04/24/2012 06:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hillary for President? On the Other Side of the Gauntlet

It might just be President Hillary Clinton, after all. But what would that mean? Could she move the country forward after a tumultuous period of transition under Barack Obama?

Pulling back from the usual back-and-forth of the moment reveals the potential for historic opportunities. But it's a rugged gauntlet getting there.

Because it's never too early to think about the presidential race after the one going on now. Public Policy Polling came up with numbers last week for potential candidates in both parties for their respective 2016 presidential nominations. On the Democratic side, it's Hillary Clinton in an absolute runaway over Joe Biden. On the Republican side, Chris Christie has a slight edge over Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush, assuming Mitt Romney isn't on the ballot.

Obama is either ahead, sometimes significantly, or tied in the various 2012 polls as the two campaigns probe for opportunity and vulnerability.

I think Obama has the edge, though missteps and major crises could upend him, and the super PAC phenomenon is a problem for him with the various economic interests upset with the president, notably the old energy economy, able to cut massive checks, sometimes secretly.

At a NATO conference last week in Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that things are actually going well in Afghanistan, while Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized for the latest big embarrassment there, photos showing American soldiers posing with gruesome trophies, the body parts of Taliban attackers.

Romney's campaign reminds me quite a lot of billionaire Meg Whitman's 2010 campaign for governor of California. Which is not exactly surprising, since her candidacy was Romney's idea in the first place, as I reported here on the Huffington Post two years ago in "The Mitt and Meg Show: Taking Care of Business."

That venture, the biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history, ended in a landslide win for Jerry Brown.

Today, Hillary seems a prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Her favorability with Democrats is an amazing 86-10. Working for Obama has certainly won the favor of his backers in their hard-fought 2008 primary battle. In the poll, she leads by an overwhelming margin. She's at 57%, to Vice President Joe Biden at 14%, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren at 6%, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at 5%, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold at 3%, Virginia Senator Mark Warner at 2%, and 1% apiece for Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. (Biden, a clear leader in Clinton's absence, has a favorable/unfavorable ratio of 70-21, while Cuomo is 32-24.)

If the names polled seem rather random, they are. The future for the Democratic Party arrived early, in the form of Barack Obama. In his absence, there is something of a paucity of obvious "new generation" candidates aside from New York's governor. Besides, with people living longer and more vigorously, why not look to an old new generation candidate? Jerry Brown, who I rather suspect will be in a historic fourth term as California's governor in 2016, could make an intriguing choice were he so inclined. Which I tend to doubt, but one never knows.

If Romney manages to win, I expect the pressure on Hillary to run from Democrats to be enormous. With Obama's re-election, the pressure would be less but the opportunity could be greater.

In any event, she could certainly be in a great position in 2016. Hillary has announced that she's leaving public office after this term. But associates speculate that, after a year or so of a more restful schedule -- Clinton is traveling constantly around the world as secretary of state -- she could be ready to roll for the next act.

Not just to win, but to move the country forward after a tumultuous period of transition. We could complete the transition out of the Iraq mode we're still semi-stuck in, forge ahead on the new energy economy, and dispense with the anti-government/no-tax mania that warps public discourse.

Obama is in the process of shifting us out of Iraq mode, i.e, the massive and massively dysfunctional military interventions in the Arab world into a counter-terrorism mode, though Afghanistan sticks out like a sore thumb. His plan, with Hillary deeply involved, is to shift more to the burgeoning Asia Pacific region, to work with allies to counter China where necessary and partner where possible.

Obama is also focusing on the new energy economy. For decades, many of us have pushed for renewable energy and energy conservation and efficiency to move America off its fossil fuel addiction which so fatefully affects the climate, causes health problems, and leads national leaders to place our military into harm's way. ("Drill, baby, drill," by the way, the Palinesque simpleton solution, is a pretty irrelevant strategy absent nationalization of the oil industry. Oil is a global market. Even though US oil production is way up, there's no real impact on the price, which is set in global markets as I show every day on New West Notes.)

Obama is also struggling to overcome a resurgent anti-government/no-tax mania. There's nothing really new about the Tea Party, which is essentially a rebranded far right, but the new media culture gives it bigger megaphones than before to distract and disrupt.

Hillary Clinton could provide back-to-back historic presidencies, the first black president of the United States followed by the first woman president. These are things I thought I might never see, things which loom large for me, since I write all the time about Mad Men, that master class in American studies in which racism and sexism are constants.

