On Thursday night, just before Hillary Clinton made history by accepting the Democratic nomination, a video by Shonda Rhimes played on the jumbo screen at the Democratic National Convention. Its purpose was ostensibly to give viewers a better feel for Clinton as a person — as she said in her subsequent speech, “The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part.”
Early in the video, Clinton talks about the childhood of her mother, Dorothy Rodham. “She told me one time her parents left her overnight by herself; she was 3 or 4 years old,” Clinton says. “And they gave her a set of coupons so she could go to the corner café and get food. And just the image of this little girl all by herself walking down the stairs of the walk-up tenement, out the door alone, to the corner, to the café, and getting food with coupons just haunts me.”
Dorothy reappears later on — near the end of the video, we see a snapshot of Dorothy, Hillary, and Chelsea at Chelsea’s wedding. “We all hope for a better tomorrow,” the narrator (who is, by coincidence, Morgan Freeman) says. “Any parent knows your every dream for the future beats in the heart of your child. Chelsea’s heart beats Hillary’s dreams, and Hillary’s heart beats Dorothy’s. It’s how we are made.”
And then, as a photo of Dorothy fades into Hillary’s face, which fades into Chelsea’s, “The American dream is passed down from generation to generation to generation.”
It’s a powerful image, and one all the more significant because the faces belong to women — something heretofore unseen in politics. Then, in her speech, Clinton reinforced the image when she said, “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between.” In doing so, she hit on a theme various speakers at the DNC touched throughout the week: motherhood, and a mother’s hope for the future.
In almost every family home, a picture like the one Clinton presented hangs on the wall: mother and daughter and granddaughter — a line of women through the generations. By positioning herself in the center of a family structure we’re so familiar with, Clinton is reminding us of the historical significance of the moment: There’s never been a presidential candidate who’s meant so much for women. She’s also making it easy for women everywhere — many of whom have daughters and most of whom have mothers — to see themselves in her.
Clinton is much more likely to give us every detail of her plan to revolutionize the economy than she is to break out a personal anecdote. But on Thursday night — much like Michelle Obama — she presented a clear picture of her family ties and used them to appeal directly to any mother who wouldn’t want her daughter to grow up in Donald Trump’s America.