How different our politics might be if presidents and presidential wannabes were like priests, sworn to celibacy. Bill Clinton might still be in Hot Springs. We're forced, among other things, to listen to what wives and children (and maybe soon a husband) say and watch what they do. Families are sometimes assets, occasionally liabilities and often casualties.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy, was a natural for Washington, and ravaged friend and foe with her tart tongue. "If you haven't anything nice to say about somebody," she famously said, and even embroidered it on a sofa pillow, "come sit next to me." Not all presidential children are so effectively armed. Some get attention by embarrassing their parents. Patti Davis, daughter of Nancy and Ronald, still angry and rebellious in 1994 at the age of 41, posed nude for Playboy magazine.
Harry Truman's most memorable domestic moment came when he fired a letter to the music critic of The Washington Post who wrote that his daughter Margaret could not really sing very well. "Some day I hope to meet you," the president wrote back. "When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below."
Hillary Clinton primly defended her choice of an expensive private school, rather than a public school, for first daughter Chelsea Clinton. She blamed the press -- and not just the vast right-wing media conspiracy -- for making her choose because reporters could not be prevented from harassing their daughter at such a public place. This was nonsense, of course; she couldn't bear identification as another Washington liberal who talks being democratic but walks elitist. The New York Times reported with breathless excitement the other day that if Hillary is elected president, Chelsea will be a presidential child again.
Vanessa Kerry, whose father lost in 2004, described the dilemma that an adult child of a candidate faces: She can hide to live a normal life, or give up privacy altogether. Either way, the paparazzi will be there. Al Gore's adult son, who apparently wants to drive only in the fast lane, having been arrested again for speeding, invoked his daddy's name when he was arrested and busted for possession of marijuana. But he has to take a drug education course, anyway.
If the toll of politics is hard on the children, it's even harder on the wives who must endure the slings and acid-tipped arrows of a voracious and sometimes vicious press. Kitty Dukakis, whose husband lost in 1988, confessed to being addicted to both drugs and alcohol. So did Betty Ford, who then established a clinic for drug and alcohol abusers like herself.