Vogue’s first cover story on First Lady Jill Biden spends a lot of time describing her goodness through the lens of returning to normalcy: Dr. Biden reopening schools following the pandemic; Dr. Biden speaking to the Navajo Nations; Dr. Biden being thanked effusively by sexual assault survivors. She’s described as a “joy multiplier” who grades papers on the plane. (If you remember, she’s still working as a teacher, making her the first FLOTUS to work full-time while in the White House.)
In short, she is gracious and relatable, and vastly different from the last First Lady, all of which the feature both implies and states outright. And while this type of obviously manufactured coverage is to be expected from any administration, Vogue’s puff piece on a First Lady reads like a warm blanket after an administration so vile that to even compliment the First Lady’s outfit was to be culpable in a fascist regime.
The theme of Dr. Jill Biden’s debut as first lady on the women’s magazine circuit seems to be that it is OK to like the people living in the White House again. Hell, a lot of the coverage focuses on the actual decorations of the White House, following years of press about brutalist Christmas decorations and President Donald Trump’s delight in hanging paintings of America’s most racist presidents. The Andrew Jackson portraits are back in the attic, Vogue and, by extension, the president would like us to know:
“I want the White House to feel comfortable,” Dr. Biden tells Vogue. “It’s like my beach house, where you feel like you can just come in, and your bathing suit is sandy, but it’s okay to sit down on the chair. I want people to feel that way, that they’re comfortable, that it’s their house. Not like, ‘Oh, I can’t touch this.’ ”
And when President Biden serendipitously enters the story, it is as his wife’s equal. In fact, according to President Biden, he didn’t even want to be president until his wife told him he had to. The piece makes it very clear that the Bidens travel the country embracing America rather than sewing discord, a nod to the fact that the last administration incited a violent insurrection:
“He crouches into a deep knee bend, impressive for a 78-year-old, as a little boy carrying a tiny American flag comes toward him. He embraces the child as Jill lingers on the macadam behind him in black-and-white stilettos, looking every inch a goddess at 69. It’s moments like this with the Bidens—hugging children!—that bring home just how incomprehensibly irregular and out of place our previous president and first lady really were.”
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Like the Bidens’ carefully constructed casually redesign of the White House, all this is, of course, for show. But as Vogue writer Jonathan Van Meter notes, that doesn’t mean it’s not effective: “Part of what makes the Bidens’ right-out-of-the-gate successes so extraordinary is that they seem to have perfectly read the room.”
However, after for years of death, disease, casual cruelty, and an administration whose motto was embroidered right into its fashion statements—“I really don’t care/Do u?”—an administration that actually seems interested enough in preserving some semblance of giving a shit about Americans (even as conditions for migrants at the border remain unconscionably inhumane) feels refreshing. So refreshing, in fact, it reveals how abysmally low the bar actually is.