by Meredith O’Brien
Just a few months back, we wrapped up a mid-term election season in which several, prominent female pols were promoted as “mama grizzlies” who not only protect their own children, but vowed to watch over the voters’ kids as well. And while it is heartening to see more women with children entering into the political fray, I can’t help but wonder what the impact of the uptick in political attacks on politicians’ offspring will do for future candidates who can’t bear to subject their sons and daughters to intense scrutiny as seems to be the case these days.
This thought has been on my mind a lot as I’ve been continuing to watch, with tremendous fascination, the fictional depiction of the impact of a political campaign on a family on CBS’ The Good Wife, where wading into the political waters seems particularly treacherous for families, especially if they don’t want to see their children dragged through the muck along with their parents.
The backstory of The Good Wife  sounds a lot like the backstory of any number of real-life politicians: A Chicago state’s attorney, Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) was convicted on corruption charges and also admitted to have sex with at least one prostitute. While he was incarcerated, his humiliated wife Alicia, played by Julianna Margulies, re-entered the legal profession after having taken time off to help her husband’s career and raise their two kids, now both young teens.
Now in its second season, Peter has been released from prison and is running for his old job against the current officeholder. And the families of the candidates are smack, dab in the center of it.
In one episode this season, the Florricks’ daughter Grace was stalked by someone working from an opposing campaign who’d train a video camera on the naïve kid and ask her leading questions in order to get a sound bite with which to make political hay. When Grace responded to a taunting question about exactly how many hookers her father had slept with, that was enough for the operative to use the “gotcha” moment to create a YouTube video, which was set to music, to mock the teen in an attempt to hurt her father’s campaign.
To be fair, her slightly older brother Zach had contributed to the campaign’s ugliness, by maintaining a relationship with a girl, Becca, who has caused trouble for his father’s campaign in the past (by revealing personal info about the Florricks on Twitter under an assumed name). The gal pal persuaded Zach to create a video mocking a political rival’s son, then they posted it on the internet, commencing an online war where both campaigns attack one another’s children.
In a recent episode, the campaigns hit another low moment when someone printed up fliers with a photo of Zach and Becca leaning suggestively together and asserted that Zach got the girl pregnant and that she then had an abortion. The text questioned whether this represented the Florrick family’s values. You wanna see a mama grizzly in action, you should’ve seen the reaction of Alicia when she was shown the flier. The flier was brought to Alicia’s attention by another female candidate who’s running against Peter Florrick, who had another poisonous flier in her hand which questioned whether she was “really” African-American because she’d married a white man. She’d had to hold her own crying daughter for an hour after her child saw the flier.
If only these types of attacks were just the fanciful inventions of some Hollywood script writers, making the Florrick and the children of the other Chicago state’s attorney candidates political targets.
Just think about the offspring of a handful of real candidates with these surnames names: McCain, Palin, Clinton and Brown. When and after John McCain ran for president with Sarah Palin as his VP, when Hillary Clinton ran for president and when and after Scott Brown campaigned for the U.S. Senate, their teens-to-twentysomething kids have been ridiculed, even if they didn’t make any public statements. When they did make statements, that seemed to provide folks with the go-ahead to run them down and treat them as though they were the ones running for office, not their parents.
Meghan McCain’s weight  was mocked and she was called a “useful idiot” when she spoke her mind of some issues . Chelsea Clinton was referred to as being "pimped out"  by her mother’s campaign. Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy made her the unwitting focal point of a national discussion about the subject as people had a fine time making fun of her, some even went so far as to suggest that Sarah Palin’s baby Trig was really Bristol’s . Even recently, when Bristol Palin appeared on Dancing with the Stars, a comedian made sport of her weight by calling her “the white ‘Precious.’”  Scott Brown’s daughter Ayla, a former American Idol contestant, was subjected to not only intrusive media and blogging scrutiny  but was called a “prostitute”  by a comedian. Even the then-11-year-old Malia Obama had her choice  of a peace symbol T-shirt scrutinized by the international media and bloggers  as to whether or not she was trying to send a “peacenik” message to the attendees at the G8 summit in Italy.
While it’s true that these attacks on the children of politicians weren’t driven by rival campaigns in real life, as on The Good Wife, these types of shenanigans may make candidates with children think twice about whether they want to drag their sons and daughters into a situation where they’re considered fair game, which, pre-internet, wasn’t always the case.