinton or Bristol Palin that’s had to make their way into the national spotlight and smile pretty for hours on end, scrutiny usually follows, especially for young girls. If they aren’t being criticized for having a few wild nights as young people often do, then it’s everything from their appearance to their sex life. Yet when it comes to Sasha and Malia Obama, we know nothing particularly salient about them, which indicates some solid parenting by their very public parents.
I think I learned more about the Obama girls in Michelle Obama‘s DNC speech, that being middle school friendship strategizing with daddy, than I think I’ve learned in the entire four years that they’ve been maturing in the White House. And don’t think that isn’t intentional.
Jodi Kantor at The New York Times reports that unlike many other First Children, Sasha and Malia are being actively kept out of the spotlight. While stories about the girls are absolutely exchanged for heartwarming speech fodder, they aren’t being enlisted full throttle in the promotion of their father’s second term:
Their appearance will be a rare one: unlike in earlier political races, they have barely been on the campaign trail this time. They have spent this summer swimming, playing sports and attending camp in New Hampshire…The first couple clearly choose the stories they tell about their daughters carefully. The anecdotes are rarely about the celebrities the girls meet or their glamorous trips on Air Force One. If Malia and Sasha have felt anxiety or distress about the scrutiny and security they live with, the Obamas do not say so. Instead, the president and the first lady share upbeat anecdotes that reflect the rhythms of an ordinary American family…
Who knows how Barack and Michelle have managed to pull it off, but considering the massive peering eye that follows the family’s every wardrobe choice, I’m going to guess that they haven’t accomplished this feat on their own. With a respect for Michelle’s stringent rules for her daughters, and her assertion that she is “mom-in-chief,” a mother’s strong word doesn’t necessarily keep paparazzi from trying to grab an up the skirt shot of your first born — a rite of passage for any girl in the public eye upon her 18th birthday. Nor does it restrict some commenters from publicly comparing her face to that of dog as Rush Limbaugh did to Chelsea Clinton when she was 13.
Either Michelle and Barack have drawn a very distinct line in the sand with regard to how their family will be utilized, or they’ve executed an iron-clad public relations strategy that squashes as many little details about the girls from the press as possible. Regardless of their tactic, they’ve managed to pull of what many of their predecessors consistently failed to to do: keep their kids out of the circus.
Granted, the girls are still young, 14 and 11 respectively, which means that many a year of missteps, mistakes, and sheer youthful folly could be in store. But if the Obamas keep up this tactic, we won’t be hearing much about those years either.