Grandparents and Grandpresidents

Disclaimer: This blog is not an endorsement for Hillary Clinton. Far from it. We don’t even know if she is running for President yet. But we do know that she is projected to be a grandmother. Who knows? Even if she does run, she may run against someone who is also a grandmother or grandfather. Does that matter?

The last President of the United States to be a grandparent in office was George H.W. Bush. Probably there were many more in history, though of course they were all grandfathers. One point of view is that we don’t know more about that because it is irrelevant, as Rebecca Traister wrote for the New Republic in “How to Be Less Stupid About Hillary Clinton’s Future Grandchild”. She emphatically concludes:

“ . . . no one in the history of presidents has ever cared about whether or not they have grandchildren or ever will have grandchildren because if is truly one of the dumbest things to care about in the universe.”

I suppose, then, that this could be a dumb post. Let’s call it my grandparent hypothesis, after the “grandmother hypothesis” discussed by Alison Gopnik in the Wall Street Journal’s Mind & Matter article, “Thank you, Grandma, for Human Nature”. From an anthropological point of view, it discusses the possibility that grandmothers played a major role in the evolution of human beings. To give our babies a protracted time to grow large brains, biological mothers needed help. In forager societies, it was the grandmothers who not only helped with childcare, but even shared breast-feeding by “relactating”. In other words, grandmotherhood developed at the same time as long childhoods.

I expand grandmother to grandparent because in our times the role of men is increasing in fathering and grandparenting. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that my wife well outshines me in being a grandparent.

Yet, there was something still very powerful, perhaps bubbling up from my unconscious, which happened when I became a grandparent. One of many highlights was when the birth of my now 7 year old granddaughter stimulated the epiphany that I had leading to my climate change activism. It happened when I went to the grocery store for her family and was asked, “paper or plastic”? For the first time, I was speechless and anxious, as I sensed my answer could have something to do with the future viability of the environment she was to live in. Now, my correct answer would either be neither, if I could carry the items without a bag, or “thanks, but I brought my own bag”.

It is right here, in the climate debates, that grandparenting and grandpresidenting may merge. Any President has to balance present societal needs with projected future needs. In politics, just as in our everyday life, it is easier to focus on our immediate problems. Our brain is built that way. We have a ready “fight or flight” response for immediate danger, but nothing like that for future danger other than what could be called a “hug and shrug” reaction. No wonder, then, that as global warming has become of increasing concern to climate scientists, the response of our Presidents has been lukewarm, possibly due in part to their concern about current energy needs and the economy.

I would hypothesize, then, that being a grandparent would shift the balance a bit toward the future and the well-being of generations to come. Others might disagree. Being a grandparent will pull the President away from the job, they might counter. Why, a grandparent president might even take time away from their immense responsibility to bake cookies for their grandchild! Of course, such time away might rejuvenate a President and bring the joy necessary to help sustain mental well-being.

Here’s my only political statement, if you can call it that. If all other variables seem about equal, would you vote for the candidate who is also a grandparent, or not?

H. Steve Moffic, M.D., 67, retired from clinical practice at 66. He was fondly deemed a “psychiatric gadfly” by the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry where he first trained. His book The Ethical Way: Challenges and Solutions for Managed Behavioral Healthcare, published in 1997, was the first extended discussion of the ethics of managed mental health care.







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