Will Hillary Clinton’s new granddaughter be a political plus or minus? Will she make us feel kinder toward Hillary, or will she remind us that the Clintons have been around too long and are corrupted by the process? Or does it really matter?
Here’s my historical rule of thumb. Grandkids are usually bad for male leaders and good for female leaders. The American electorate, anyway, clearly likes their men young and vigorous like John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt. And worldwide, older women have been more successful in politics than younger women.
Maggie Thatcher comes to mind. So too does Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was revered for her wisdom. She was actually called “the grandmother of the Jewish nation.”
John F. Kennedy was portrayed as youthful and “vigorous,” his failing health hidden from view. FDR’s polio was carefully shielded by an adoring press who traded access to the boss for serving as his personal public relations team.
When Ronald Reagan’s grandchildren were photographed with the president building a snowman in the Rose Garden, Reagan’s media savvy staffer, Michael Deaver, had a fit.
The grandchildren were never to be seen. Even the children were kept at bay, when possible. The Reagan children, products of different marriages were a reminder that the president had been divorced and the grandchildren were reminders that he was old.
Even today, while most Americans can name the Reagan children, not very many can name the grandchildren who were kept from view.
In fact, many recent presidents were grandfathers with grandchildren roaming the halls of the White House. George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, and FDR all had grandchildren living, at various times, in the White House.
Eisenhower’s grandson, David, lived in the White House with his mother and father, John and Barbara Eisenhower. The latter, the president’s daughter in law, served as Eisenhower’s hostess on road trips in place of the first lady. Mamie Eisenhower had a fear of flying.
Meanwhile, in the Eisenhower White House, grandson David played with the Vice President’s daughter, Julie Nixon. Years later they were married on the eve of the Nixon presidency, thus at least one president’s grandchild helped elect an American president.
The very first president, George Washington, married the widow, Martha Custis and when her children died, they raised the grandchildren as their own. George and Martha lived with them in the president’s mansion while George served as the nation’s head of state.
America’s love affair with young, vigorous presidents may be a reaction to our European, monarchial roots. European cultures have sometimes revered their aging political leaders as if they were Kings or Queens.
French President Charles de Gaulle served until age 79. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was finally voted out of power at age 81. Otto von Bismarck served as German chancellor until age 75. German leader, Paul Hindenburg, served as president until age 86 and in more recent years, Conrad Adenauer served until age 87.
Young female leaders have a more challenging time. When a younger, first lady, Hillary Clinton tried to organize the White House push for healthcare, critics said she came off as pushy and presumptuous.
When Republican presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann, an Evangelical Christian, won the Ames, Iowa Cavalcade Straw Poll in 2011 and had a clear path to winning the Iowa Caucus, Southern Baptists leaders rejected the idea of a women candidate and pushed for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also an Evangelical Christian, to get into the race. It was a disaster. Both candidates failed.
When GOP nominee, John McCain picked Alaska governor, Sarah Palin as his running mate, critics labeled her screechy and shallow. Her biggest critics were other women.
The gold standard for modern women political leaders is the late, former, prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher. The story is that she was given voice lessons to help her lower her voice from a shrill housewife to the calm, sagacious leader that is known to history.
It is very likely that a granddaughter will only speed up that transformation. If Hillary Clinton is elected president and her political advisers trump the Clinton family penchant for personal privacy, Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky, born September 26, 2014, to Marc and Chelsea Mezvinsky, may just be the most visible presidential grandchild we have seen in a long time.
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