Kathleen Parker

Is she running or is she ain't?

The question of whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., will toss her hair band into the ring of presidential contenders persists like any well-placed rumor.

The only spoken obstacle is one of p-p-p-rinciple. Hard to say without stuttering, isn't it? That is, she promised New Yorkers she would fulfill her six-year Senate term.

But then we hear through the carefully cultivated grapevine that constituents have said they'll forgive her if she changes her mind. In other words: Run, Hillary, run!

Next, increasing the buzz and injecting a little calculated confusion, we hear that the Clintons have hand-picked Gen. Wesley Clark as their candidate in order to dilute the Category Five candidacy of Dr. Howard Dean and to maintain control of the party.

Clark and Hillary are the stars of the Democratic party, we also hear from - who else? -undeclared presidential candidate-for-life, Bill Clinton.

Who is , make no mistake, running for president if only through his wife and as a matter of habit.

Suddenly, I feel sorry for Hillary Clinton. No matter what she does, no matter how smart, capable or accomplished she might be - and despite all she may have sacrificed, repressed and subjugated for her own political future - 'It' will always be about Bill.

Since leaving office, and especially in recent months, Bill Clinton has been like Elvis, popping up everywhere, drawing huge crowds and raking in millions. He is near-messianic in his drawing power, attracting thousands to auditoriums and stadia, being received and treated like a rock star.

At a recent 5,000-strong Democrat party picnic in Iowa, Clinton overshadowed the real candidates and was greeted with signs: "We miss you Bill," and "Welcome Back Bill."

This month he's been all over California stumping for Gray Davis and against the election recall. He talked to a sold-out crowd of 2,000 at the Monterey Conference Center, discussing presidential leadership and answering questions about how he would handle world affairs - if only he were president today.

At the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South-Central Los Angeles, he urged 1,000 congregants to vote against the recall. He's not worried about Davis, he told them. He's worried about them. The people. His people, who couldn't restrain their enthusiasm for America's first "black" president.

"You need to calm down. You'll have me thinking I'm president again if you don't calm down," said Clinton in a classic instance of unironic projection.

A few days ago, he popped up in Europe and Israel for a couple of high-profile appearances. One was to inaugurate a memorial cemetery for 7,000 Muslim men and boys who died eight years ago in Srebrenica. Another was to attend an 80th birthday celebration for former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

And where's Hillary? Who? She's back in Washington holding press conferences about Head Start and Americorps and issuing "Calls for."

As in Sen. Clinton 'calls for' extending the 9-11 Victims Compensation Fund; 'calls for' the Department of Homeland Security to direct funding to first responders; and 'calls for' Homeland Security to extend mental health services for New Yorkers still suffering from 9-11.

Excuse me while I call for a double espresso. I'm sure these are important issues, but they lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Gravitas? Pizzazz? Hillary may get all her homework done on time and wear sensible shoes, but she doesn't have the charismatic dazzle necessary to pull off a presidency. At least not by herself.

Enter Mr. Bill, a stand-by-your-woman man, as no doubt described in the Faustian pact he and his wife sealed long ago. Any vote for Hillary would be at least partly, if not mostly, a vote for Bill. Even non-fans can feel sympathy for Hillary's fate as a scorned woman sentenced to life in her husband's shadow.

Were she elected, Hillary's moment as first woman president of the United States inevitably would be muted by what many would perceive as the mother of all 'twofers.'

Whatever Hillary may bring to the table, it is Bill for whom the crowds clamor. It is Bill who holds audiences in thrall and brings women to their knees. It is Bill who will be viewed as the leader of the free world, no matter who delivers the state of the union.

If I were Hillary Rodham and wanted to be president someday, I'd tell Bill Clinton to calm down, get his little buggy back to Chappaqua and learn to bake cookies.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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