The job of a candidate’s son or daughter speaking at a political convention is an unenviable one. He or she must give a personal speech, the content of which boils down to “I love my dad/mom!” but must also somehow make a case for a universal action: “Vote for my dad/mom!” As tricky as this task is, it’s also straightforward, and it’s noticeably awkward when a child can’t pull it off. When Tiffany Trump tried to humanize her dad at the Republican National Convention last week, she couldn’t come up with much more than the fact that this one time he called her on the phone after a loved one died. The three other Trump kids who spoke made their father sound inspirational but barely involved in their lives.
Thursday night, Chelsea Clinton showed the Trump family how it’s done. Introducing her mother’s acceptance speech, she started with deceptive shagginess, by talking about her own two children. Charlotte loves Elmo and blueberries, she informed us, and no big deal, I just gave birth to another kid five weeks ago. Bad-ass bona fides established, she shifted into introducing us to her “wonderful, thoughtful, hilarious mother.”
The stories Chelsea told about her own childhood placed her mother in a flattering, soft light, even as they confirmed what we already know about her: that she is type A, that she is practical, that she is deeply responsible. When Hillary had to travel, Chelsea said, she would leave notes behind for every day she was gone. Each note had a date on the front so the little girl would know when to open it, and they were all neatly stacked together in a special drawer. That is some summa cum laude parenting right there.
Unlike any of the Trump children, Chelsea was also able to convincingly emphasize her mother’s daily presence:
Regardless of what was happening in her life, she was always there for me: every soccer game, every softball game, every piano recital, every dance recital. Sundays spent together at church and the local library, countless Saturdays spent finding shapes in the clouds. Making up stories about what we would do if we ever met a triceratops—in my opinion, the friendliest-looking dinosaurs, although my mom would always remind me they were still dinosaurs.
(Isn’t there something so endearingly Hillary about injecting loving realism into a kid’s dinosaur daydream? Hillary will entertain your fantasy about meeting a triceratops, but she wants you to know those horns are deadly, and maybe you should have a plan ready just in case. Here, she made you a binder of preliminary research.)
Chelsea’s speech built its way to grander themes: Hillary as a fighter, a doer, “a woman driven by compassion, by faith, by a fierce sense of justice and a heart full of love,” and so on. But it was studded with the kind of anecdotes that can’t be faked: Chelsea chattering to her parents about A Wrinkle in Time, for example, and the importance of family movie night during the bruising battle over health care in the summer of 1994. The subtext for anyone watching at home was unmistakable: Unlike certain other political clans, the Clintons are something like a traditional all-American family.
If Chelsea wasn’t exactly electrically charismatic Thursday night, she was warm, confident, and glowing with pride. Although she is the 36-year-old vice chairwoman of her family’s foundation, Chelsea is rather awkward on the campaign trail. She has worked on her interview skills in recent years, but at times she still sounds stilted. Her mother has called herself “not a natural politician,” and it seems clear that Chelsea takes after her mother more than her father. But Thursday night, delivering arguably the most important speech of her life, she didn’t sound unnatural at all. You might almost think politics is in her blood.