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24-26. Because America’s Royal Family Lives Here, Of Course

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Painting by Riccardo Vecchio  

2010 was an annus horribilis for Barack Obama, as it was for pretty much every Democrat of genuinely national stature—except, that is, for the blessed three whose surname happens to be Clinton.

Two years into her tenure as secretary of State, Hillary, at long last, commands top billing in the family, along with the unalloyed respect of the administration that she serves. The other day, when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested that she should possibly resign, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs scoffed that Assange’s suggestion was “both ridiculous and absurd … Secretary Clinton is doing a great job. The president has great confidence in and admires the work that Secretary Clinton has done.”

And so she is, and so he should. Jetting tirelessly around the world, taking the lead on pressing tough sanctions against Iran, holding marathon meetings with (and administering the occasional scolding to) Bibi Netanyahu in an effort to hold the Israeli-Palestinian peace process together, she has emerged as the Obama cabinet’s one true star. Though it’s hard to imagine that, in private moments, she doesn’t mutter some I-told-you-sos about her former rival, her service to him has been an object lesson in discretion and loyalty. For all that, she has been rewarded with sky-high approval ratings; according to a new Reuters-Ipsos poll, she is far and away the most popular politician in the country. And she is, despite her denials of interest, her party’s most probable presidential nominee in 2016.

Meanwhile, Hillary’s husband fully recovered from the damage he inflicted on himself in the 2008 campaign. In February, Bill gave us all a scare when he was rushed to the hospital with chest pains; but two heart stents later, he was back on the beat, pursuing his philanthropic efforts with the energy of a man half his age. More striking was his return to electioneering, as he became his side’s most effective and indefatigable spokesman in the weeks before the midterms, arguing his party’s brief with such clarity and gusto that the sight of it had many Democrats fairly shouting at Obama, “Yo, 44! Take a look at 42! That’s how you play this game!”

And then there was their daughter. Even the surliest Clinton haters have (almost) always made an exception for Chelsea, for the same reasons that the rest of us consistently marveled at her staunch refusal, unlike some political offspring, to exploit her celebrity, to turn herself into a reality-show dancing bear. And her wedding this summer in Rhinebeck exhibited all of those qualities in spades. Who didn’t delight at that story in the Times that featured an assortment of Clinton hangers-on whining about not being invited? How dare Chelsea restrict the guest list to, you know, actual friends! The nerve!

The accounts and photographs of the Clinton-Mezvinsky nuptials were glamorous, for sure. But for folks around these parts, they were also familiar—the interfaith ceremony, the bride in Vera Wang, the groom with his tallis and yarmulke—in a way that highlighted the degree to which the Clintons are no longer an Arkansas or Washington family, but New Yorkers through and through. The Obamas may occupy the White House, and a Cuomo will soon be back in the statehouse, but in 2010 the Clintons reasserted their status as the Royal Family of Democratic politics—here, there, and everywhere.


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