In an interview with Mario Lopez for Extra – and Lopez should be lambasted for asking the insulting (not to mention tiresome) question about whether becoming a grandmother might make Clinton more “likable” – Palin marveled that Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, had a “real” baby in her womb, not some “disposable thing,” and expressed hope that becoming a grandmother might open Clinton’s eyes about social issues such as abortion.
“I know this is going to be controversial,” she says of her statements. Or not controversial enough given conservatives’ widespread appallingly sexist reaction to the announcement of Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy.
Many pondered whether Clinton might be “less interested” now in running for president and soliciting donations now that there’s a grandbaby on the way. They also mused whether being a grandma might “soften her image,” as Lopez suggested. Washington Monthly even wondered if Clinton might now appear “cuddlier.” What male presidential candidate was ever told he needed to be cuddlier?
Some of the responses careened past sexism and veered into lunacy. Aliyah Frumin wrote for MSNBC that “Some opponents of abortion bizarrely pointed out that the Clintons referred to the 34-year-old’s child as a ‘baby’ instead of a ‘fetus’ and that it somehow did not jive with the Clintons support to be pro-choice. The implication is those who back abortion rights must automatically be in favor of abortion instead of pregnancy.” Some cynically questioned whether the timing of Clinton’s pregnancy was strategic and Steve Malzberg of Newsmax feigned concern that the baby would be a mere “stage prop” on the campaign trail. (Newsmax said later that his remarks were intended to be humorous.)
Such ridiculous commentary stirred despite, of course, as Stewart and Frumin pointed out, that no one has ever uttered one word of speculation that a man might not be up to the duties of a presidency with a grandkid or 18. Despite that Clinton had a “real baby” and not a “disposable something” in her woman 34 years ago and presumably is well aware of babies come from.
Granted, many of us expect Sarah Palin to say stupid things, but in this case, she is not only saying stupid things but playing into the same gender pigeonholing of women in politics that she herself has been the target of.
Caroline Heldman’s 2008 column for the Daily Beast, in which she aptly describes the climate for women in politics, who routinely are painted as either capricious and flighty females or ball-busting bitches, still resonates today:
“Partisan identification and political ideology had little to do with coverage of Hillary Clinton; it was about being a woman. Prominent reporters and pundits frequently called her a ‘bitch.’ They made derisive issues of her laugh, ran magazine cover stories speculating she was mentally ill, routinely compared her to nagging and ex-wives, and claimed, of course, that, unlike men running for office, she was overly ambitious.
Enter Palin. The Daily Beast poll found that 48 percent of women think Clinton’s press treatment was fair, while only 29 percent believe Palin was treated fairly. Both Clinton and Palin received similar amounts of negative press, but the attacks were of a different nature. Clinton was disparaged mostly for trying to adopt the mantle of masculinity. She was framed as a ‘bitch’ and ‘ball buster’ for playing the big boys’ game using their rules. Palin, on the other hand, was ridiculed for not playing by those rules. She was openly scorned for playing ‘too female.’
Reporters made a paramount issue out of who would care for Palin’s children if she won. A popular liberal blog speculated that her infant son was instead her grandson. Cable news was captivated day-after-day by the $150,000 spent on Palin’s wardrobe, never asking about the expense of dressing Obama, Biden, or McCain, or noting the double-standard at play (for example, that Palin would be criticized if she wore the same suit twice).”
As for the lasting effect of GrandmaGate on Clinton, in political terms, Salon staff writer Mary Elizabeth Williams put it well: “If you didn’t respect her for her own merits and accomplishments before, a grandbaby won’t make much difference.”
Sad but true. I can only dare imagine what’s in store for Clinton if she runs. But I hope she does. The pebbles pinging the glass ceiling aren’t proving strong enough to break it; we need a rock.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.