You might want to clip this column and stick it in an old shoebox or mayonnaise jar. Then store it where you're likely to stumble across it around the year 2008, because it may prove to be shockingly prophetic.
Our latest national survey shows that more Americans have a favorable opinion of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., than of her husband, former president Bill Clinton. My own preference would be the other way around. But far more noteworthy is my belief that news headlines in a little over five years from now may be proclaiming the election of none other than Hillary Clinton as president of the United States.
In the interest of fair disclosure, let me confess that during President Bill Clinton's years in the White House, I endured occasional slings and arrows for suggesting Clinton was a more successful president than some moderates and most conservatives are willing to admit. Maybe it can be ascribed to lucky timing, Clinton's amazingly effective treasury secretary (Robert Rubin), or the politically countervailing force of Newt Gingrich and his fellow "Contractors With America." Whatever the reason, Bill at least knew when to hold his cards and when to fold them.
Sen. Clinton might be more likely to stack the deck or replace the dealer. While Bill seemed flawed yet flexible, Mrs. Clinton's shortcomings are as yet unspecified to most Americans. Indeed, in the eyes of her many followers, she seems flawless. But unlike her husband, I suspect Hillary has a rigid political dogma to which she is so utterly devoted that she may not be willing to bend.
All that aside, what follows is the inescapable reality that an objective analysis of our most recent survey suggests. Consider: President Clinton emerged from his presidency, impeachment included, with an approval rating of 60 percent-plus. That suggests that he enjoyed a healthy chunk of support from some Republicans and independents.
The reverse now applies to President George W. Bush and his own high level of public support -- he has many Democratic and independent supporters. That's likely why Hillary Clinton was wise enough to avoid this year's potential Democratic presidential electoral train wreck. Instead, she is readying to put her party back together again after Bush's likely re-election next year.
The poll numbers make a compelling case for a possible 2008 ascension to Pennsylvania Avenue by Sen. Clinton. For one, survey respondents who identify themselves as Republicans favored the former first lady over the former president. Among women, 41 percent say they favor Hillary, against only 19 percent favoring Bill; the rest were undecided.