Here's the matchup we're all looking for in '08: Gore-Clinton vs. Bush-Dole. Obviously, I'm talking about Al Gore as the Democratic presidential nominee with Hillary Clinton as his running mate, battling it out with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and vice presidential candidate Liddy Dole.
Of course, I'm kidding. If I heard such news, I'd probably shoot my television. Indeed, the whole country might respond to another round of Bush, Gore, etc., like those characters in "Airplane!" who commit suicide whenever Ted Striker (Robert Hays) starts droning on about his life. I myself would upend a jerrican of gasoline over my head rather than listen to Gore drone on about lockboxes again. And if Hillary were at the top of the Democratic ticket, all it would take for me to light the match would be a giddy "Today" segment on Bill Clinton as the "First Gentleman" - a first indeed.
Going by my own shamelessly unscientific survey, I think it's fair to say that people want a clean break from the politics of the last two decades. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, cats and dogs, Klingons and Ferengi: Nobody wants to argue about names like Bush, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Cheney. Been there, got the snowglobe.
The Republicans have the higher hurdle because Bush fatigue is more acute than Clinton fatigue these days - owing to the simple fact that Bush is in office right now (though remember: there's been a Bush or a Dole on every Republican presidential ticket since 1976).
Exhaustion with the GOP in general is also running high, but the recent elections may have lanced that boil in time for 2008. If the same flock of gormless popinjays had stayed in power until the next election, voters would not only have voted the Republicans out of office, they might well have voted them into Guantanamo Bay.
Regardless, rumors swirl that Al Gore may run again, if only to prevent Hillary Clinton from taking what he believes is rightfully his. And John Kerry, America's most pathetic politician, may throw his chapeau into the ring again. Try to contain your excitement.
And, of course, there's the Hillary Clinton candidacy, soon to come to you as the visually oxymoronic bumper sticker "Hillary!" The two most important things a Hillary candidacy had going for it, from a liberal perspective, now seem increasingly stale. First, she's a woman and - golly - wouldn't that just be so exciting! Second, a vote for Hillary would be a vindication of the Clintons generally. Mean-spirited conservatives picked on those poor Clintons, so making her president would be a comeuppance for the bad guys and an attempt to restore the mythic grandeur of Clintonism.
The problem for Hillary is that the shelf life on this stuff is running out. People may like the idea of returning to what Charles Krauthammer has called the "holiday from history" that was the 1990s. But nobody wants to return to the politics of the 1990s - or the 2000s, for that matter. Clinton-worship and Clinton-hatred alike feel dated, like fights over Richard Nixon.
As for the first-female-president thing, that's still got oomph, but much less than it did in the 1990s, when such vanity voting was cost-free. After 9/11 and Iraq, voting for a candidate because she's a woman seems just plain frivolous. Moreover, Hillary Clinton is in the ironic position of no longer seeming like an affirmative-action candidate. She's more of a person, less of a category. And the person's baggage crowds out the category's appeal.
My hunch is that average Americans on either side of the ideological divide recognize their dilemma. Bipartisanship is overrated, but nobody wants day one of a new presidency to begin at the partisan equivalent of DefCon 1. America is now in the grip of Mutually Assured Demonization. If the GOP throws up another Bush (or, perhaps, a Gingrich), "Blue" America will turn its missile keys. If the Democrats trot out a Gore, a Clinton or a Kerry, Red America will respond in kind. How else to explain the enormous popularity of Barack Obama, whose anagram-like name seems to spell "fresh start" for millions of Americans who know nothing about him?
That's one reason why Florida's Jeb Bush - an outstanding governor - has decided to spare his country, his party and himself another Bush on the ticket. Such selflessness is not the Clinton way. It's too soon to tell what that means for her country, her party or her.