In the general election, audiences will remember Whitewater, Travelgate, illegal fundraising, bimbo eruptions and impeachment. If they don't, you can be sure Republicans will remind them. Fair or not, the Republicans' intense dislike of Hillary will underscore the idea that a vote for her is a vote for more of the same rancor.
Hence the irony of the Clinton candidacy. Liberal activists keep saying that they want a candidate who is pure, speaks from the heart and refuses to "triangulate" on core principles the way Bill Clinton did. But Hillary Clinton is Clintonian in more than just name. On national security in particular, she has been alternating between reflexive anti-Bushism to bouts of outright hawkishness. Desperate to win, Democrats have been willing to overlook that - so far. But such shifting costs her credibility and passion.
It's all deeply reminiscent of how John Kerry wound up as the nominee in 2004. Once Howard Dean, the conviction candidate, experienced the political equivalent of spontaneous human combustion, Democrats immediately cast about not for another principled politician but one they deemed electable. Bizarrely, they settled on the left-wing senator from Massachusetts who synthesized Ted Kennedy's politics with Michael Dukakis' charisma while bragging about his service in a war he built a career denouncing.
If Democrats could get out of their bubble, it might dawn on them that virtually all of their other candidates are better positioned to run as champions of change. Hillary Clinton has shrewdly tried to trim the differences between her and the competition by claiming that any of them would be better than George W. Bush. From a liberal perspective, that's obviously true. But that perspective won't necessarily dominate come next fall, particularly if conditions in Iraq continue to improve.
Is it really so obvious that, say, Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney represent "change" less than the ultimate Clinton retread, complete with Bill as "first gentleman"? That's how Democrats are betting right now, and they may be bitterly disappointed - again - when it comes time to collect.