It's Not About You, Hillary

After all, how can the Democratic Party survive—and win—without a Clinton? Unthinkable.

Hillary and Bill Clinton greet supporters in New York City last week.

Hillary and Bill Clinton greet supporters in New York City last week.

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There was no way to deny or decry the obvious: Barack Obama's victory as the nation's first African-American presidential nominee of a major party was a great moment. It was his night and his story, his official ascension as the newly anointed leader of a new generation of Democrats. It was also about unity after a hard-fought battle, about moving on—and about winning in the fall.

Unless you were listening to Hillary Clinton that last primary night. It was all about her newly created movement, her special math that hands her the popular vote, her experience that would make her a great commander in chief. And, most of all, it was about her newly entitled future. Write in to my website to share your thoughts, she asked her loyal followers. The whole world is asking, "What does Hillary want?" she told us, adding that "I will be making no decisions tonight." Ah, but she had already made a key one: This wasn't the end of her campaign. It was just the start of the next one.

Within nanoseconds, her loyalists were petitioning for her place on the ticket. Never mind that her staff had been whispering about it for weeks; she herself let it be known she wouldn't turn down an offer from Obama. Still, her friends caution, this isn't about her. It's about helping him, since he can't possibly win alone, poor thing. After all, how can the Democratic Party survive—and win—without a Clinton? Unthinkable. The arrogance became too much for some of the most ardent Clintonites, who told her she had better back off or risk everything. It was hard, because the Clintons don't know how to leave the stage. For them, it's always the fight—and the enemies—that keep you going. For Bill, the struggle was impeachment. For Hillary, the battle against the untested and unelectable Obama morphed into a personal crusade.

Sure, the fight in her is admirable. Yet it's the very virtue we admire that leads her to do the things we can't fathom: the constant denial, the notion that she is larger than the process, that somehow she should be handed the vice presidential slot because, well, she should. After all, she's got the leverage of all those women voters and those white male voters. Obama needs to understand her power and influence and cave. It's in his self-interest. He needs her. Democrats need her.

Not so fast. First, there's no compelling evidence that a vice presidential selection can make the difference in an election. Recall that Michael Dukakis nominated as his running mate someone whom everyone could see as president (Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen) and George Bush picked someone no one could see as president (Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle). Guess who won? As for the argument that Clinton can deliver her supporters, it's completely unknowable. Will Obama get those women anyway, particularly if Hillary works her heart out for him as she promises? And might those blue-collar white male voters turn to John McCain anyway? Or, if the economy remains in bad shape, would they just suck it up and vote for the Democrat? And what happens to those independent voters who want nothing to do with the Clintons?

Change the past. And, by the way, if Hillary Clinton wants to be vice president, a public application—as well as pressure—for the job is not the best way to go about it. If this were a parliamentary system, Obama and Clinton might have to team up. But it's not. And the Obama campaign is distinctly cool to the idea, anyway. She's off message: Obama is about change, and the Clintons are the past. And the more they try to hold him hostage, the more likely he is to resist. They could try to make his life miserable, but at some point it will become about damaging her political future, and then they will stop.

Marriages of convenience hardly ever work. Particularly when the marriage is between a man and a woman—and another man. Bill Clinton might promise to go away or at least become a Mideast envoy. But is there any way to vet him? Is there any way to answer all those questions about his presidential library donors and his business dealings? Clinton fatigue, once a memory, roared back during this campaign with the ex-president's outbursts against anyone standing in his wife's way, including Obama. And it would happen again.