But has she learned the right lessons and would she move us in the right directions?

I'm not exactly the greatest fan of the Clintons.

I was with with Jerry Brown against Bill Clinton in the 1992 Democratic primaries. In 2008, I was for Obama over Hillary Clinton.

I like and respect Bill Clinton, but just as you can make a case for his presidency being outstanding -- it was a time of great prosperity and respect for America in the world -- you can also make a case that his presidency carried ominous seeds. Deregulatory efforts in finance, energy, telecoms, and media may have spurred some innovation but also removed protections for consumers.

In her own individual career, Hillary Clinton has been more reflexively hawkish than one would assume from her having worked in George McGovernor's anti-Vietnam War presidential campaign.

She was an advocate of the Iraq War, which is one of the biggest geopolitical mistakes of all time, destabilizing the region, empowering Iran, giving rise to new jihadists.

But she was right about the much more measured and limited intervention in Libya, where the US played the critical but supportive role in a European and Arab coalition to end the Gaddafi regime after the dictator cracked down so murderously on Arab Awakening protesters in that country.

During the 2008 Democratic national convention, I wrote here on the Huffington Post that Obama would be well advised to get Clinton's assistance. Feelings were very raw then, but Obama was wise and clever enough to make Hillary Clinton his secretary of state not long after, and now he is getting help from Bill Clinton.

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton is now very popular. And Bill Clinton, who seemed at times to melt down in bitterness during his wife's campaign against Obama, is arguably the most esteemed statesman on the planet.

Hillary, a world figure when she ran for president in 2008 as a New York senator and former first lady, is even more that now after three years as secretary of state. With her husband the former president as her partner, she could offer an historic one-two punch. And when you add Obama, who is himself popular around the world, to that mix, the US would have very powerful and appealing figures to bring to bear in public diplomacy.

Of course, the US is in the midst of a series of geopolitical crises which could affect Obama's election and Hillary's reputation.

There's the crisis involving Iran and Israel, which has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran if sanctions and diplomacy don't force it to back away from its nuclear program. The Iran crisis has lowered its temperature, at least publicly, in the wake of essentially substance-free negotiations in Istanbul.

They'll talk again in a month, in now friendly-to-Iran Baghdad. Which is nice, but may be meaningless, other than blunting the swift drift to war. At least in public.

Then there's the linked ongoing crisis in Iran's ally Syria, where Assad regime forces are sort of honoring a ceasefire, but not really. The ceasefire in Syria is proving to be pretty one-sided, with Assad regime forces still attacking demonstrators. The UN is struggling to establish a working protocol for monitoring matters there, even as the US and other powers consider how best to secure humanitarian relief missions into the deeply troubled country.

The administration grapples with the latest major embarrassment in Afghanistan, with photos of US troops displaying Taliban body parts as gruesome trophies. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called on the US to speed up its withdrawal, still scheduled for the end of 2014.

Even before the photos emerged, Australia announced that it will pull out next year.

And it's not as though Australia is not a staunch US ally. Darwin, Australia will serve as a dual base for Australian and US naval and ground forces, as announced late last year as part of the Obama Administration's planned geostrategic transition to a Pacific focus.

Meanwhile, protests are erupting again in Egypt, this time over the ruling military council's move to remove leading presidential candidates from the ballot and amend the emerging constitution to preserve some of its power going forward.

The Egyptian revolution hasn't turned out the way the secular reformers who sparked it hoped it would, nor the way many hopeful Westerners imagined it had.

There's North Korea, whose long-range missile test, cast in the guise of a weather satellite launch, failed. Which is good for Obama in that it was an implicit rebuke of his food deal with the Hermit Kingdom. But it may be bad in that North Korea's young new leader probably feels compelled to go ahead with a nuclear test blast.

North Korea is already a nuclear power, and it's simply a matter of containing their somewhat crude capabilities. Which is why the US has more troops on South Korea than there are in the entire Canadian Army.

And, while the massive wave of illegal immigration from Mexico has subsided, drug cartels threaten the power of elected government in a big country right on our border.

There's a lot that can wrong and affect Hillary's reputation, as well as the tumultuous transition that Obama has going. But if the gauntlet is successfully run, there can be great rewards on the other side.

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