Hillary Rodham Clinton is pondering, if not life after Bill, at least life after the White House.
She has teased the press and public with hints about running for the Senate from New York state, resulting in Hillary covers in Time and Newsweek and a frenzy of will-she, won't-she publicity. Some of her advisers are saying she should. Some are saying she shouldn't.
The Hillary-for-Senate boomlet has been fueled more by her celebrity status, and sympathy for her as a "wronged woman," than by sober appraisal of her potential legislative effectiveness. That effectiveness is not striking, judged on past performance. For example, her attempt to define and ram through a controversial health-care program in her husband's first term was a disaster. Mrs. Clinton has an agenda, but has not so far demonstrated the political astuteness and art of compromise to successfully implement it.
Nor is it clear how she would fare with the rough handling she would get from the irreverent New York press.
Were it not for the Clinton connection that has made her a national figure, few would see her as a stand-alone political figure with the experience of Christine Todd Whitman, or Dianne Feinstein, who have fought hard elections to gain office, or Elizabeth Dole, who has survived the vicissitudes of life in the Cabinet.
New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, her likely opponent for the New York Senate seat, far from being apprehensive, is slavering over the prospect of a contest with Clinton. It would bring him national exposure and unlimited financing. And in the tough political climate of New York, he thinks he can exploit her political weaknesses and win. He believes he can get the upstate vote, and despite Manhattan's traditional liberal image, can make significant inroads there. The mayor, although sometimes controversial, is given widespread credit by New Yorkers for improving their quality of life. The garbage gets collected now, the streets get cleaned, and with a remarkable reduction in crime, the streets are safer. Without Manhattan, Clinton could not win.
Despite a lot of early Democratic gushing over the prospect of Clinton's candidacy, her strong initial standing in the polls has slipped. Some of her political missteps, as for instance on the future of a Palestinian state, have cost her support with some of New York's Jewish community.
Some pundits have speculated that if Clinton ran, and won the New York Senate seat, that would position her for a try for the presidency in later years. She is certainly young enough to build a power base, and a political career, of her own.
But if she ran with all the current advantages of celebrity and lost, that would probably be the end of it.
Whatever the decision she makes about New York, the ongoing publicity has only enhanced her marketability in other potential careers. Clinton has discussed with friends the merits of running a think tank or foundation, from which she might project her liberal political views. There has also been speculation that she might serve in an ambassadorial post or even as a Cabinet member in the administration of Al Gore, should he become the next Democratic president. The ambassadorial post might offer ceremonial glitz, but hardly a political platform. The Cabinet post, subservient to her husband's former vice president, would seem pointless.
From a purely financial point of view, the most lucrative venture Clinton could undertake would be book-writing. If the self-serving books of Monica Lewinsky and George Stephanopoulos can fetch the millions of dollars they have, a revelatory book by Hillary Clinton would be a monetary block-buster. It could not, of course, be a dusty tome on public policy. In today's prurient book-publishing climate it would need to be a tell-all story about her life with Bill. It's just that chapter of her life that she seems intent on putting behind her.
*John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.