Oh, Vogue. How is it that you can run a profile of a person we genuinely like — or at least, who we think we are inclined to like, insofar as mere observers of the larger world can say that they “like” a public figure — and end up mostly leaving us constructing elaborate fantasies of the many pains we would like to see inflicted upon the writer of the profile? Perhaps it has something to do with an opening sentence like this:
“Chelsea Clinton is representative of her generation in a surprising number of ways: She has a highly developed sense of irony; a late-bloomer aspect; a promiscuous career ambition; an unusually close relationship with her parents—and, above all, an obsession with elaborate coffee drinks.”
Jonathan Van Meter, there is a cheese grater and a tub of lemon juice waiting for your ass. We have a hard time believing that any of these is a thing. Honestly.
So while we slog through the article’s seemingly endless descriptions of cunning outfits and hip locales, trying to discover whether Chelsea (we will use her first name, because this is the chatty, friendly tone we are stuck with) really does have “her father’s magnetism and her mother’s discipline,” we are treated to such insights as this, from a visit to a health policy class Chelsea teaches at Columbia:
When she finally looks at her notes after nearly an hour, I exhale: She is human. But more than that, she is engrossing. Partly, this has to do with the fact that she is a Clinton talking about health care, and, like her parents, she has a gift for taking complicated subject matter and making it come alive. But it also has to do with her lecture style: standing stock-still, speaking very slowly, her big blue eyes moving back and forth almost metronomically.
Sounds captivating, really it does. We also learn that she can be occasionally preoccupied, and uses big words! But do not worry! Chelsea Clinton also has a fun — dare we say it, even kicky — side: “Unlike most nerdy academic types, however, Clinton is also a social creature, happy to put on a party dress and go out for a good cause.” Blah blah blah labels, designers, names of people at a reception. This is not a profile of a young woman “finally embracing her political birthright,” it is a noncomedic, drug-free episode of Absolutely Fabulous — “names, darling, names!” — only minus the air-kisses.
We are introduced to Chelsea’s husband, Marc Mezvinsky, who describes himself as “just a nerdy Jewish boy from Philly.” (Chelsea’s best pal, Nicole Fox, says “He’s a real mensch.” Isn’t that just adorably ethnic?) Happily, Mezvinsky seems almost as captivated by Chelsea as our intrepid Vogue writer is:
When I marvel at her ability to speak without any notes, he says, “I would say there is a ten-to-one ratio of preparation to performance. When I first saw her mother campaign for the Senate twelve years ago, I said, ‘Your mom speaks in fully formed paragraphs.’ It defies logic. And Chelsea has a similar gift. Not sentences. Paragraphs.” He laughs… A few minutes later, he tries to remember the name of a ryokan they stayed in together in Kyoto, and can’t, so he calls out to Chelsea. She not only remembers, she spells it for him.
A ryokan! That is a traditional Japanese inn, you know! It is not as exotic as a yurt, but it is still pretty darned exotic, and Chelsea can spell the name of one! That was fantastic. That was so speedy and so smart. Once more, everything that Van Meter intends us to find marvelous about this daughter of “the crazy-great political marriage of all time” ends up being overwhelmed by our visceral revulsion at the hack who has assembled the portrait.
Thankfully, around the halfway point of the piece, something like an interview takes over, and we get more of Chelsea Clinton, and far less of Jonathan Van Meter. You really do get a sense that Chelsea, who grew up surrounded by a press corps, actually is smart and capable, not to mention adept at giving a fawning reporter exactly the mix of feature-story sincerity (with a soupçon of Gen Y irony) that he’s hoping for:
What was it like being the only child of two such towering overachievers? “Well, we had dinner together every night,” she says. “Some of my earliest memories are trundling around in the back of the car with my parents while my father was campaigning. On Saturdays we would be in Bald Knob for the turkey hunt or in Toad Suck for Toad Suck Daze — yes, there is a Toad Suck, Arkansas. And Sundays were really sacred times. We would go to church, have lunch, and we always did something new, whether it was crack open coconuts or go on a new hike. We had these rituals that rooted us very much together.”
Folksy but self-aware! The Chelsea Clinton of the latter half of the article comes off as intelligent and thoughtful, relating an anecdote about how telling her father about the solid relationships of her many gay friends maybe helped him reframe his own opinon on gay marriage: “Those conversations often start in families and then billow out into the community. Change is hard. And I was really proud of my dad.”
And does she have political ambitions of her own? Outlook hazy, ask again later. Chelsea, who is, after all, a 32 year old woman who has a chief of staff, has also mastered the noncommittal affirmative:
I certainly believe that part of helping to build a better world is ensuring that we have political leaders who are committed to that premise. So if there were to be a point where it was something I felt called to do and I didn’t think there was someone who was sufficiently committed to building a healthier, more just, more equitable, more productive world? Then that would be a question I’d have to ask and answer.”
In short, Chelsea Clinton seems nice and smart, and we shouldn’t be too surprised if maybe she runs for office someday. And Jonathan Van Meter deserves to be locked in a sophomore-level creative-writing seminar for all eternity.