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Carol Felsenthal

Carol Felsenthal

Posted: May 22, 2008 05:46 PM

Chelsea in 2016? Just a Minute! What About Hillary?


In these down days for his family, Bill Clinton is not only busy promoting his wife for the second spot on Obama's ticket, but he's also promoting the political chops of his daughter Chelsea. The 28-year-old numbers cruncher/investment strategist is on leave from the $12 billion hedge fund Avenue Capital to campaign full-time for her mother. Avenue, which specializes in "distressed investing," is run (and founded) by Clinton financial backer Marc Lasry.

Bill Clinton is not alone in his vision for Chelsea, who reportedly outdrew her father at some campaign stops. Newspapers have reported that buttons sporting the message, "Chelsea in 2016," under a picture of the former first daughter, have been increasingly seen around Clinton rallies.

While waiting to embark on studies for a master's degree at University College, Oxford, Chelsea, spoke, really for the first time in public -- by agreement between her parents and the press, Chelsea had been largely left alone -- in an essay she wrote for Tina Brown's now defunct magazine, Talk. She described her feelings when the planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. She was in New York that day, staying in a friend's apartment, and felt crushing fear for her parents and for her country. "For most young Americans I know, `serving' in the broadest sense now seems like the only thing to do," Chelsea explained. "Is banking what's important right now?"

Well, yes, apparently, given her decision, once she took her degree in international relations, first to work at McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm, and then to leave McKinsey to work at the hedge fund. (McKinsey has a reputation for imparting training in economics and business to people who plan to pursue careers in the nonprofit world.)

The New York Times estimated, based on interviews with headhunters, that Chelsea is making, with bonuses, well into the six figures annually. (Chelsea must have blushed while she watched her mother campaign in Ohio last February and question whether hedge funders do any real work and whether they shouldn't pay much more in taxes.) Should Chelsea give up the big bucks and move into the nonprofit field, a future in politics might explain why.

In fact, 2016 will certainly not be Chelsea's year. First, she would barely be of legal age to run and presumably would have had to prove herself by winning a less lofty office first. (Perhaps she won't have to start, as Obama did, in the state legislature, but a run for a congressional seat seems necessary.) Besides, in 2016, she might be stepping on the pumps of her mother. If Obama (or McCain) manages a reasonably successful first term and runs for reelection in 2012, Hillary might be stuck with 2016 as her last chance

Given the energy and determination that Hillary showed in 2008, she might just have it in her, at age 68, to try again. One can imagine her in the interim eating a diet heavy on hot peppers, her secret to energy and good health, she claimed, as she stumped for votes. That claim was most evident when she was courting Hispanics, so for it to come up again, assuming she's in for the Puerto Rico primary on June 1.

While Hillary was still inevitable, and before Chelsea joined the campaign, some traditionalists suggested that it was ludicrous (and scary) to think that Bill Clinton could discharge the duties of First Lady. They argued that Chelsea should be called upon to do so -- an outlandishly antiquated notion of a woman's role. To Chelsea's credit, as she explained to voters the fine points of her mother's policies on universal health care, etc., that 19th century notion has evaporated.

So Chelsea, who is said to be genuinely close to her mother (and to her father), will have to wait until her mother has given up on the dream of sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office and resigned herself to being a power in the Senate or, perhaps, if Bill Clinton has his way, the second woman to run for the vice presidency and the first woman to win.

One final observation: were Hillary to become vice president, the Clintons would presumably live together in the official vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory. They would no longer be able to live separately -- Bill in Chappaqua when he is not traveling on the private jets of his friends, and Hillary in her house on Embassy Row in Washington, officially named Whitehaven , but more commonly known as "Hillary's house."