09/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Grandparents Day Hijacked by the Health-Care Debate? Awesome!

March on Washington shows the holiday has arrived. Coming soon: White sales?

As the battle over healthcare reform heats up, critics of President Obama's proposals on both the right -- who believe the administration's plan goes too far -- and the left -- who say the White House's ideas don't go far enough -- have been stepping up plans for public protests.

Conservatives are organizing a march on Washington, D.C., to make their case against "Obamacare" on September 12. And now Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, has announced plans for a similar rally on September 13, Grandparents Day, to demand that Congress approve a health-care reform bill that includes a government-administered "public option."

Reich says his proposed rally is specifically timed for Grandparents Day because "I've just become a grandparent, and I'm worried as hell about the kind of world my little granddaughter is inheriting." One could argue that Reich and his allies are hijacking Grandparents Day for their own partisan ends. To which we at say: It's about time! Because if Grandparents Day can be hijacked, by political groups of either stripe, or, for that matter, by car dealers or charity telethons, that means the holiday, now in its 30th year, has finally arrived. Just like Washington's Birthday or Labor Day, Grandparents Day is open for business. Gentlemen, start your white sales.

Humble Beginnings

Contrary to popular belief, Grandparents Day was not started by Hallmark to drive third-quarter greeting-card sales. It was the brainchild of the late Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade, an Oak Hill, W. Va., housewife who was the mother of 15, the grandmother of 43 and the great-grandmother of 15. McQuade worked with senior citizens for many years and originally intended for the holiday not only to recognize grandparents but also to bring attention to the needs of people living in nursing homes. She began her campaign locally in 1970 and it steadily gained momentum until President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation declaring September 9, 1979, the first National Grandparents Day, to recognize "the importance and worth of the 17 million grandparents in our nation."

Thirty years later, despite a population boom that has boosted the nation's grandparent corps to 70 million, the holiday still fights an uphill battle against obscurity (not counting our own extensive coverage of Grandparents Day). In his original proclamation, Carter wrote that because most grandparents are "free to love and guide and befriend the young without having to take daily responsibility for them, they can often reach out past pride and fear of failure and close the space between generations." Today, however, more than 4.5 million kids are being raised in households headed by grandparents and thousands more grandparents are taking in their adult kids and grandchildren as the recession forces more families to cohabitate.

So, there are more grandparents than ever, and more of them are directly caring for their grandchildren than at any time in our recent history. And yet -- no parades, no telethons, not even a zero-down, interest-free auto sale. Just Reich's healthcare rally. But we'll take it. He may not sway Americans to support the public option, but he may help put Grandparents Day in the public consciousness.

And that's one cause the left and the right should agree on.

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