Chicago Sun-Times

Public People and Their Kids

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January 31, 2009

BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

The children of public people always pay a price. Amy Blagojevich is 12 now but was only 5 when her dad was elected governor in 2002.

Her little sister, Annie, is almost 6 and has never known a time when her father was not governor.

Until now.

Political parents like to argue that their kids are off limits. The Clintons did for Chelsea. The Bushes did for Jenna and Barbara. The Obamas have for Sasha and Malia.

Most of us in the media have little quarrel with that. We've got kids, too, and, in our own way, know something about being public people.

But we -- the pols and the pundits -- are hypocrites about our own manipulation of our kids.

Which of us doesn't love having a son or daughter beside us at a big event or a happy, public moment? An election victory, a giant rally, a big speech, an awards ceremony. Lights and cameras? No problem.

But if one of us is caught driving drunk and it hits the news, by all means respect our family's privacy even though all the kids at school know whose parent got busted.

If one of us ends up in a compromising position with an intern over pizza, our own public position guarantees all eyes will be locked on our kid for some sign of the toll being taken.

And if, in Rod Blagojevich's case, a public person is arrested, disgraced and booted out of office in historic fashion, and the whole world knows he is suddenly without a job, a security detail or even a car, well, everybody asks, how are the kids doing?

We public people love to talk about our kids to perfect strangers.

Some of it is honest parental pride. But we're savvy enough to know it also humanizes us.

Just the other day, Barack Obama at the White House told anyone within the reach of a satellite that his girls' Washington, D.C., school was closed because of a little icy weather and how Sasha and Malia couldn't get over it because in Chicago, ice or not, they still went out for recess.

It's a great, cute story.

In good times, kids are charming anecdotes.

In bad times, they are aching reminders of how our ambitions can hurt, not help, those who need and love us most.

Blagojevich told MSNBC earlier this month that it has been difficult protecting Amy and Annie from the press attention.

"The reason they can't be shielded is because you guys like to hang around my house in the morning," he said, adding, "[Annie)] went to my wife just the other day [and] asked if her daddy would be governor on her birthday, which is April 5. ..."

We know he won't.

Children of public people belong to an exclusive club, and the higher the parent is in the public pecking order, the more glaring the spotlight.

Jenna and Barbara Bush gave us a sense of that recently when they shared with Sasha and Malia Obama what they'd learned. It may be of some help for Amy and Annie right now.

"It isn't always easy being a member of the club you are about to join," the Bush twins wrote. "Our Dad, who read to us nightly ... is our father, not the sketch in a paper or part of a skit on TV. Many people will think they know him, but they have no idea how he felt the day you were born, the pride he felt on your first day of school, or how much you both love being his daughters. So here is our most important piece of advice: Remember who your dad really is."

Public parents have something to remember, too. That kids will benefit from the blessings.

But at times, carry an unbearable burden.

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1 Comment

Ms. Marin.
I love your reporting. Some reporters are too "soap boxy," esoteric in their pontifications, and opinionated for my tastes. You state it like it is and let the reader decide what to do with the information.

It's heart wrenching to imagine Blagojevich and his wife having to answer the questions of a 6 and 12 year old. Even though kids at school are aware of what happened, they don't have the whole story. And, kids always feel the need to defend their parents. It's a battle they shouldn't have to fight, but it's a battle none-the-less.

I can empathize with the children of those in the public eye in my private circles and on personal phone calls, but I appreciate you using a public forum to bring this issue to the attention of the masses, regardless of how vilified the parent.

Parents in the public eye may manipulate the sound bytes, telling cute stories, in order to humanize themselves in good times, but like you said, a child, with a child's mentality, carries an unbearable burden during the bad times.

I love you, Ms. Marin. You are the best.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on January 31, 2009 9:47 AM.

The Governor's Closing Argument was the previous entry in this blog.

Exclusive: Paul Vallas will run for Todd Stroger's job is the next entry in this blog.

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