This isn’t the column I thought it was going to be.
I wanted to write about three women I can't stand, children of political celebrities, who use their last names for profit, fame, or just outright evil.
Next month, Bristol Palin will give a speech at a fundraiser for The Lifehouse, a "Christ-centered" maternity home. Why Bristol?
The Lifehouse Maternity home says they're bringing the daughter of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to town because she represents the story of many teenage mothers.
Because so many teenage mothers get paid $14,000 for talking about how to not get pregnant. And what teenage mother doesn't own a three-bedroom townhouse from money they make for giving speeches, posing for magazines, and appearing on television shows?
Bristol's happy to raise money for her cause -- telling girls to abstain from sex so they don't wind up like her -- as long as she gets paid.
And every time I see Meghan McCain's name in the news, I shake my head and wonder who, exactly, takes her insipid babbling seriously. Recently, for example, she complained that when President Obama appeared on The View -– a show on which she has appeared and even co-hosted several times -- he did not speak on substantive issues. Despite her desire to distinguish herself as a hip, new kind of Republican, following her father’s primary win last Tuesday, she applauded his victory at The Daily Beast, writing:
At the end of the day, no matter how Arizona and Arizonans have been misrepresented in the media, they chose my father because of his reputation, commitment to his country, and record of outweighing the mudslinging and fearmongering. Arizona is facing serious challenges and I have more faith than ever that if reelected in November, he will be the man to help solve those problems.
So much for Meghan's campaign to encourage fresh, new ideas in the Republican Party.
And then there is Liz Cheney, the most rancid of the political progeny, using her name to promote her father's extremist ideology of war and torture, and to defend her father against accusations of criminal activities, as if her insistence that her daddy is innocent should be sufficient “evidence” for him to be acquitted in the public eye.
And then there's this:
Meanwhile, there’s the professional right, with Liz Cheney, daughter of Vice President Cheney, stoking the passions of 9/11 through the group she runs, Keep America Safe (and scared), with a two-minute YouTube video titled We Remember.
Unlike Bristol and Meghan, Liz has a résumé to her name, but can anyone think of any other former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State For Near Eastern Affairs whose opinion is so critical? Can anyone even name any other former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State For Near Eastern Affairs? Probably not.
Each of these women offends me -– not only for their positions and for the cynical way in which they use their famous last names to promote their agendas, as if they have uniquely insightful opinions to offer, but because there seems to be a collective, unspoken consensus that their last names give their opinions particular legitimacy.
But I’ve realized something: they are not to blame.
The problem is not their willingness to exploit their names. The problem is a cultural willingness to offer them such an opportunity, to take interest in what they have to say because of who their parents are.
Such willingness is certainly not limited to Republicans. Caroline Kennedy very nearly got herself appointed to the Senate in 2009, not because of her extensive experience as much as for the Camelot of old that her name represents.
Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., has made a name for herself by using the King name to lend an air of legitimacy to political positions that seem, on their face, quite contrary to her uncle's politics. For example, this weekend, she is participating in Glenn Beck’s hatefest at the Lincoln Memorial, 47 years to the day after MLK stood in the same spot to give his “I have a dream” speech. And when she was criticized for hijacking her uncle’s legacy, she responded:
It is absolutely ludicrous that abortion supporters would accuse a blood relative of Dr. King of hijacking the King legacy. Uncle Martin and my father, Rev. A. D. King were blood brothers. How can I hijack something that belongs to me? I am an heir to the King Family legacy.
At a recent rally against gay-marriage, she even dismissed her uncle’s widow, Coretta Scott King, saying, “She was married to him. I've got his DNA. She doesn't.”
Clearly, for Alveda King, her uncle’s blood and DNA grant her authority to speak on any political issue she chooses, from gay rights to reproductive rights to, apparently, the crazy rantings of Glenn Beck.
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Political nepotism has existed since long before our Warholian celebrity culture. And we do love our celebrity culture. Bernard Goldberg wrote an entire book on the 100 people he says are screwing up America, and he lists several celebrities among them, including Barbra Streisand, who is apparently destroying the country because she occasionally weighs in on political issues instead of just sticking to overwrought ballads. (Markos Moulitsas is number 52 on the list.)
It’s hardly original to point a finger at the many failings of our culture and the way we elevate celebrities, giving their opinions greater credence because they are famous. But there is something deeply unsettling about the automatic credibility granted to the adult (or almost-adult) children of political celebrities.
Whether their message is good or bad, should we be listening to these messengers? And do these messengers not have a right to participate in political discourse? Do we punish them for the accident of their birth? Do we somehow set a higher bar for them, an expectation that anyone who comes from a famous family must demonstrate their credentials? It's hard to argue that anyone who comes from a famous family is automatically disqualified from participating in the public sphere.
We’ve had political monarchies and celebrities for a long time. We’ve had media that will give a platform to anyone who will drive up ratings.
Joe Sam the Plumber Tax Cheat did not have a famous name, but he was rocketed to stardom and, for the duration of his allotted 15 minutes, given the opportunity to speak on issues that were clearly beyond his area of knowledge.
Is there a solution to the problem of a culture that gives such credence to someone like Joe -- or Bristol or Meghan or Liz?
Here is the truth: I don’t have the answer. Yes, our media is flawed. Yes, our culture places disproportionate emphasis on celebrity. Yes, we are guilty of creating and allowing political dynasties in this country, in both political parties, and that seems unlikely to change. How do we stop it? Do we even try?
I don’t know. At the end of this seemingly futile exercise, though, I know this: When it comes to Liz and Meghan and Bristol -- and really, to anyone whose primary credential is their last name -- I just don't see why anyone should listen to what they have to say.