PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Don’t be spooked by the dateline. Nothing going on here. Presidential race hasn’t started. No cause for worry about debates, delegate counts, stump speeches. Not for a long time, maybe a very long time. Read on without peril.
Because this is a column about why the Democratic campaign, and thus maybe the Republican campaign, too, may be delayed indefinitely, why the person at the center of the speculation has no incentive to budge one inch, and why your fatigue with politics may perfectly match her strategic imperatives.
The politician we are speaking of is Hillary Rodham Clinton, late the secretary of state, before that the senator from New York. The political commentariat, including this foot soldier in those bedraggled and discredited ranks, has noted that she is in the unusual position of freezing the race. None of the Democrats will move — not Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., not even this season’s hugababy, Martin O’Malley, still so little known that it’s bad manners to the reader not to append his title, governor of Maryland — until she does.
This is not an everyday phenomenon. Consider the most formidable political figures of modern times: No other potential contender waited to gauge Sen. John F. Kennedy’s intentions for 1960. Not a soul on Earth put his life on hold to see if Gov. Bill Clinton would run in 1988, when he didn’t, or in 1992, when he did. Neither of the George Bushes scared anyone else out of the race in 1988 or 2000 or kept multitudes waiting for a decision from Kennebunkport. Jimmy Carter? You must be kidding. One of the reasons he carried his own grip was because he didn’t have any supporters to do so.
The Clinton position in this race is without precedent. Andrew Jackson was the presumptive 1828 Democratic nominee from the start — so much so that the party didn’t even hold a nominating caucus. But he had been the clear winner in both the popular and Electoral College vote in 1824, only to lose the presidency in the “corrupt bargain” that took John Quincy Adams to the White House in the only election ever decided in the House of Representatives. Nothing could deny Jackson the nomination four years later.