Sound familiar? A young, charismatic candidate campaigns calling for change and new directions. Defying the traditional prejudices that have kept his ilk out of the White House, his effortless good looks and measured cadence attract voters to his vision of new possibilities.
Opposing him is a time-tested political figure capitalizing on his role in a popular eight-year administration and campaigning on the theme of experience and deriding the opponent as unqualified and naive.
In 1960 the challenger was John Kennedy and the time-tested candidate was Richard Nixon, whose slogan was "experience counts." Now it's Obama vs. Clinton, but the paradigm is the same.
The decision that Hillary should run as the candidate of experience was an enormous blunder. In a Democratic electorate that's in the party precisely because it so intensely dislikes things as they are and wants change, experience is the wrong virtue to stress.
Democrats back insurgency and political insurrection - but Hillary offers them only a synthetic and imagined incumbency. She has ceded the field of change to her rivals and sequestered herself with those pining for the 1990s, like fans at an old-timers day baseball game.
To voters who want change, she of fers only nostalgia.
Hillary and her helpers were doubtless drawn to the theme of experience to set up the negatives they planned to throw at Obama. But it was inside-out logic. Knowing that they'd soon attack Obama's inexperience, the Clinton campaign decided to emphasize Hillary's supposed experience. By stressing her experience, they surely felt, they could attack Obama without seeming to do so. But this put the "negative" cart before the "positive" horse - that is, it gave them an attack plan at the cost of locking them into a lame identity for Hillary.
By stressing experience, Hillary is basing her campaign on a fraud. Like her Senate race, which was premised on the obvious lie that she wanted to be a New Yorker, her presidential race is rooted in the fabrication that she was the principal actress in her husband's presidency.
In fact, she was an observer (a close-up one, to be sure); at most a kibitzer, sending in advice from time to time but surely not a principal.
Yes, she had actual line responsibility, in the first two years of his presidency - a time of dismal failure. But her role from late 1995 to 1997 was scarcely more than a traditional first lady's: She toured the country, wrote books, cut ribbons and traveled the world.