The Granny State

Column: Grandma Clinton does not know best

Hillary Clinton
February 6, 2015

And I had thought that Hillary Clinton was having trouble developing her message. In a single tweet this week she may have revealed the slogan for her 2016 campaign. Jumping on gaffes by Chris Christie and Rand Paul, Clinton wrote: "The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest."

I have read this tweet several times now and cannot help being amazed. Clinton not only omits her own flirtation in 2008 with anti-vaccine politics, she also breaks the unstated rule of limiting oneself to a single hashtag per tweet. And she is, less surprisingly, remarkably condescending and clichéd—blue skies, spherical earths, it’s all about the children. Gag me.

Naturally the press marveled at the ability of a rich and powerful woman to hire someone much younger and trendier, with smaller and nimbler fingers, to compose and edit tweets for her. How savvy Clinton is, how above it all, floating to coronation while the two idiot Republicans adopt a hippie cause as their own. And yet the most depressing aspect of the controversy, for me, was that second hashtag, the one about #GrandmothersKnowBest.

Clinton’s flaunting of her grandchild is one of the most transparently cynical and sentimental acts of a major American politician that I can recall. We have had presidents who have been parents, and we have had presidents who have been grandparents. But a campaign based on grandparental solidarity? A novelty.

Even before Charlotte’s birth, the Clintons were finding ways to mention their forthcoming grandchild in speeches to bankers and to other paying audiences, saying they would care extra hard about the fate of the country and the planet once Chelsea became a mom. After Charlotte was born Hillary could not stop talking about her "grandmother glow."

Last month, when Chelsea gave a nauseating cookie-cutter interview to People and Elmo about her "mommy routines," granny’s assistant tweeted, "Looks like @elmo enjoyed reading with @ChelseaClinton more than when I sang to her as a baby. #tinear @2SmallToFail." With #GrandmothersKnowBest, the nefarious strategy becomes clear: Exploit the exalted status of grandmothers to capture women voters and the emotions of anyone who has grandparents (i.e., all of us). If you still are not horrified I remind you that the country faces the very real prospect of up to a decade more of this mindless treacle.

Let me just state unequivocally that grandmothers do not know best. They may have insights into childrearing. They may be specialists in their chosen field of study or in their professions. They may even possess wisdom from their accumulated years. The grandmothers in my family are all wonderful people and I love them very much so Mom please do not write me complaining about this piece. Nevertheless, joining AARP and cashing a Social Security check does not grant an individual moral authority or omniscience or membership in a protected class. Sarah Palin is a grandmother. Does Hillary think she knows best, too?

A defensible statement about grandmothers is that some of them know more than some of us on occasion. To whom that statement applies is often a matter of subjective judgment. When the grandmother we are talking about is Hillary Clinton, she actually knows a great deal less than others, in my opinion, about how to restore America’s place in the world, improve economic growth, and modernize the welfare state. No disrespect. I’m sure she dotes on Charlotte. It’s just a political disagreement.

"Who doesn’t like grandmothers?" asks Hillary supporter Jerry Crawford. To answer this question we must distinguish between grandmothers who spoil their grandkids and grandmothers who use their four-month-old granddaughter as a prop in their decades-long quest to treat the rest of us like children. Indeed Jerry you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like the first sort of grandma. Last I checked however one of the two major political parties in the United States is dedicated, and has been for some time, to not liking the other sort. And this antagonism is unlikely to change as long as Hillary Clinton represents Boomer liberalism and refrains from violence against her husband.

On some level though I suppose it is reasonable for Clinton to adopt the posture of grandmother to the nation. The Democratic Party that she leads is aging and reactionary and backward looking and spends much of its time preserving victories it won some time ago. What better protector of a sclerotic, desultory, confused, incompetent, decrepit welfare state than a rickety 67-year-old with health problems and a tin ear?

The next iteration of the nanny state is not limited government but a failing and rundown granny state. What is noteworthy is that an old white rich woman who sees the country as a collection of 300 million Charlotte Clinton-Mezvinskys is likely to be championed and worshiped by a Millennial generation that is supposedly fresh, diverse, upbeat, individualistic, and liberationist. It has long perplexed conservatives that voters who love iPhones and tablet computers and Uber vote for a party whose platform is little changed from the middle of the last century. But these commentators mistake a feature for a bug. The rules and entitlements and goodies provided by the granny state make it all the easier to spend more time on Tumblr and Vine. What is a grandmother, really, but an "immense and tutelary power"? Life is easier when she is there to take care of us.

Just don’t get too close to grandpa.