Even if she never becomes President, Hillary Rodham Clinton has achieved many extraordinary things. She made history by winning a Senate seat after serving as First Lady. As Secretary of State, she became enormously popular with the American people. And she is now odds-on favourite to be the Democratic nominee, and the first woman from either major party to achieve that honour.
But there is one claim made of the woman who put “18 million cracks” in the glass ceiling the last time she ran for president which I simply cannot abide. And that is the claim that she’s making it ‘cool to be a grandmother’.
Heidi Stevens’ article in the SMH last week claimed that Hillary would give grandmothers “street cred“, while some commentators have used the term “Cool Grandma” to describe her. People magazine has been talking about her as a potential “grandmother-in-chief“, and the candidate herself used the hashtag #GrandmothersKnowBest to weigh into the vaccination debate.
Yes, she’s a grandmother, courtesy of Chelsea’s daughter Charlotte. And it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge what a groundbreaking thing it is to have a woman of any age as the presidential frontrunner.
But the claim that Hillary’s potential seat behind the famous Resolute Desk in the Oval Office will somehow endow grandmothers everywhere with a fashion status that they don’t currently have is absurd – because grandmothers are already incredibly cool.
When I was a kid, there was no doubt that my two grandmothers were the two coolest adults I knew. My dad’s mother Gwen had a house with a swimming pool, making visiting her quite literally the coolest thing we could do. My brother and I spent hour after hour in that pool, until even the wrinkles on our fingertips had wrinkles.
Indoors, she had a massive walk-in pantry with an entire wall of biscuits. In those screw-tight jars, the enticing feel of which I can still recall whenever I browse through the biscuit aisles of any supermarket, you would find pretty well every single biscuit available on the Australian market. Iced Vo-Vos, Ginger Nuts, Milk Arrowroots, Jatz, Kingstons, Honey Jumbles, Mint Slice – they all had their place. For all I knew, there was a conveyor belt up the back that led directly to the Arnott’s factory. Given the constant access to biscuits, it’s a good thing we burnt off all those calories in the pool.
Each morning, she and my grandfather used to fill out the crossword, and she’d let me help her. When I got it wrong, it didn’t even matter because she had this cool biro with an eraser. It was the best.
Every school holiday, she’d take us shopping at renowned malls like Macquarie Centre and Chatswood Chase. She’d let us drag her around surfwear shops for hours (it was the ’90s, so boardshorts were a thing), and never mind when, faced with the dizzying range of flavours on offer at the enormous food court, we always chose McDonald’s.
One day, in Westfield Chatswood, she bought me Madonna’s Like A Virgin for Christmas. This shocked her own offspring, who had presumed she wouldn’t have been into the racy Material Girl. But of course she was cool with it, because she was a Cool Grandma.
My other grandmother Clare had an enormous collection of children’s books, because she was a children’s literature academic. She encouraged me to read from a very early age, and whenever I went over, there was always some new book to check out. I always wanted to read everything, because I loved nothing more than to win the approval of my ever-encouraging grandmother, and as a reward I wound up with a lifelong love of reading.
She and my grandfather had a series of excellent dogs, most significantly a golden retriever called Bart who was so good-natured that he didn’t seem to mind when my brother and I subjected him to indignities that no animal should be asked to endure, especially when Bart was in no way a “horsie”.
Later on, they moved to the country and we’d visit them for days on end during the school holidays. Crucially, they bought a ping pong table, which meant hour after hour of tournaments with my little brother, who would generally beat me, leading me to try and modify the rules of the sport in my favour.
Once she and my grandfather bought my brother a rocket kit for Christmas, but the first time we tried it, the rocket went incredibly high up in the air and landed so far away that we never found it again. But she just laughed, because she too was a Cool Grandma.
My grandmothers always came to our school plays, even the one where I had a walk-on role for 30 seconds, at the end of which I fell flat on my face while trying to climb a staircase. They were always there for my brother, my cousins and me, and their constant babysitting efforts must have helped my parents enormously.
So if you want to argue that a grandmother has what it takes to run the free world as Commander-In-Chief, then that makes all kinds of sense to me. Both my grandmothers were educators, and I’m sure they would have been more than comfortable staring down a four-star general in the Situation Room.
A number of commentators have pointed to Hillary Clinton’s adoption of the grandmother label as a way of embracing a degree of relatability, even folksiness, that wasn’t there last time she ran. Her life is nothing like ordinary Americans’, and hasn’t been since way back in 1979 when she became First Lady of Arkansas at the age of 31. And there’s nothing wrong with that – surely her vast experience is part of her pitch to voters. But it’s important to at least appear to be one of the people, as George W Bush did so successfully, even if objectively, a President’s kid who went to Yale was about as 1% as you could get.
In other words, becoming a grandmother is making Hillary seem cooler. Perhaps this new, friendlier identity will make undecided voters warm to her. Maybe she’ll convince middle America that grandmothers even know best when it comes to the State Department’s email policies and Benghazi?
There’s a good chance that Hillary Clinton will make history at the end of next year. But as she tries to woo the American people, we should ask not what Hillary can do for grandmothers. Rather, it seems that the collective awesomeness of the world’s grandmothers might make all the difference for Hillary in 2016.