Kathryn Lopez

Here we go again, it's "American Idol: Presidential Edition." And we can't even resist waiting until 2012 is over.

Since the Republican Party clearly needs to amp up its Hispanic outreach, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is a leading contestant for their team. And Hillary, oh Hillary, she is inevitable all over again.

Pundits on left-leaning MSNBC who once cast her aside in 2008 are now expecting her to be their next candidate. After viciously attacking the GOP during this year's presidential election, The National Organization for Women is now insisting that President Obama's cabinet be filled with at least 50 percent women secretaries -- surely a harbinger of a Hillary Clinton endorsement when the time comes. But in the rush to put the first woman at the Oval Office desk, we ought not get ahead of ourselves.

But what about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley -- are they going to step aside for the Clinton machine? Don't count on it. There are a whole lot of ambitious, rising stars in the Democratic Party, and their plans are not the plans of TV pundits.

By all accounts, Hillary Clinton is a hard worker, but her tenure as secretary of state has by no means been stellar. Have you taken a look at what's left of the so-called "Arab Spring"?

"She's been at the heart of foreign policy for the past four years," John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College, observes. "If 2016 is a time of international peace and prosperity, then she'll be able to claim some credit. But current events in the Middle East suggest a darker future. If things don't look so good on the world stage, she'll have to take a lot of the blame," Pitney predicts.

With all her purported influence in the first term of the Obama administration, "she did zero to rein in Obama's worst tendencies" on foreign policy, James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation notes.

"If we set aside the bonus her legacy gets from her last name, then Clinton should go down as the least effective secretary of state since Warren Christopher," Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, says. "Her tenure has been marked by bashing allies and coddling adversaries to the detriment of U.S. national security ... She has no real achievements to her tenure, but has overseen a hemorrhaging of U.S. influence that cannot be attributed to her predecessors but rather to the ill-advised strategies she sought to implement. If Hillary does to the country what she did to the world, then we are in very deep trouble indeed," he observes.

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.