Sitting in the audience Friday during Hillary Clinton's speech at the New America Foundation's "Big Ideas for a New America" conference, I got the sense that in January 2017, she wants to assume power as grandmother in chief of the United States of America.
Clinton already seems to be running. The National Journal published a piece about the speech with the headline "If This Isn't a Potential Hillary Clinton Campaign Speech, What Is?" Ashley Parker's New York Times article opened with this: "Hillary Rodham Clinton weighed in on the debate over income inequality on Friday, calling for policies intended to help the struggling middle class, in a speech that seemed suited to a campaign."
Here's some of what Clinton said:
Speaking of times, this is a particularly special one for me and my husband. We are still reveling in the fact that we're going to become grandparents, and I've already learned that when you're about to become a parent for the first time, you know, you can be a little terrified at the prospect and the responsibility. But becoming a grandparent for the first time, nothing but joy and excitement, very little responsibility. So I'm especially looking forward to that. My only regret is that my late mother won't be here to meet her great-grandchild. She would have been over the moon and filled with good advice, not only for the parents but for the grandparents.
I don't think Clinton would ever suggest that being president is a job that involves "very little responsibility." However, there is an apt comparison between president and grandmother, one that Clinton would probably endorse. New parents look to their own parents to guide them through unfamiliar terrain. The American people look to the president to do the same.
Similarly, grandparents find comfort -- and extend it to others -- in returning to a familiar role, slightly changed. In calling to mind her own mother, Clinton made clear that she is both matriarch of her current family and part of a continuous chain. "That's really how America is supposed to work: each generation striving to create opportunity for the next," Clinton said. Family is cyclical. For the Clintons, so is politics.
Clinton ended her speech in the mode of village elder: "I'm an optimist, and I believe the time has come for us to begin not only a conversation but a serious effort to see which big ideas will renew America for our sakes, for our children and, yes, for our future grandchildren. It won't surprise you to hear me say I think it really does take a village."
Do we want a grandmother as president? The right will be sure to highlight Clinton's age and health; Karl Rove is already out ahead of the pack. But "grandmother in chief" has a certain appeal. Barack Obama's presidency has made clear that we get to elect only a president every four years, not a new political system. Clinton is not young. She is not hip.
She did not fill the room with hope and change so much as maturity and wisdom. And that might be to her advantage: In 2008, we elected a friend. In 2016, we might be ready for a grandmother.
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