Bush vs Clinton: The Sequel is not what America needs

Let’s hope US politics can see beyond its two great modern dynasties

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So it will be Bush vs Clinton all over again after all. Not that anyone had much doubt, but this week American media reported Jeb Bush had resigned all his private sector Board positions in anticipation of a bid for the White House. Just before Christmas, he confirmed on Facebook that he was “actively exploring” a run. As for Clinton, everything she's done for the past two years points to her candidacy.

For all that, there are good reasons for supposing that this battle between modern America's two foremost political dynasties won't just be a re-run.

When Bill Clinton was inaugurated, he was a young man (46) elected on the promise of a better tomorrow. If Hillary makes it to the White House, she will be a relatively elderly lady (69) elected largely on memories of yesteryear. Americans are hugely nostalgic for the Clinton brand: Bill's the most popular living politician there. Yet for all his exceptional qualities as a leader, he had one more than any other: luck with timing.

His two terms coincided with a period of relative global stability. The Soviet Union had collapsed. The world economy was humming along. Islamic terrorism was largely hidden from view. Washington was working pretty well.

Some guys have all the luck. Hillary has none of these advantages. Now Russia is resurgent. China is soaring. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (which she wrongly backed) have cost endless blood. America has been through the biggest financial crisis since the Depression. Ravaged by globalisation and automation, its middle class is hollowing out. Today, Washington is dysfunctional. American government recently shut down altogether.

These changed circumstances apply to Jeb too. He's actually more sensible than most Republicans on issues like climate change and immigration. But he certainly isn't just a re-run of his father or brother. George H W was conditioned by the Cold War. George W authored the War on Terror. Jeb has no interest in replaying the former, or continuing the latter.

For these reasons and more, the coming avalanche of commentary on the Bush vs Clinton battle is likely to be a little myopic. And it's precisely because of the huge challenges America faces, that it's vital there's a proper selection battle.

I hope, for instance, that Rand Paul and Chris Christie run for the GOP. Paul's ultra-libertarian politics might be mostly potty, but he has some smart ideas on poverty. Christie reminds America what moderate, competent conservatism looks like. For the Democrats, Elizabeth Warren could yet win. Her analysis of how the country was hijacked by Wall Street is often right.

Whoever wins, they need a mandate for negotiating tomorrow's world, rather than reviving yesterday's.