SBS World News Online
By Stephanie Anderson
Browse through almost any US news site on Tuesday and you could read that Hillary Clinton stopped in for Chipotle on her campaign trail in Ohio.
The former Secretary of State, Senator for New York and First Lady went unnoticed as she ordered a burrito bowl and guacamole, a feat almost unimaginable — but one the presidential hopeful would certainly want.
Everything about Ms Clinton’s campaign — from her online video featuring everyday voters to her Twitter description as “wife, mom, grandmother” — is aimed at the ordinary American.
It’s a widespread phenomenon in the political world; taking a well-educated, widely travelled and often wealthy candidate and transforming them into the common man.
According to Dr David Smith, a lecturer in US politics at the US Studies Centre at University of Sydney, it’s an often necessary part in presidential campaigns.
Dr Smith said Ms Clinton’s venture into Chipotle was a sign that she had learnt from her failed 2008 campaign, which featured more stadiums than small town fast food outlets.
“She’s trying to not make the mistake of seeming aloof from the American people, which is always going to be a possibility for somebody who has held so many positions of power for so long,” he said.
“She wants to seem like she is a champion of ordinary Americans, that she is one of them.”
It’s a hard claim to make as one of the world’s most recognisable figures, a woman who was in the situation room for the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and is known worldwide as a social media icon through “Texts From Hillary”.
She has brokered peace deals between warring forces, but voters won’t find these types of achievements prominently listed on her campaign site.
The main photo isn’t one with one of the many global leaders wishing her luck — including former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard — but speaking to the elderly, with a spilt cup of coffee in hand.
Instead of achievements, her biography features family photos, emphasising her middle class childhood home and a career path that avoided “a big New York or Washington law firm”.
To Dr Smith, this was all part of a meticulously planned attempt to appeal to the broadest possible voter base.
Apart from a plea to voters, he said Ms Clinton was also targeting her own party who may be leaning towards the likes of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a politician so well-known among the middle class that CNN has already made the comparison.
“There are a lot of people in the Democratic Party who are a bit uneasy about Clinton,” he said.
“This is someone who has now been in the public for about 30 years, she’s a really entrenched part of the elite political class in America.
“A lot of Democrats are worried — does she have any claim to understanding ordinary Americans? Does she have the common touch?”
And it’s not only an American phenomenon.
Australian politicians have also been guilty of the common man makeover, trying everything from manning the local sausage sizzle to adopting outdated lingo unheard of outside the realms of bush poetry.
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was one of the primary offenders, according to academic and author Frank Bongiorno.
The Australian National University Associate Professor said that while his case was different to that of Ms Clinton, Mr Rudd had tried to shed his image as a policy wonk and Mandarin speaking intellectual.
“In the end looked a little bit silly and a little bit fake,” he said.
“He started adopting all these Australianisms which most people had stopped using. It made it look very contrived.”
Other transformations have taken a more subtle approach than the “fair shake of the sauce bottle”, instead employing social media and photo opportunities to slowly chip away at an established view.
Former Immigration Minister turned Special Services head honcho Scott Morrison was among those making a conscious effort, but Mr Bongiorno said Malcolm Turnbull was the politician who most likely had an image overhaul in his near future.
Like Ms Clinton, the Communications Minister is considered a political insider and part of the elite, who has been in the public eye as a national figure of some kind since the 1980s.
“Someone like him does face some of the kinds of problems that Hillary Clinton would face,” he said.
“It’s not enough to simply appeal to people who watch Q and A — you also have to reach out to ordinary voters.
“He’s so obviously part of a national elite, he would have to do some of the same kind of things if he were to make a real push for the prime ministership in the future.”
This article was originally published at SBS World News Online