The Chelsea Clinton wedding to Marc Mezvinsky this Saturday is heading toward the history books with a full head of steam. Driven by America’s bi-partisan respect for this dignified, private presidential child, who has endured so much, and taking place only hours from the media capital of the world, this wedding will surely rank as one of the top social events in American history.
Why do we love Chelsea?
1. She is the ugly duckling who has become a beautiful swan. As an insecure, twelve year old in the White House she was lampooned by Saturday Night Live and the butt of cruel partisan jokes. Today she is a drop dead, gorgeous young lady who is having the last laugh. She is “the comeback kid of the comeback kid.”
2. During the White House she kept her mouth shut. Because Chelsea refused to answer critics or even her parents’ political antagonists during those years she became a blank slate for Americans of all stripes and opinions to write upon. They could imagine her feelings in their own way as they watched the great personal story of her family unfold.
3. She is a survivor. We watch reality shows with less drama than Chelsea has suffered. To offer a comparison, the last president to be impeached was Andrew Johnson. His son was terribly traumatized by the process and apparently took his own life shortly after the Johnson’s left the White House. I once asked George W. Bush, “Which is harder, running for president or watching your father run for president?” He didn’t hesitate. It was harder to watch his father run.
We may never know the pain that Chelsea Clinton suffered alone, without a sibling or friend to trust, as every crude and intimate story of her parents’ life was passed over the transom. But in spite of the odds she has clearly landed on her feet. She has been resilient.
4. She has maintained her dignity. She is Rudyard Kipling’s hero, who kept her head when all around her were losing theirs. She has not become bitter. She has never answered back the terrible things that have been said about her or her parents. Not a word to a friend has surfaced. She has remained transcendent, above the angry furor raging beneath her.
Here are five other great weddings of presidential children in American history. Offer your own assessment of how the Chelsea Clinton wedding compares.
1. The White House wedding of Maria Monroe. An event marred by a murder, it was the first great social event in American history. It became the subject of Cabinet Meetings. The uninvited diplomatic corps became enraged and the resultant furor stiffened the president’s spine as he enunciated his famous Monroe Doctrine, our most enduring foreign policy initiative.
2. The wedding of Fanny Hayes, daughter of President Rutherford B. Hayes. She came to the White House at the same age of Malia Obama. And the nation followed her life. Only when both of her parents died did she finally marry. The nation was overjoyed. The ceremony was held in Ohio and the sitting president and his cabinet took their private trains to journey to the event.
3. The Westminster Abbey wedding of Esther Cleveland. Now this one gets complex. Imagine trying to explain the Clintons in one paragraph? President Grover Cleveland married his own ward in a White House ceremony. He was 49, she was 21. Much of the nation was outraged. The president did not kiss the bride at the White House wedding. But when the couple had a child of their own, the nation was smitten. It was not the baby’s fault. The lives of Ruth Cleveland and later her sister Esther were followed avidly. When Ruth died at age 12, the nation went into deep morning. The Curtis Candy Company issued its controversial “Baby Ruth” candy bar. When Esther finally married minor English gentry at Westminster Abbey in London, England it captured the news on both continents.
4. Alice Roosevelt may have had the greatest wedding in American history. She is referred to by some as the first great female celebrity of the 20th century. She shocked the nation by smoking cigarettes in public and driving a car without a chaperone but was too popular for pulpits to condemn. The number one hit song in the country was about her. There was a color named for her. Alice’s wedding to congressman Nicholas Longworth covered every inch of the front page of the Washington Post.
5. Tricia Nixon’s wedding represented the high water mark in weddings for presidential children. After the two Johnson daughter dress rehearsals, this resulted in national television specials that ran in prime time with photographs and some film footage of the event. Tricia Nixon Cox was a stunner, who appeared twice on the cover of Life Magazine.
Chelsea Clinton’s wedding comes in a different time. With a world of terrorists and suicide bombers, no parent, especially a parent in political life, wants to see their daughter’s face appear on magazine covers around the world. Privacy has become an important part of security. But the curiosity and good wishes of the American public have no such restraints. This wedding will be ranked by many as one of the ten greatest social events in our history.