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By Tom Cushing

Who, exactly, is the clown here?

Uploaded: Jul 14, 2014

Clowns are a sure-fire leed.

As an unabashed fan of Steven Sondheim,* I was drawn to the title of Maureen Dowd's recent column in the NYTimes: Isn't It Rich? That query opens the lyric of Sondheim's most famous popular song, Send in The Clowns. His anthems are thoughtful and complex, and often the melodies are difficult ? which may together account for their absence from most Top Hits compilations.

That particular musical soliloquy is a poignant ode to life's regrets: in choices made or foregone, and disastrously scrambled timing ? thus, as in the circus, it's time to summon comic relief. One verse also concludes with an acknowledgement that human folly is universal, and suffering for our mistakes is inevitable ("don't worry ? they're here"). So, I wondered, what tragic circumstance would this Pulitzer-winning columnist describe or reveal?

It turns out that she thinks Chelsea Clinton makes too much money, from activities in which the columnist also partakes, but of which she appears not to approve.

I'm not a student of Dowd's work, although her columns that I recall are usually the ones with which I disagree (her refusal to even consider leaving her church in the wake of its particularly sordid scandals, and poor treatment of women generally, comes to mind). I do understand that she has an ongoing feud with the senior Clintons; now, she's decided to extend it Hatfield-style to a whole new generation.

So, what has Chelsea done ? does it have anything to do with those cardinals sins of the young: sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, alone or in combination? No such salacious thing ? while acknowledging that the former First Daughter has done pretty well up 'til the present, she's now a fallen woman, into the very pit of Clintonianism: she gives speeches. For money ? a lot of it. She's also an NBC News correspondent, for even more money. Stop the presses -- this is a revolting development, worthy of a Sunday by-line!

How much money has the free market determined to be her asking price, you might inquire? Well, up to $75,000 a pop, it turns out, on topics usually related to eradicating water-borne diseases. Further, NBC News reportedly paid her $600-large, annually, to be a correspondent. Now, those really are mighty big numbers ? unless you can consistently hit a major league curveball, for power (there's no report of her skills in that regard). This society will pay for those who can display remarkable talents, or make us think, or laugh, or sometimes even for just misbehaving in entertaining ways (looking at You, Kim K.).

Nearly lost in the Dowd-y revelation is the further fact that Ms. Clinton turns over the speaking fees to the Clinton Foundation, one of whose causes is ? you guessed it. We used to call that "doing well by doing good." She has skillfully leveraged the happy accident of her prominent birth and engaging nature into a way to attract funds that fight suffering. It's part of a previously announced plan to endow the Foundation with some $250 million, which is a lot of speechifying (more than 3300, in fact, at $75K/speech).

That's 'good' enough for me, but not for Ms. Dowd, who simply claims ? without support or explanation ? that she's not worth that much: it's "unseemly " she writes. Dowd does not even compare Chelsea's fees to those commanded by former Pulitzer-prize-winning journalists in major publications; that would be an interesting data point, as would where that money goes. The American Speakers Bureau, which represents Ms. Dowd, required more than my idle curiosity before they would share such details.

Further, she gives young Chelsea the following unsolicited advice: "If she really wants to be altruistic, let her contribute the money to some independent charity not designed to burnish the Clinton name ?. Or let her speak for free. After all, she is in effect going to candidate school. No need to get paid for it, too." In other words, 'be less effective.' Meow.

Now is there any cause for concern that these pneumatic numbers are paid, in part, to gain influence? Certainly so, and the sprawling Clinton Foundation does suffer from charges of sloppy bookkeeping. That said, there are no Clintons currently in office, none formally running (yet), and nothing-at-all to suggest that Chelsea Clinton has been tainted by any such impropriety. And even if there was reason to suspect it, you level your charges After you investigate, and not before, by lazy innuendo.

I just find this whole manufactured attack to be, well, unseemly. Ms. Dowd never even bothered to tie the great song into her column; but don't worry ? she's there.

* 'tis said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think 'Sweeney Todd' (the play, not the movie ? a weak adaptation) is the greatest show ever, and those who haven't seen it. Count me in the former group. I've seen it a Lot.