: It’s a bit crazy, I confess, but I’m beginning to sniff some political nostalgia from 1968 wafting into the air.
Back then, antiwar candidate Gene McCarthy stunned Lyndon Johnson, coming in a close second in New Hampshire. Suddenly, Johnson looked vulnerable — but so did McCarthy, if he actually became the party’s nominee. So, four days later, Bobby Kennedy entered the race, stopping McCarthy in his tracks and earning the eternal animosity of McCarthy and the temporary animosity (up until his assassination) of McCarthy’s populist, peacenik army of supporters (does that description start to sound familiar?). I was one of them.
Back then, the man to beat for Democrats was the incumbent Democrat.
Now, the man to beat for Democrats is the incumbent Republican. So there’s more at stake for them.
Tuesday, Al Gore is endorsing Howard Dean. This worries other Democrats. Hear, for example, Fred Wilson just now: “I just fear this is going to backfire badly in the general election.” With good reason.
Now if Bush keeps gaining (or regaining) strength, then the party will let Dean march into defeat. The worst thing that happens, they say now, is that he will be to the Democrats what Goldwater was to the Republicans — the over-the-top leader who forces the party to rethink its mission. Worse things could happen.
But if Bush looks at all vulnerable (cue Iraqi fireworks; assume temporary economic gains), then the Democrats aren’t going to want to follow Dean (and they’re not going to be inspired by the advice of Gore, who blew hiw own lead in the last race). So what do they do?
They need a Bobby Kennedy for the new age: the spoiler/savior.
She won’t endear herself to the anti-war wing of the party (and don’t assume that’s a unanimous Democratic sentiment) but they’ll have to vote for her. (Besides, she is going after Bush on what matters: rebuilding Iraq.)
As Bobby tried to reclaim the Kennedy aura, so does Hillary help reclaim the closest thing to Camelot this generation of Democrats will ever know: the Clinton era.
She would be the first serious woman candidate for President.
She is hated by the Republicans — and that only helps capture the rebel spirit of the Deanites. The more the talk-show hosts scream about her, the more Democrats will be inspired to come out to support her.
She cares about health care, which remains a bigger issue than any candidate admits.
She’s the only alternative to Dean. If the stars align — if Dean gets too close for the comfort of the most powerful and pragmatic Democrats, if Bush stumbles or fate frowns upon him — then all she has to do is shove aside her placeholder, Clark. If the stars don’t align, she just keeps waiting.
But Hillary has been acting very much like a candidate lately, going to Afghanistan and Iraq and making the Sunday circuit last weekend.
Crazier things have happened. They happened, for example, in 1968.