“Is it really that interesting when a 66-year-old woman becomes a grandmother?” That’s the question my colleague and friend Robin Abcarian rhetorically posed in her column Friday as she recounted listening, disbelievingly, to someone in the media actually suggest that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s impending grandmotherhood might have an effect on her possible presidential campaign. (The offending media person was New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin. His fellow panelists on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” were as aghast as Abcarian.)
Well, if the grandmother-to-be is Hillary Clinton, whose prominently fractious personal life with former President Bill Clinton and their only daughter, Chelsea, has been playing out like a long-running soap opera ever since she sassily declared on “60 Minutes” that she wasn’t “some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” then the answer is — yes, it is interesting.
I agree with Abcarian that Clinton’s married 34-year-old daughter having a baby with investment banker husband Marc Mezvinsky hardly rises to the level of the baby melodrama of the 2008 campaign: the teenaged Bristol Palin’s unwed pregnancy reveal, which was preceded by the viral online speculation that Sarah Palin was passing off her daughter's infant as her own. Yep, that’s hard to top.
But a political campaign is a human drama, and nothing quite fuels human drama like weddings, divorces, affairs and babies — in or out of wedlock.
No, Clinton being a grandmother (and, am I getting old, or does 66 sound young for a grandmother?) won’t inoculate her, if she runs (and you know she’s dying to) from criticism and ceaseless questioning about Benghazi, healthcare, the economy and scores of other issues. Nor will Hillary-haters suddenly grow a soft spot in their hearts for her.
But voters love a campaign in which candidates act less like policy wonks and more like their neighbors. If that weren’t the case, Ronald Reagan would never have gotten elected. Or Bill Clinton for that matter (even though he is also a policy wonk.) Obama’s course was a little different. He was more the rock star from the outset.
And I’m guessing Hillary Clinton being a grandmother just offers her one more opportunity to show a softer, playful side. Remember, this is the candidate whose (apparently) unscripted moment in which she welled up with tears as she talked to a small group in a New Hampshire cafe in early 2008 about how much she wanted to work for the country was hailed as a rare and welcome public display of emotion. Generally, you have to be a man to get away with tearing up in a campaign — then you seem human. But Hillary Clinton had been pegged as too remote back then. So it worked for her too.
The photo op of a politician kissing a baby is so cliche it almost has no impact these days. But a politician kissing his or her own (grand) baby? Now that’s worth a photo. Of course, if Clinton parades around with her grandchild too much, she’ll get skewered for that. But if we don’t ever see her with her grandchild out on the trail or chilling at the Clinton-Margolies-Mezvinsky digs, then people will think she’s not a doting enough grandmother.
I’m not saying Clinton’s being a grandmother will suddenly sway undecided voters. But what makes a presidential candidate both a winner and a winning personality is based on a complex compendium of elements. Being a grandmother — and by 2016, her grandchild will be a little over a year old — just adds an interesting new element to the profile she will put out there.
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