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Dream Team

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War Games: Clinton and Clark in Macedonia, June 1999.  

The pros count on a heavy dose of conventional wisdom (which they themselves propound) and other negative reinforcements to keep the theoretical spoiler home.

In this view, then, the Hillary thing—the hints and whispers (the posting of coy messages on the Hillary Website)—is mostly cynical. She has no intention of running because she is not ready to run, because she does not believe that Bush is truly beatable, and because she knows the firestorm she’d face (not to mention not exactly trusting her husband not to mess things up). But what she does want to do is to be the great white hope of tomorrow. The dream. Indeed, it is possible that she becomes the Cuomo of this campaign (in 1992, Mario Cuomo had a plane on the tarmac waiting to take him to a last-minute filing for the New Hampshire primary before he finally took himself out of the race). And even when the primaries are closed and there is a certain nominee, we’ll still be hearing about Mrs. Clinton for vice-president until she finally, modestly, withdraws from that consideration. No, she is not running, she is just long-term brand-building. You have to work at inevitability.

As for the general, every political professional seems certain what this is about. It’s purely a vice-presidential deal. Truly, he’s everybody’s favorite vice-president (hence his passionate wooing by the Dean camp). But it’s ridiculous to think that he, an amateur, could seriously wage a successful presidential-primary fight—that just doesn’t happen. So he gets into the race to get himself a little campaign experience and to demonstrate for peace-loving Democrats that even though he’s a general, he’s not too generalish, all the while careful not to antagonize anyone else in the field.

Indeed, the prospect of Clark on the Dean ticket is a vastly reassuring note for political professionals. Of course, there is, too, the quite over-the-top prospect of a Clinton-Clark ticket.

There is another Clinton point that should be noted: While the present field of Democrats has been running for a year or more, and while absolutely everyone who knows anything will tell you that it really is a lock (and that the field was realistically locked up as much as six months ago), Bill Clinton, in his race for president, did not declare himself until October 1991 (his opposition included Paul Tsongas, Tom Harkin, Doug Wilder, Bob Kerrey, and Jerry Brown). He did not even set up an exploratory committee until that August.

The media point here, as opposed to the organizational point, is that one’s shelf life is limited. Surely, the standing candidates (the once-regal Kerry, the formally righteous Lieberman, the used-to-be-fresh Edwards) are lesser now—diminished brands—than when they began. Save for Dean.

The rise of Howard Dean strongly argues that the campaign for president is being most hotly waged in the Sunni triangle.

One aspect of this that has surely crossed Karl Rove’s mind is that the worse things get from Baghdad to Tikrit, the greater the likelihood that the Democrats will nominate Dean, hence ensuring the president’s reelection.

This is where the campaign is now.

In the Democratic mind, it’s Vietnam redux: We’ll back an antiwar candidate even if he’ll likely lose.

In other words, it hasn’t yet become about winning. The sense of Bush’s being truly beatable—not by anyone but by someone—hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

And if time hasn’t exactly run out on the winning thing, it will run out soon.

Fortunately, Bill Clinton hasn’t finished thinking this through.


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