SCIONS AUGUST 14, 2013
By most measures, Chelsea Clinton has lived one of the world’s most interesting lives. She was raised by (and shares the DNA of) two larger-than-life people. She spent her most formative years living inside the very center of American political power. She has traveled the globe and met the most superlative people who inhabit all corners of it. She is now taking an increasingly large role in the Clinton foundation, and in public life more generally, as has been documented in several places this month. And yet—surely through great force of character—she is dull. Exceedingly, eyes-glazing-over-ly, admirably dull. In public, at least, hers is a perfectly calibrated non-persona.
As the Washington Post’s Hank Steuver wrote of Clinton when she made her broadcast debut, “Either we’re spoiled by TV’s unlimited population of giant personalities or this woman is one of the most boring people of her era.” Now that she has shifted over to the Clinton Foundation in an increased role, Clinton’s lack of obvious charisma matters less, and may be an advantage. Clinton has brought her consultant's brain to bear on an organization staffed by family loyalists, and imposed structure where it was lacking. According to a Times report this week on the foundation, Clinton has herded the cats unleashed by her glad-handing parents, suggesting that a former McKinsey colleague be brought in to whip it in to shape, and making sure that potential conflicts-of-interest are minimized. She is the Order Muppet daughter of the political world's most famous Chaos Muppet.
It is no small feat to be inoffensive in a political era when every slightest utterance is scrutinized for possible gaffes. It is a skill that has helped some politicians, like Kelly Ayotte, rise in the absence of alternatives, but in truth, dullness is not a long-term winning bet for a political figure—at least one who doesn’t have the right last name. Even Mitt Romney, for whom the word “dull” might seem to have been created, turned out to be a little odd in his very lack of quirk, as if someone had tipped the bottle of vanilla extract TOO much. It was an interesting boringness, an art-school-exhibition version of the strangeness that comes to fill the white space of a person bereft of personality. Chelsea, by contrast, is boring in her boringness, a walking Excel spreadsheet of causes and traits.
When Clinton goes to Africa, she finds it “inspiring” and “great.” The sublime experience of going on safari is summed up with “Spent yesterday in Tarangire Natl Park w @TheWCS, Tanzanian Natl Park Rangers & lots of elephants. Grt mtgs and day!” (She almost always types “grt,” not “great,” measured even in her enthusiasm.) The personal predilections she gives evidence of on her Twitter account are her loves of running and coffee—interests that reveal mostly an interest in working hard and achieving things. She diligently hashtags, and politely tweets @ whatever NGO or media outlet she talking about. Clinton is, in all things, perfectly correct. She is well-groomed and wears tasteful, unshowy clothing. Her youthful interests included ballet and the Model UN. She handpicks the interviews she does, and reveals little in them. In an exclusive interview with Vogue, the most revealing anecdote the author could find for his lede was a discussion of her love of coffee. (“'When in doubt,' said Clinton, 'coffee.'”)
For Clinton, the daughter of two of the most polarizing politicians of modern history, it might count as a small act of rebellion to be so deliberately uncontroversial. Or, just maybe, it is Clintonian strategizing. After all, what could benefit the Clintons as a family (and political, and business) unit more at this stage than showing that despite all the tumult of their personal lives, they managed to raise just about the most responsible, pulled-together 33-year-old in the country? It’s no longer two-for-the-price-of-one, it’s three.
And it’s clear what role Chelsea occupies now within the triumvirate. Clinton’s boringness could very well make it hard for the political career she’s hinted at to truly take off, but the extreme carefulness she’s exhibited is textbook behavior for a successful CEO. Her father is a former president, and her mother might be the future one, but I’d guess that Chelsea—if she isn’t already—will be the one really in charge of the Clinton family.
Noreen Malone is a staff writer at the New Republic. Follow her on Twitter.