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Shorten and Clinton's joust with the past

  • 22 September 2015

When former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced she would seek the 2016 nomination for President of the United States, it was a surprise to absolutely no one.

Given her unparalleled range, competence and level of experience — she may be the most qualified candidate for the presidency in the history of the country — she has been the frontrunner since pundits turned their eyes to the future about three days after Barack Obama's reelection in 2012.

Five months later, things for Clinton seem to be slowly creeping back into the 'Danger Will Robinson' zone that found her the runner up in 2008.

It's not that she's made any major blunders, although the emails controversy, and her sometimes screwball — or at least unintentionally condescending — social media presence (she recently asked students to express their feelings about their debt in three emojis) were more than mere blips.

She doesn't have any real competition, either. Yes, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been drawing huge crowds with his very progressive agenda. But at 74 years old, and as left-wing as he is, he's far more likely to become the president of Hufflepuff than the United States of America.

Ostensibly, what's making people nervous about Clinton is the fact she's not a good campaigner. She's stiff, abrasive, and probably, down deep, afraid of losing again.

But there's another layer to all this, and it's one that she shares with Australia's Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. It's The Past.

Hillary Clinton is not just an astonishingly brilliant candidate; she is the wife of President Bill Clinton, who flamed out spectacularly in the late 1990s over revelations that he was having an affair with an intern. He has been mostly nowhere to be seen so far in the campaign, and that's undoubtedly an intentional move meant to keep that complicated, messy past out of the conversation.

Fair enough. But only a fool would think that all that history is not going to bring an eventual reckoning. The unspoken fear is that Hillary in the White House will eventually mean further distraction from Bill. Not philandering, necessarily. But the man is walking charisma, and surely he would on some level pull focus. Why would the country want that added complication?

The past haunts Shorten in a different but no less significant way. He came into office as Opposition Leader after Tony Abbott and co. had spent the prior four years on a campaign meant less