There are basically only two slogans in American Presidential politics, and you hear them--or their variants--every four years: "You Never Had It So Good" and "Time for a Change." Sometimes, the first is inverted into "Don't Let Them Take It Away," and George McGovern managed to morph the second into "Come Home, America" in his disastrous 1972 run against Nixon.
The Democrats have a perfect version of "Time for a Change" available for 2008: "Had Enough?"--a potent indictment of the incompetence of the Bush years captured in just two words. But if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Presidential candidate, she will be the pivotal issue in the campaign, not the manifest ineptitude of the Republicans and their two-term President.
I got an inkling of what might be in store over last weekend after I posted a short piece here suggesting that Hillary ought to find a consistent set of positions and stick to them. This mild notion ignited a barrage of vehement criticism of Senator Clinton, much of it abusive. If the audience of The Huffington Post reacts to Hillary this way, I can only imagine the fury waiting to be unleashed elsewhere in America.
And whatever people think of Clinton as a politician, there is still the charged issue of a woman President. The polls won't be reliable on this question because some likely voters won't want to confess their reservations or prejudices. But common sense suggests that the novelty of a woman running for the White House will cost a Clinton candidacy more than it helps.
Unless Mrs. Clinton manages somehow to disarm all this over the next eighteen months, the smart course for her--and the Democrats--would be for her to be the Vice-Presidential candidate in 2008. That way, she could show herself to the country without being the white-hot center of the race. Until the advent of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, untested Presidential candidates routinely warmed up by serving as Vice President ( LBJ, Nixon, Humphrey, Mondale, George H. W. Bush, Gore) or running for the Presidential nomination in earlier elections (Goldwater, McGovern, Reagan, Dole).
With Hillary running for Vice President, her admirers could flock to the ticket, and voters who'd had enough could vote Democratic, rationalizing that as Veep, Mrs. Clinton couldn't do all that much mischief.
But, of course, to make that leap of faith, they'd have to ignore the doleful example of Deadeye Dick Cheney.