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Dream Team

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Road (to the White House) Warrior: HIllary marches at the West Indian Day Parade.  

And Hillary—as idealized:

Dreary politics becomes fabulous theater.

A Hillary run could make politics as bloody interesting (or as bloody and interesting) as it has been in two generations.

We enter the realm of the unprecedented. It’s hard to predict the kind of combustion that would occur. One of the best-known—and most polarizing—figures in the country steps forward to attempt to reach the summit of first woman president.

She’d suck up all the world’s attention. Arnold doesn’t hold a candle to her.

The book thing—the phenomenon of the book, the magnitude of the sales figures for a book that, after all, wasn’t very interesting—made it clear that the Hillary fascination was neither diminishing nor wholly coupled to Bill.

It made it clear not just that this was a women’s thing but that we probably had no idea how powerful this women’s thing might be.

The Hillary thing is obsessional. And most of it (like her) lies below the surface.

The book said nothing so much as that she wanted to be president—even that she, not her husband, was (in her mind, anyway) the epic political event. And the book clearly demonstrated that she possessed the packaging skills and nuance to run for president.

"In the democratic mind, it's Vietnam redux: We'll back and antiwar candidate even if he'll likely lose. In other words, it hasn't yet become about winning."

She has become, we know, an extraordinarily talented politician. Not, in fact, a Clinton-style charismatic politician, but just the opposite. A calculating, disciplined, by-the-book, cover-all-the-details politician—in some sense, her every move deftly admonishes, to her obvious political benefit, her husband.

What’s more, she has money in the bank. Her political-action committee—HILLPAC is among the most successful political fund-raising entities—supports not only her but many other Democrats (who will one day, in turn, support her).

Her script has been an obvious one: The Democrats would be sorely beaten in the 2004 race, and she would emerge as the most significant figure in the party. She would run for reelection to her Senate seat in 2006, win resoundingly, and be on her way, at the still-young but grandmotherly age of 60, to the 2008 nomination.

This was surely the script she was following, and the calculation she was making, when she decided (without, one might imagine, much agonizing) not to run in 2004.

But now, inconveniently but temptingly, the circumstances have changed.

If a Democrat wins in 2004, the Hillary historic-inevitability scenario gets all messed up.

Indeed, the prospect of General Clark’s getting into the race may move her closer to it: to be the spoiler’s spoiler.

Of course, if he doesn’t, and the Democrats are left with only likely losers, she remains on script. Except that opportunity is the only political instinct that really counts.

If she believes that Bush can reasonably be beaten, it becomes, if not incumbent on her to try, painful not to.

Even with all this control and discipline on her part, it’s her blood score, too.

But if Bill Clinton is one oracular pole of the Democratic Party, the other (perhaps more Greek chorus) is that group of consultants and money people and senior officials known as political professionals.

And the political professionals are far from seeing an upset or turnaround or any new thing coming along. Or, in fact, they have already seen the new thing, and that’s the Dean antiwar juggernaut, which the professional wing regards with grim fascination.

In the professional view, it really does come down to how long you’ve been doing this—how long you’ve been out there, slogging. The problem isn’t just the difficulty in building an organization virtually overnight, but having to overcome the organizational strength of someone who has already built up a big operation. (Having an organization is one of the telling political conceits, because more often than not even an entrenched political organization is an inefficient hodgepodge of volunteers, retirees, and incompetents—but leave that for another day.)

And then the money. It is not just that it takes a long time to raise it but that there’s only so much of it. And, the conventional wisdom goes, the early birds have already gotten it. The wells are dry, the fields claimed, the marriages already made.

Then there’s professional self-interest itself. A kind of honor-among-thieves view. That is, if you’ve been doing this for a while, if you’ve paid your dues, if you’ve kissed appropriate asses, you shouldn’t have it taken away from you—even if you are Howard Dean, who might threaten the party with a debacle that it will take a generation to undo. Political professionals don’t like spoilers. Not least of all because the spoiler most often has less need for the political professionals.


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