After Republican 2016 hopefuls spent a day struggling to finesse the vaccination debate, the 67-year-old Clinton weighed in roughly an hour before midnight: “The science is clear,” she tweeted late Monday. “The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest.”
— Hillary Clinton, grandma-in-chief, Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico, yesterday
That’s right, folks. Hillary Clinton thinks that the debate (such as it is) about childhood vaccines concerns whether or not the vaccines are effective in preventing the targeted diseases, rather than whether the vaccines can have the side effect of causing autism.
Most people, I’m pretty sure, know that the controversy actually concerns a research paper (published in 1998) that suggested a causal relationship between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and the increase in the rates of diagnosed autism in recent decades, a research paper that has long been discredited. But apparently Clinton is unaware of the nature of the controversy and thinks it’s about the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing measles, mumps and rubella.
Or else she thinks that a cutesy social-media sound bite announcing which side she’s on in this current, high-profile controversy—even a sound bite that misleads about the very nature of the controversy—is a good idea because the subject provides a tie-in with her new status as a grandmother. Discussing the actual nature of the issue would require more than 140 characters and some intellectual input, especially if the statement would provide facts such as that the research study at the heart of the debate has been debunked. So that’s out-of-the-question. The purpose isn’t to persuade about an important and imminent matter; it’s to make a statement about her campaign.
The Politico article focuses mainly on her hashtag, #GrandmothersKnowBest. After all, it is not a surprise that Hillary Clinton supports vaccinating young children, and so the real purpose of the tweet must be to announce that she plans to run as a grandmother, right? As opposed, I guess, to Jeb Bush’s running as a grandfather and who therefore doesn’t care about his grandchildren’s future. Or as opposed to Scott Walker’s running as father (he may not yet be a grandfather) and who therefore doesn’t care about his kids. Which is a sure bet to win Clinton the general election, since what really matters to voters is not a candidate’s proposed policies and their expected effects upon the voter’s grandchildren or children but instead that Clinton, by virtue of being a woman, is a grandmother who really, really loves her grandchild.
Just as Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election because the voters weren’t aware that he adores his family and that he also had assisted fellow members of his Boston parish who faced severe financial or medical adversity, rather than because of his bizarre policy proposals and his denigration of and revulsion toward huge swaths of Americans, Clinton lost the 2008 nomination contest because Chelsea hadn’t yet had a child. Shucks!
I myself don’t think that her hashtag invocation of her new identity as a grandmother itself necessarily indicates a decision to campaign on the theme that she’s a grandmother; the tweet was, after all, about vaccinating young children. But that may be wishful thinking on my part. The woman/grandmother campaign theme choice has been telegraphed for months now. It may have to suffice in lieu of an economic-policy theme that isn’t limited to clichés and sound bites.
What strikes me is Clinton’s utter unawareness that this message—which is that women, or at least grandmothers who love their grandkids, are fungible, and that female political candidates’ actual policy proposal, and the depth of their policy-related knowledge, are unimportant—is deeply demeaning of her target demographic: women. But it does seem to be what she believes, because she keeps saying it, mantra-like. (If you’re not a grandmother, how can you possibly understand economic issues, right? And if you are a grandmother, how can you possibly not be qualified to be president? Being a grandmother itself qualifies you, because of all that knowledge you have about the effects of different economic-policy proposals. Some grandmothers support Keynesian economic policies and higher taxes on the wealthy; other grandmothers support supply-side fiscal policy and evisceration of regulation on the banking and energy industries; but which side of that policy divide the grandmother supports doesn’t matter, because the grandmother is a grandmother.)
The Politico article quotes a tweet by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol yesterday: “Am I the only one who finds Hillary’s #GrandmothersKnowBest hashtag not just cloying but creepy? Welcome to the grand-nanny state.” No, he’s not the only one who finds Hillary’s #GrandmothersKnowBest hashtag cloying; I can attest to that. But he misses the mark by thinking that the hashtag suggests a grand-nanny state. The hashtag is utterly devoid of content, other than that Clinton is a grandmother.
