The Clintons keep their eyes on the prize

We're used to seeing our presidents move out toward the horizon when they leave office - the most memorable being the forced exit of Richard Nixon and his wave as he flew away. Presidents are expected to leave Washington gladly for retirement elsewhere, usually where they came from.

But not Bill Clinton. He's leaving the presidency, but still sticking around.

President Woodrow Wilson did not even stay for the Harding inauguration. Instead, he and Mrs. Wilson left the Capitol ceremony early by a side door and went immediately to a house in northwest Washington they had purchased for their retirement. Wilson stayed there in semiseclusion for the remaining three years of his life.

Anyway, if anyone had the idea that Bill Clinton would be disappearing over the horizon soon on his way to making multiple speeches in out-of-the way places that won't even produce the tiniest of news, well, they are dead wrong.

He'll remain a power - perhaps the power - in the Democratic Party, if he is able to implement his plans. And he obviously intends to be a Washington-based power.

If Bill Clinton now is to become the titular head of the party, he is off to a good start. Already, he's been able to move his old pal and favorite fundraiser, Terry McAuliffe, toward taking the helm of the Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Clinton will continue to be heavily in demand as a fundraising speaker for Democratic politicians all around the US. But the question will be: Will he be willing to contribute that kind of time to the party? I think he will. At the same time, he's going to make a lot of those $100,000 speeches on his own speaking tour - where he will be able to make millions for himself in a hurry. And then - like Hillary - he, too, will write a big, moneymaking book.

So yes, I think the Clinton team still is with us in Washington - although now it's clearly the Hillary-Bill duo with Mrs. Clinton in the lead position.

What is the Clintons' political target? Well, I hear talk coming out of Hillary's camp - she needs to "settle in" for a few years, she needs to learn her job, and repay the voters with good works. Well, this may be partly true. But, as I see it, Hillary (and Bill) never have their eyes off the main prize.

If Al Gore had beaten George W. Bush, Hillary would be setting her sights on the presidency eight years from now. But Mr. Gore didn't beat Mr. Bush; and the Democratic presidential nomination will be available four years from now.

Gore will try again. You can bank on it. He came so close; he figures he deserves another chance.

But there is a restlessness among a lot of Democrats about Gore, a feeling he simply isn't a strong candidate and that with the economy as an asset he should have beaten Bush by a big margin.

There's already talk of Joe Lieberman as the possible Democratic presidential candidate next time around. Mr. Lieberman made many friends; he was most attractive.

And there is bound to be a Democratic governor or two who will look like presidential material in a couple of years. Gov. Gray Davis of California already has gained that rating.

But Hillary is ready, ready to go. And so is Bill. If Hillary runs, Bill won't stay on the sidelines as he did (relatively speaking) in her New York race. No, besides mapping strategy for her, Bill will be tirelessly campaigning for Hillary, from coast to coast. That's my guess.

Oh yes, there will be a lot of talk by both Hillary and Bill about others who should get this next chance to run for president. Lots of polite talk.

But in the end, they won't make way for anyone. It's not their style - nor is it the sort of deference that shows up anywhere on their political record.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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