WASHINGTON — While the cool cat's away, the Hillary mice will play.
As Barack Obama was floating in the pool with his daughters the last few days in St. Thomas, some Clinton disciples were floating the idea of St. Hillary as his vice president.
She can't win without him, said one Hillary adviser, and he can't win without her.
They're stuck with each other.
It's one of my favorite movie formulas, driving the dynamics in such classics as "A Few Good Men," "The Big Easy" and "Guys and Dolls": Charming, glib guy spars and quarrels with no-nonsense, driven girl, until they team up in the last reel. He spices up her life, and she stiffens his spine. And soon they hear the pitter-patter of little superdelegate feet, who are thrilled not to be pulled in two directions anymore.
And everybody's happy. Or are they?
A couple of weeks ago, when Hill and Bill mentioned the possibility of a joint ticket, it was an attempt to undermine Obama and urge voters and superdelegates to put Hillary on top; the implication was that this was the only way Democrats could have both their stars, and besides, it was her turn. The precocious boy wonder had plenty of time.
But with the math not in her favor, her options running out, Bill Richardson running out and her filigreed narrative of dodging bullets in Bosnia and securing peace in Northern Ireland unraveling, could Hillary actually think the vice presidency is the best she'll do?
One Hillary pal said she wouldn't want to go back to a Senate full of lawmakers who'd abandoned her for Obama. And even if she could get to be majority leader, would it be much fun working with Nancy Pelosi, whose distaste for the Clintons has led her to subtly maneuver for Obama?
Maybe The Terminator is thinking: If she could just get her pump in the door. Dick Cheney, after all, was able to run the White House and the world from the vice president's residence, calling every shot while serving under a less experienced and younger president. And Observatory Circle is just up the street from where Hillary now lives.
But, aside from Barack and Michelle Obama's certain resistance, would it fly? Many Hillary voters are hardening against Obama, and more and more Obama fans are getting turned off by the idea of dragging down the Obama brand with Clinton dysfunction.
"No drama, vote Obama" placards and T-shirts are popping up at Obama rallies, and one of his military advisers dubbed him "No Shock Barack."
It's hard to imagine that after spending her whole life playing second-fiddle to a superstar pol, Hillary wants to do it again. She's been vice president.
Could the veep talk be a red herring? A ploy designed to distract attention from the Clintons' real endgame?
Even some Clinton loyalists are wondering aloud if the win-at-all-costs strategy of Hillary and Bill — which continued Tuesday when Hillary tried to drag the Rev. Wright back into the spotlight — is designed to rough up Obama so badly and leave the party so riven that Obama will lose in November to John McCain.
If McCain only served one term, Hillary would have one last shot. On Election Day in 2012, she'd be 65.
Why else would Hillary suggest that McCain would be a better commander in chief than Obama, and why else would Bill imply that Obama was less patriotic — and attended by more static — than McCain?
Why else would Phil Singer, a Hillary spokesman, say in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that Obama was trying to disenfranchise the voters of Florida and Michigan. "When it comes to voting, Senator Obama has turned the audacity of hope into the audacity of nope," he said, adding, "There's a basic reality here, which is we could have avoided the entire George W. Bush presidency if we had counted votes in Florida." So is Singer making the case that Obama is as anti-democratic as W. was when he snatched Florida from Al Gore?
Some top Democrats are increasingly worried that the Clintons' divide-and-conquer strategy is nihilistic: Hillary or no democrat.
(Or, as one Democrat described it to ABC's Jake Tapper: Hillary is going for "the Tonya Harding option" — kneecap your rival.)
After all, the Clintons think of themselves as The Democratic Party. When Bill and Dick Morris triangulated during the first term, it was what was best for him, not the party. In 1996, when Bill turned the White House into Motel 1600 for fundraisers, it was more about his re-election than the re-elections of his fellow Democrats in Congress; in 2000, the White House focused its energies more on Hillary's Senate win than Al Gore's presidential run.
And even Clinton supporters know that Bill does not want to be replaced as the first black president, especially by a black president with enough magic to possibly eclipse him in the history books.
c.2008 New York Times News Service