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The ageist, sexist reaction to 'Grandmother Hillary'

The conservative criticism of Hillary Clinton has gone from Benghazi to babies.
Hillary Clinton speaks to members of the World Affairs Council of Oregon in Portland, April 8, 2014.
Hillary Clinton speaks to members of the World Affairs Council of Oregon in Portland, April 8, 2014.

When it comes to conservative criticism of the Clintons, not even Chelsea’s unborn child is immune. 

On Tuesday, New York Post columnist Kyle Smith, in a piece titled “An open letter to Chelsea Clinton’s fetus,” criticized the family after Hillary Clinton’s daughter announced -- alongside her mother last week -- that she was expecting a baby with husband Marc Mezvinsky. The child’s primary role, Smith argued, will be a “stage prop.”

“In two years or so, when most babies are just learning to crawl, you will be hitting the road! Grandma Hillary is going to need you to smile and coo whenever there are Sunshine Men around,” Smith writes, adding : “So play nice and don’t projectile vomit. Grandma is not what grown-ups call ‘maternal.’”

Indeed, the conservative criticism of Hillary Clinton, considered a Democratic frontrunner in the 2016 presidential race, has now gone from Benghazi to babies.

After the news was announced, pundits immediately took to the airwaves and their computers to speculate just how the upcoming bundle of joy, and the new title of “grandmother,” could affect Clinton’s presumed 2016 ambitions.

Some of the criticism – particularly from the right – isn’t exactly shocking. Conservatives have long delighted in beating up on the Clintons. Like Smith, Steve Malzberg, host of a online show for Newsmax TV, suggested the pregnancy may have been part of a plan to benefit Clinton’s potential presidential bid. “Pardon the skeptic in me, but what great timing,” he said on Friday. “I mean, purely accidental, purely an act of nature, purely left up to God. And God answered Hillary Clinton’s prayers and she is going to have the prop of being a new grandma while she runs for president.” Newsmax distanced itself from Malzberg’s remarks, saying they were intended to be humorous but “were clearly inappropriate.”

The Drudge Report posted an unflattering photo of Clinton with the headline “Grandma Hillary.” The implication was clear: she’s too old to be president. The coverage immediately sparked accusations of ageism.

And 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. 

Such rhetoric risks alienating older, women voters -- two groups that are oftentimes considered the most likely to come out to the polls. 

But it's not just conservatives. Plenty of mainstream outlets have produced eyebrow-raising coverage, begging the question of how we would treat this news if Clinton were a man.

The Christian Science Monitor ran a headline, “Chelsea Clinton baby: Will Hillary Clinton be less likely to run in 2016”? and New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin argued the pregnancy will “change the dynamic of the campaign” on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Politico had a story, “What to expect when she’s expecting” saying the “armchair thinking” is that having a grandchild “may make the Iowa State Fair a less appealing place to spend the summer of 2015. Why beg donors for money at dozens of events a month when there’s a happy baby to spend time with in New York?”

Such speculation was virtually nonexistent when 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney proudly touted his 18 grandchildren on the campaign trail. Indeed, two twins were born about six months before Election Day. “Family man” was the image Romney projected, not “my life stops here” grandparent. President George H.W. Bush also was a grandfather during his time in office.

Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told msnbc there was definitely a sexist element to the coverage. “There’s a disproportionate attention to her being a grandmother. Certainly, many men have run for president as grandfathers. And nobody worries if they can’t do their job.”

Walsh also noted that at this stage of the nascent race, while Clinton hasn’t even officially declared, anything going on in her life will be scrutinized. “Every thing she does becomes part of this ‘will she or won’t she run’ game – whether she orders a corn beef sandwich for lunch or how she parts her hair.”

Still, Walsh said the ugly, sexist rhetoric “foreshadows” what Clinton will face should she decide to make a run for the Oval Office. But it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for Clinton, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

Perhaps ironically, Clinton spoke out against how women are treated differently in the media at the “Women in the World” conference earlier this month in New York City, saying “the double standard is alive and well.” The former first lady also gave advice to young women: Don't take it too seriously.

“You can’t let it crush you and you have to be resilient enough to keep moving forward the personal setbacks,” she said.