There is an air of inevitability surrounding a second bid for the White House from Hillary Clinton. In her Twitter bio, she reels off her accomplishments as “First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, US Senator, Secretary of State, Author, Dog Owner, Hair Icon, Pantsuit Aficionado, Glass Ceiling Cracker”. Yet it is the ominous “TBD…” with which she ends her list that has everyone talking. As the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party, hundreds of articles are published daily, scrutinising and meticulously analysing every detail of Clinton’s hypothetic Presidential Campaign. Yet there is something troubling about this national obsession with the next election cycle.
The media is so fixated on 2016 that even the news that Chelsea Clinton is now expecting her first child became headline news for most political pundits. A slew of articles have been published on the topic, asking both “will Hillary Clinton be less likely to run in 2016?” and speculating “why Chelsea might be just what Hillary needs in 2016” . It seems baffling that at a time when America is facing so many challenges, the media should choose to devote so many column inches to analysing the impact of soft news items on a speculative campaign for an unconfirmed candidate, for an election that is still over 1000 days away. Perhaps this obsession is understandable for the Republican Party, who having only won the popular vote once since 1992, are facing the prospect that the GOP in its current incarnation “could go extinct” should they fail to secure victory in 2016.
Yet for the Democrats, it makes little sense to be dedicating so much, so soon to Hillary 2016. For the first three months of 2014 alone, The Ready for Hillary Super-PAC received $1.7 million in contributions . So worrying is this trend that, Priorities USA – a fellow Democratic Super-PAC – is now publically urging donors to stop spending their money on the next Presidential election, and start supporting candidates for the 2014 midterms. There seems to be a widespread fear that the Democrats will see their Congressional numbers depleted in the midst of increasingly unpopular Obama Presidency, to the extent that no money in the world will make Clinton electable come 2016. So herein lies the question – if key to winning the next general election is a successful end to the Obama Presidency, then why are Democrats instead choosing to devote their resources to a hypothetical Clinton campaign?
It’s undeniable that the Clinton herself is a forced to be reckoned with within the party. Should she be elected in 2016, she would not only be America’s first female President, but arguably, one of the most experienced individuals ever elected to the highest office in the land. Yet the answer surely lies beyond Clinton’s gargantuan achievements and her so-called ‘star-power’. There appears to be a broader trend at work, one that predates even the Clinton phenomenon.
‘Change’ has come to simultaneously mean everything and nothing in US politics. The rhetoric of ‘change’ was a staple of Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign, a word most have come to realise was Barack’s euphemism for ‘more of the same’. I would argue that the word has seen its practical meaning betrayed, and replaced by hollow symbolism. No sooner than the day a President is elected to office, the public, the media and the parties alike, begin speculating and scheming about who will replace them in four years time. This trend has become increasingly pronounced in recent years, to the detriment of domestic politics and meaningful political action.
The reasons for this are two-fold. The first comprises the more cynical justification for this front-loading. The oversaturation of American elections with money has meant that he who holds the largest purse is most likely to win. Fund-raising, in some capacity or another, has to commence as soon as possible, or the party risks lagging dangerously behind their competitors. Donors are far easier to entice when they can put a face to an election, and so it is not surprising that big names like Hillary Clinton are banded around to rally the base into parting with their hard-earned money. Yet, the second reason for this phenomenon, speaks more to what ‘change’ means to most in America today. It seems symptomatic of a society that is simultaneously disillusioned with its leadership, but remains eternally optimistic that one individual could still emerge as the country’s deus ex machina and turn it all around. This faith is misplaced.
Change cannot be delivered by one person, it can only come about through a nation working together, energised and engaged with politics at all levels of government – from congress down to local city councils. By fixating on the Presidential elections, people are losing sight of the pressing political issues that could be engaging with in the here and now. Even Clinton herself has become dismayed at the level attention given to 2016, lamenting at a public speaking engagement in April that she wished “our country had the limited campaign period that other democracies have” . People must accept that one vote every four years is not enough to deliver change. The only way to begin to see type of transformations we desire in government is by becoming politically active and making our voice heard – in single issue campaigns, local elections, even on our own social media platforms. Political dialogue has to remain focused on the issues, instead of the people and personalities who could or should be in high office. Perhaps the first change we need to make is ensuring we do not allow ourselves to be sucked into the pre-election vortex that has come to dominate American politics. Once prised free from its grip, politics will be taken out of the hands of the personalities, and back to the people.