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08.01.10

Why America Needed Chelsea's Wedding

Chelsea Clinton’s nuptials weren’t just a celebrity-free PR triumph. They were a happy throwback to the carefree 1990s.

Last week, I’m told, a buff young guy in a red baseball hat was working out as usual at a private gym on Manhattan’s East Side when a guy just like him in a red baseball hat appeared on the TV screen, intercut with images of the former president of the United States, the current secretary of State, and their shyly smiling daughter. The guy didn’t just look like him—it was him. Seeing himself, his soon-to-be-wife, and his future in-laws, Marc Mezvinsky said incredulously, “Can you f--ing believe it?”

Good on you, Marc.

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The more the Clintons insisted the wedding was private, the more the American public seemed to feel it belonged to them.

One of the appealing things about the Chelsea Clinton wedding fol de rol was the way it seemed to escalate without being hyped by the parties concerned. The more the bride, the groom, and the illustrious parents insisted that it was private, the more the American public—or maybe just the American fabloid axis—seemed to feel it belonged to them.

A couple of weeks ago, when I saw a report that Oprah and Steven Spielberg were on the guest list, I thought: Uh-oh. Were the Clintons caving in to the celebrity-wedding lobby? Were we fated to see Donald Trump’s quivering coif looming over the reception or—please God, no—that egregious White House FOB from Lincoln Bedroom days, Barbra Streisand, alighting from a limo?

The answer is no. Not a single Hollywood celeb, elected official, or media star was at the wedding. OK, Mary Steenburgen and her husband Ted Danson were there—but Mary is an old, old kitchen-table family friend from Bill’s first governorship in Arkansas. She often traveled with Hillary on her plane when she was running for president.

There are many reasons why this post-presidential family affair in a rented Rhinebeck mansion gave off the best of vibes despite so many outside pressures to turn it into a royal (at best) or Hollywood (at worst) extravaganza. First, it’s clear that Chelsea Clinton is a parenting triumph. This 30-year-old is smart, serious, composed, and devoted.Though an only child, she has fit in seamlessly with her new husband’s sprawling, multiracial family that includes one adopted Korean sister, an adopted Vietnamese sister, two Vietnamese boys who Marc and Marjorie are guardians of, and four half siblings. Marc's best men were his brother Andrew and Zu Pham, a Vietnamese boat child who lived with Marc's family since he was a small child. Chelsea has achieved this healthy adaptability despite being raised by two driven, world-famous parents whose worst marital crisis, erupting just as she enrolled at Stanford, spilled onto the global stage in the rawest, most embarrassing manner possible.

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With baggage like that, Chelsea could have wound up in Phoenix House, or penning vituperative, daddy dearest tell-alls. Instead, the Clintons proved that their operatic alpha-ness never occluded their love for their daughter. You saw it in glimpses such as Bill helping Chelsea with her homework while his campaign aides watched the Ross Perot debate, or seeing—as I did in 2008 on Hillary’s campaign plane—mother and daughter firmly shutting the door to the first-class cabin so they could kick off their shoes, have a glass of wine together, and hold hands. It is one of the great ironies of the American scandal cycle that the Clintons are now seen as an emblematic nuclear family—and their marriage, so often dismissed as a “deal” based on hard-eyed opportunism, is seen as a clear-eyed unromantic definition of the love bond.

Secondly, the Clintons are enjoying political rosy-glow syndrome. In the light of what's happened since—two grueling wars, the implosion of debt, 14 million unemployed—the Lewinsky stain, the impeachment dramas, and the Starr witch hunt of the Clinton years seems like a crazy dream. Didn’t we know how lucky we were to be so safe? Chelsea’s wedding allowed us to remember all that prosperity, those continuous Clinton surpluses. No sticky wars then—Bosnia and Kosovo turned out more than OK. (It was nice to see, as a reminder of that, the first Madame Secretary, Albright, rattling around Rhinebeck on Saturday before the revels.) Meanwhile, Hillary, pummeled and reviled during the campaign year of media Obama worship, is now the most popular member of Bam’s administration.

It clearly is an additional bond between these families that Marc and his mother, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, know something about the Clinton world they are joining with. Marc had to endure the press onslaughts when his congressman father Ed went to jail for fraud. Marjorie was a one-term congresswoman from Pennsylvania who sacrificed her House seat in the 1994 Contract With America bloodletting to do the right thing and vote to pass Bill Clinton’s first budget, another act blasted for its tax increases at the time. (It looks like an ingenious master stroke in retrospect.) There is character in this new family of Chelsea’s and an understanding of the harsh paybacks of public life.

When I saw Bill Clinton at a dinner a month or two ago, he was already getting emotional. “They found each other,” he said of Marc and Chelsea, as if they were orphans in a storm, “and these two, they really love each other. That’s all I’m living for right now—walking Chelsea down the aisle.”

He—they—pulled it off. On the front pages yesterday, neither Hillary nor Chelsea had ever looked so beautiful and happy, the geeky groom so hunky, or the roué presidential dad so proudly statesmanlike. These were more than family snaps. They allowed a bruised nation to forget, for a moment, the jarring 10 years in between.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Marc Mezvinsky has an adopted Korean brother. It has been updated to reflect that he has an adopted Korean sister.

Tina Brown is the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown.