History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Karl Marx said that in the 19th century and over more repetitions than Seinfeld reruns, this has turned into one of those saws most have seen enough of. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee for president on behalf of the Democratic Party in November (despite a pesky Bernie Sanders plugging on), should certainly be aware of this Marxist line, though in her case, she would like to describe it as Herstory, the word that T-shirts on her campaign website are emblazoned with. However, whatever gender assignation is given to the word, Clinton ought to be wary of repeating history (or herstory).
In 2008, few doubted there would be significant obstacles to her march to the White House. However, there was a hurdle she couldn’t leap over: A skinny freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. As with election years, that too was a leap year, except the one making the jump to the presidential contest once the primary accounts were settled, was Obama.
Something similar is occurring in 2016. Donald Trump, obnoxious if not simply noxious, is nothing less than a phenominee, a candidate who emerges out of nowhere. Somewhat, one could argue, like Obama in 2008, or even a young governor of Arkansas in 1992, called Bill Clinton.
As a builder, Trump knows the sort of material he requires for a solid foundation to the edifice of his campaign. In fact, he is borrowing so much from the Obama playbook, he ought to be charged with plagiarism. There’s Hillary’s vote on the Iraq war for one. No Republican would have gone there. But The Donald, who puts the con in conservative, isn’t just replaying that scratched record, but even needling the party’s own, former President George W Bush. Obama rode his opposition to the Iraq war and the contrast with Hillary’s aye to bombing Baghdad, to the Democratic nomination.
Obama also didn’t spare former President Clinton during the 2008 primaries, articulating the anguish felt by those left behind by trade pacts like NAFTA, signed during Clinton’s tenure. That has now become part of Trump’s siren cry to the unemployed and underemployed.
As Obama proved once (and Trump has dittoed) antiestablishmentarianism is a long word but a shortcut to success in the world of politics.
In each instance, Hillary’s principal line of offence has been to take offence on being targeted for being a woman. People forget how the charge of sexism was hurled repeatedly at Obama. The late Geraldine Ferraro, the Democrats’ running mate to Walter Mondale in 1984, and a Clinton surrogate, told the New York Times: “I think Obama was terribly sexist.”
This year, we have another Hillary meme, the woman card (that one showing her staring intently at her smartphone has gone terribly wrong). This tactic may have worked if she weren’t facing a wild card (some may have said a joker, but we’re past that phase). If her strategy is based on this being her ace, she may even get Trumped.
We live in an age where safe zones exist on university campuses in the United States; and where micro-aggression is a thing. Millennial women are not given to making excuses for alleged bad behaviour, as they may have done 24 years ago. If candidate Clinton, William Jefferson that is, had been in the contest in the age of social media, he would have been trolled into the ditch of electoral obscurity.
With plenty of ammo in her arsenal against the very flawed Trump candidacy, you have to wonder why Hillary is recycling tropes that cost her dearly in 2008.
Perhaps Clinton will seek solace in another quotable quote, the original automobile baron Henry Ford’s “History is bunk.” Though what he actually said almost exactly a 100 years ago in a newspaper interview, was this: “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we made today.” If the rabble isn’t roused by tradition, then the November race could go to the unorthodox.
Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs
The views expressed are personal