On that Sunday in Purchase, N.Y., when she announced her candidacy for the Senate, Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed to have forgotten her last name.
There was Bill Clinton on the platform with her, but he did not speak and he was scarcely mentioned. The huge sign over the stage read, "Hillary."
And when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whom she aspires to succeed, introduced her, he went far back to find a role model, saying, "Hillary, Mrs. Roosevelt would love you."
The brooding Clinton presence hangs over this campaign. Vice President Al Gore is hard pressed to maintain the ambiguous position that Clinton has done a lot for America, if not for American morality.
But the Republicans are also having to deal with the hovering Clinton presence, like Banquo's ghost at the feast.
Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain vie with each other in promising to bring back to the Oval Office honesty, integrity, character, and candor.
The name "Clinton" need not pass their lips, but if you don't know who it is that has done away with honesty, integrity, etc., you must be pretty dense.
It is like 1976 when Jimmy Carter said, "I will never lie to you."
He didn't mention Richard Nixon. He didn't need to. This was two years after Nixon was forced out of office, facing impeachment.
The name "Clinton" has been something like a hand grenade, to be tossed back and forth from one candidate to the other. So, when Mr. McCain says that Mr. Bush "twists the truth like Clinton," an outraged Bush comes back charging defamation.
In their debate on CNN Tuesday night, Bush upbraided McCain, "Whatever you do, don't equate my integrity and trustworthiness to Bill Clinton. That's about as low a blow as you can give in a Republican primary."
It has also become customary for a candidate to denounce the proposals of the other by calling them "Clintonesque."
In The Wall Street Journal, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan says that the reason the Republican establishment doesn't like McCain is that, in their hearts, they "think he is another Clinton-self-promoting, egoist, inconsistent and vain."
A Journal editorial, on the other hand, says that most voters who want a different persona than Clinton's in the White House look to McCain, who "doesn't need to prove he's grounded in something authentic. Governor Bush does."
One way or another, every candidate in the race for the presidency seems to be running against Clinton. I suspect that if there were no Bill Clinton, they would have to invent one.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society