For Andrei Cherny, it seemed just like another column, one in a regular series on American politics he had written for his college newspaper.
It analyzed Bill Clinton’s win in November’s election, detailing how the president had focused his campaign on “symbolic issues” like the television V-chip.
But because Cherny had written the piece for the Harvard Crimson, it traveled far--and got him a job.
A White House spokesman clipped it to pass around to the staff until it eventually ended up in Clinton’s hands. The president liked it so much he even used portions of it in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses.
“I didn’t even recognize it,” Cherny recalled. “But then someone said, ‘Hey, remember that line? That’s from your piece!’ ”
Just months after the column’s publication but prior to his Harvard graduation earlier this month, Cherny was hired to write speeches, primarily for Vice President Al Gore. He is scheduled to start work Monday. At 21, the North Hollywood native is believed to be among the youngest White House speech writers in U.S. history.
Ginny Terzano, Gore’s press secretary, said the Clinton administration has always sought youth involvement.
“It’s possible that there have been speech writers around his age,” she said. “But he’s certainly one of the youngest ever . . . and it’s always wonderful to get fresh energy in the White House.”
Over the weekend at his parents’ Valley Village home, the straight-laced North Hollywood High School graduate displayed keen awareness that thousands of recent college graduates still living at home or serving up side orders of fries would kill to get his access to power and prestige.
“It was a right-place-right-time situation,” he said with a shrug.
He also knows that his self-motivation and ability to voice political views are rare qualities for a member of Generation X.
“For our generation, their image of government is a long line at the DMV,” he said. “But no, actually, people are interested in issues. They may not follow specifics on each candidate, but when election time comes, they know who’s in favor of what.”
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley exposed Cherny to a variety of issues, including crime--which increased during the area’s 1980s population growth--and development. He calls the area a bellwether for U.S. politics.
Cherny said he plans to actively resist the lures of beltway politics and schmoozing among the elite. “I’m really a Valley boy at heart,” he said. “I made a promise to myself to come home after this. I see the White House [job] as a chance for me to get some experience and maybe help some people back here. But the real action is going on at a local level.”
As Clinton continues to settle into his second term, Cherny has lost little of the idealism that was sparked by the Clinton/Gore ticket in 1992.
“Grand changes haven’t come to pass, but incremental changes are happening,” he said, unable to avoid echoing Clinton’s well-worn promise that “the era of big government is over.”
Government, he said, should ultimately be driven by the passions of families connecting with their evolving world.
Cherny’s family includes his 15-year-old brother, his mother, a psychotherapist, and his father, who runs the East European Film Office out of their Valley Village home.
“We used to sit around the dinner table and talk it out,” he said, adding that his parents emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1972. “Especially from where they were coming from, they knew why it was so important to do that.”