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March 11, 2014 12:26 PM Grammy Hill

By Ed Kilgore

In the substantial literature on a prospective Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy in 2016, it seems our own Haley Sweetland Edwards has become the first to focus on a new dimension of HRC’s life: the high probability that by the time the presidential year rolls around, she will be a grandmother.

[I]n the strange world of campaign politics, where the square-jawed Romney brood and cardigan-clad Obama girls become national shorthand for a candidate’s private life, the arrival of the first Clinton grandchild will not just be a beautiful thing; it’ll be a political thing, too. The presumptive Democratic candidate will suddenly have a new role she needs to master: grandmother. And in myriad ways that no male candidate would be, she will be judged, for good or ill, by how well she performs it.

Interestingly enough, if Chelsea Clinton does, as she has indicated she very much wishes, give birth before 2016, her mother would be in line to become the first grandparent in the Oval Office since Poppy (“The little brown ones”) Bush. But a presidential grandmother, like a presidential mother, would be a whole new thing.

Edwards notes that grandmotherly status will draw attention to HRC’s relative advanced age, though Republicans can’t really exploit that anyway since she will be a few months younger on Election Day than was the sainted Ronald Reagan in 1980 (and years younger than recent GOP presidential nominees Bob Dole and John McCain). The upside is more interesting, though:

“In a world where nearly 40 percent of new mothers are single, many communities rely on grandmothers to hold together the whole family,” said Anne Liston, a Democratic strategist. “The image of a grandmother is one of a compassionate caregiver.” Another Democratic strategist, Celinda Lake, notes that that wasn’t always the case. Twenty years ago, being a grandmother was a liability, she said. “It used to be that many would run after their kids were grown, so they were grandmothers, but they’d try to hide it,” she said. “But now we’re seeing that cohort—Baby Boomer women—actually relishing that role. Rather than being out-of-date, it means you’re investing in the future. It’s a powerful symbol.”
For Hillary, becoming a grandmother offers another particular advantage: it will give her the space to create a new public image. One that is softer. Cuddlier. More relatable. More real.

Like most woman in politics (or in business or professional life), HRC has had to deal with sexist perceptions of insufficient femininity (defined as insufficient self-subordination to the Patriarchy). Way back in 1981, she reportedly was convinced to stop identifying herself by her maiden name since that supposedly contributed to her husband’s upset loss in the 1980 gubernatorial contest in Arkansas. But a lot of observers may have forgotten the extent to which conservatives tended to demonize her during the 1990s as the ruthless Red Queen relentlessly pushing her husband leftwards. It will be interesting to see if that meme—reinforced, perhaps by Benghazi!—returns. If so, HRC’s tormenters may have to answer to the charge of granny-bashing in more than their Social Security and Medicare proposals.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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