Psychologically, Hillary Clinton faces a demanding fall. If she wants a political future beyond the Senate, the former first lady must not be seen as going less than all-out to elect Barack Obama, even though relations between the two camps can charitably described as strained.
Mrs. Clinton’s very gracious and warm speech at the Denver convention, touching all the right notes, including a tactful nod to her husband’s presidency, showed she is fully capable of that role and even of sharing attack-dog duties with Obama running-mate Sen. Joe Biden. But in her heart there has to be some ambivalence. You know that when she was on the podium with her tearful supporters cheering her name that at some level she was thinking, “This should have been ours.”
If Mr. Obama loses - and the polls indicate that, for all the Republicans’ woes and the baggage of President Bush, he is not a sure thing come November - she would have the satisfaction of saying, certainly in private, “I told you so” and the way would be clear for another run for the White House in 2012. Since her health-care debacle, she has proved capable of learning from her mistakes, and a second campaign for the presidency would be freer of the mismanagement and infighting that hobbled her first.
Though she finished a close but indubitable second for her party’s nomination, she is perhaps our most remarkable politician and, even though Mr. Obama’s people might wish otherwise, Bill and Hillary Clinton will remain formidable fixtures in the Democratic Party. Their approval ratings with the Democratic faithful hover around 80 percent. She came achingly close to being the first woman presidential nominee of a major political party and retains a dedicated base of support and impressive appeal to blue-collar voters.
Recall that she survived scandals - Filegate, Travelgate, her husband’s sexual dalliances - that would have sunk a lesser mortal and then went on to win a Senate seat in a state, New York, notorious for its convoluted politics, where she had never lived and had no real connection. Her effortless re-election was a sign that she can have the Senate job as long as she wants. If Mr. Obama wins and her hopes of another presidential run are perhaps eight years off, the question is: Will she want to?
If Mrs. Clinton wants to stay in public life, there aren’t many options. Her husband has pre-empted one field with his Clinton Foundation. No nonprofit post could match the power and high profile of her Senate seat.
Some have suggested that Mr. Obama appoint her to the Supreme Court, a job for which she isn’t really qualified and one that the Republicans would certainly block. Some have suggested she might run for New York governor but it’s hard to imagine her trading Washington, her home for 16 years, for the administrative grind of Albany.
Or she could return to the Senate and take up the torch Sen. Ted Kennedy is passing as that body’s great liberal lion - in her case, lioness. She has said she looks forward to passing universal health care and having Mr. Obama sign it. And the fact is that Mr. Obama, who was less collegial with his fellow senators than she, will need her advocacy in Congress.
A chapter in a gripping American political biography closed in Denver this week but it is far from the final chapter.
Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.