Kathryn Lopez

Still, expect more of the Hillary talk. Governors who might be running in a few years aren't household names, unlike the secretary of state. "The late Lee Atwater used to talk about 'the invisible circle,' the very small number of political figures that the public knows and can accept as potential presidents," Pitney recalls. "That is, if voters woke up and found that one of these people was in the White House, they could go back to sleep knowing that he or she could do the job. In their day, Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert Humphrey were in the invisible circle. Among Democrats not named Obama, who's there today? Hillary Clinton, full stop."

Pitney points out that the "invisible circle" has its flaws. With fame and name recognition comes a complicated, and very public, history, full of messy baggage that could turn away many voters and make easy work for political rivals. Also, there's the matter of Clinton's age -- she'll be nearing 70 by 2016, which might not play well to an increasingly youthful voter base.

I've long had a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton, who the Daughters of the American Revolution saw as a good citizen, back when she was in high school; she appreciated the power and importance of public service early on. But we can respect that philosophy without getting silly. There's a photo of Hillary outside a Kennedy Center gala in Washington, D.C., with Meryl Streep taking an iPhone photo of them both. The image just about captures the seriousness of some of the political commentary about 2016 right now, from Clinton through Rubio and Ryan. Don't run with it.

(Kathryn Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online www.nationalreview.com. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.)

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.