On Monday, when Hillary Clinton issued a pro-vaccination tweet with the hashtag #GrandmothersKnowBest,” journalists quickly spotted a potential theme for her presidential run. For Hillary’s sake, I hope they’re right. Because in 2016, grandmotherhood may help her convey the quality that she so disastrously failed to convey for much of 2007 and 2008: authenticity.
It’s easy to mock Hillary’s constant talk about the obligations of grandmotherhood, but it comes with an intriguing backstory: She had lousy grandmothers herself. In her memoir Living History, Hillary’s descriptions of her own grandmothers are harsh. On page two, she says that her maternal grandmother, Della Murray, “essentially abandoned my mother [Dorothy Howell Rodham] when she was only three or four, leaving her alone all day for days on end.” At age eight, Della sent Dorothy to live with relatives. They reunited ten years later, but when Dorothy realized that Della “wanted her only as a housekeeper and that she would get no financial help for college,” they parted ways again.
Hillary’s own memories of Della are also strikingly negative. She remembers her maternal grandmother “as a weak and self-indulgent woman, wrapped up in television soap operas and disengaged from reality.” Hillary recounts an incident that took place when she was ten, and Della was babysitting, “I was hit in the eye by a chain-link gate … I ran home three blocks, crying and holding my head as blood streamed down my face. When Della saw me, she fainted ... when Della revived, she complained that I had scared her and that she could have gotten hurt when she fell over.”