Across the October countryside, the name mobilizes an instant and selflessly generous loathing. Checks fly in like barn swallows swooping to a mown field. Hillary Clinton is the most galvanizingly divisive candidate since... well, since Bill Clinton.
Yes, but, for all of that, is she going to win the Senate seat from New York, defeating the boyish Republican, Rick Lazio? My guess is yes, she will.
But that is a conventional call. Let the Tarot cards make the slightly wilder surmise: Senator Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2004 against the bumbling incumbent, President George W. Bush. And will win, to become America's first woman president.
In other words, the good news for Republicans this year may be that George W. Bush will narrowly defeat Al Gore for the presidency. The bad news may be that, after the brief Dubya interregnum, a second Clinton regime lies just down the road.
Predictions like that are merely provocative fantasies, I admit whimsical futurism. It could happen, or not. I am brought to the fantasy because I have been staring at the New York Times' endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Senate an extraordinary 13-paragraph exercise that takes up almost all of Sunday's editorial space. I have been studying the editorial as if it were a Polaroid snapshot, the film just exposed, still wet and murky, but with certain outlines starting to come clear.
The Times endorses Hillary Clinton as predictably as it will soon endorse Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. Of course, I could be wrong. If the New York Times endorses George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, I am prepared to offer each of my readers $1 million in cash.
The Times, in order to reach its destination of Hillary approval ("We are placing our bet on her to rise above the mistakes and difficulties of her first eight years in Washington and to establish herself on Capitol Hill as a major voice for enlightened social policy and vibrant internationalism") is forced to skate across a thousand yards of very thin logical and civic ice.
One gets the picture from the sample above: "Her first eight years in Washington." As if she had just spent eight years in elected office. Did she? My recollection is that she presided incompetently over a grandiose health plan that failed, and then did First Lady chores (changing all those sheets in the Lincoln bedroom) until forced to endure, in a stoic rage, the sleazy business her husband got into. In the nick of time, she moved to New York before the filing deadline.
The Times says Hillary is "the one candidate who will best fill the vast gap that will be left in the Senate and within the Democratic Party by the retirement of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan." Did we expect Republican Rick Lazio to be the one candidate who could best fill that gap within the Democratic party? No. The Times' editorial board was not deciding between Lazio and Clinton at all, but was applying its solemn rubber stamp to a foregone partisan conclusion.
The Times passes over all that thin ice by an act of rhetorical levitation, as if there were no such thing as gravity. Its central conceit is that "Mrs. Clinton is capable of growing beyond the ethical legacies of her Arkansas and White House years." We must all applaud this generous endorsement of the doctrine of redemption no sinner but can be saved. Forget the carpetbagging, forget the years of lying, forget the ruthless opportunism. The Times editorial page, which has been fiercely critical for years about Whitewater and other Clinton scandals, forgives all of that now. Edifyingly, the capacity for "growth" is all. An interesting defense to introduce into our criminal courts: The defendant has a capacity for growth; send her to the U.S. Senate.
The Clintons' secret is that they live in a morally discontinuous universe events do not have consequences, and what happened 15 minutes ago has no connection to what happens now. Beware of power when it masters the secret of popular amnesia.