What is creepy is that in this era in which, finally, after three-and-a-half decades of rightwing-economic-policy dominance, those policies are thoroughly discredited, their results clearly disastrous, and the American public knows it—yet the Democrats are about to nominate as their presidential candidate someone who thinks that an anodyne campaign run in Twitter-size clichés is the sure ticket to victory in November 2016. Equal pay for equal work, a longtime staple of progressive politics, is most certainly important, and along with raising the minimum wage (very important) is the most (the only) substantive part of her sound bite campaign. But these are not at the heart of the economic/fiscal and regulatory policies needed to cause critical fundamental changes in the particulars of this country’s economic trajectory; they don’t get the fundamentals. Nor are glass-ceiling limitations, that dearest-to-her-heart of issues.*
This whole idea of a puppet-puppeteer candidacy, in which the candidate herself brings to her candidacy no particular policy message about the seminal economic issues of this era, and instead has some behind-the-scenes committee devising ones for her to choose among and recite on the campaign trail, seems to me absurd. When it was revealed a week or two ago that Clinton has decided to delay yet again the formal announcement of her candidacy, I hoped against hope that she’d decided to put off her announcement that she will run in the November 2016 election until, say, December 2016.
But since she will instead, apparently, deign to formally announce sometime before that, I hope she at least closes her Twitter account. Soon. Her eventual opponent is unlikely to be Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul or Sarah Palin. And Jeb Bush and the current panoply of governors who are about to be presidential candidates do not, at least thus far, appear to confuse nursery-rhyme-like Twitter inanities with policy statements. And unfortunately, John Boehner does not appear to be interested in running. So Clinton might have to discuss policy. In at least 150 characters.
Two or three weeks ago, Bill Clinton was quoted in an article I read discussing some economic policy issue. I can’t recall the specifics, but I think he made his comment in a formal interview, although it might have been just an offhand comment to a reporter covering a conference that Clinton was attending. His comment was three or four sentences long, and entailed tying together two or three complexities to make a policy argument, which he made well, in clear informal language. I remember playing a little mental game with myself. I tried to imagine his wife saying what he said, or even knowing what he knew about the subject. Then I just chuckled. But it’s not very funny.
Rather than tweeting an inanity in order to signal her support for inoculating children against measles, mumps and rubella, she could have released a statement explaining that the 1998 study that suggested a connection between the vaccine and autism has been discredited. I mean, theoretically, she could have.
Clinton’s not quite George W. Bush. But, on the steeped-in-domestic-policy-specifics front, neither will anyone mistake her for Golda Meir, or Margaret Thatcher, or Angela Merkel. All of whom, at the time they ascended to the pinnacle of their respective governments, were parents of adult children and were, or were soon to become, grandmothers. Nor will anyone mistake her for Elizabeth Warren, who also is a grandmother but who (to my knowledge) doesn’t tweet at all but does engage in in-depth discourse about economic, fiscal and regulatory policy. Sometimes even in public!
The Politico article suggests that Clinton’s strategists think the grandmother tack lessens her vulnerability about her age—she’ll be 69 by the election date—by turning her age somewhat to her advantage. It hasn’t occurred to them, or, I guess, to her, that since what the public actually cares about is policy—especially economic policy—the way to lessen her vulnerability about her age is for her to understand the nature of current economic problems, and to address them with specifics. Most people don’t mistake being a loving grandmother for a set of economic policy proposals. Then again, most people aren’t members of Clinton’s inner circle.
Sarah Palin, a grandmother, clearly loves her family, but also clearly would not make a very good president. She does, however, tweet a lot. Maybe the Democrats should nominate her. She’ll be only 52 on election day.
*Paragraph edited slightly. 2/5 at 12:37 p.m.