US presidential elections: The trailblazer starts again

  • Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 15, 2015 00:56 IST

The starting gun has been fired for the United States presidential elections with Hillary Clinton unsurprisingly declaring herself a candidate for Democratic Party nomination.

This Clinton will find the political landscape considerably different and more difficult than the days when her husband Bill ran for the White House. The US polity is more ideologically polarised, with less leeway for the sort of centrist politics that both the Clintons represent.

Ms Clinton has been secretary of state but foreign policy will be low on the agenda of a superpower still overwhelmingly concerned about its domestic economic condition.

Her gender will be an asset given that a majority of US voters are female. Ms Clinton’s age may prove more important: she will be the second-oldest person to enter the Oval Office if she wins the 2016 elections.

The awkward task for Ms Clinton is to triangulate between whoever is the Republican candidate and the present Democratic president, Barack Obama. This is remarkably difficult.

Since 1951, when the two-term limit on US presidents was introduced, only one US candidate has been able to succeed a president from his or her own party. The exception was George Bush senior, who followed Ronald Reagan.

However, Reagan was wildly popular when he demitted office, Obama is not. Ms Clinton was part of Mr Obama’s administration and will seek to simultaneously embrace him as well as keep him at arm’s length.

Ms Clinton’s campaign will have an echo of Narendra Modi’s. Her main selling point will be that she is an Obama who can actually get things done. The present US president has a poor record of legislative accomplishment and much of what he has done lacks bipartisan support and may be reversed if the Republicans return to power.

The Obama presidency has become a byword for policy without politics. The US president dislikes the business of cutting deals, winning over legislators and wooing interest groups.

Somewhat like Manmohan Singh, he was all vision and minimal action. And Ms Clinton, somewhat like Mr Modi, will argue that she is best equipped to convert ideas into practice, policy into legislation.

Her hopes lie in US voters wanting an Obama 3.0 government but one with a hardware upgrade. This would mean a continuing expansion of the American welfare state, a passive foreign policy and reactive defence posture, and a focus on continuing a domestic civil rights debate that now add sexual orientation to the traditional concerns about racial and gender discrimination.

If the US economy continues to expand and the homeland is secure from terrorism, this could well be a winning formula. But a week is a long time in politics — and the US elections are nearly two years away.

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