It's presumptuous to speculate about the next presidential cycle before this one wraps up. That hasn't stopped the rumor mill from grinding. Two names that Democrats are already murmuring - Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren - may be setting the stage for 2016 to be the year of the woman.
There has always been speculation that Secretary Clinton would consider a 2016 return to presidential politics. She's indicated she'll step down from the State Department after the 2012 election, but nobody thinks a person of her stature will retire. She'll have countless opportunities -- and why shouldn't a run at the White House be one of them?
She's more popular than ever - including popularity among Republicans who loathed her in the '90s and among Democrats who passed over her four years ago. As America's envoy to the world, she has cemented her credentials as a world leader who acts with strength, diplomacy and intelligence. At the same time, she's become a new media star - pulling off "cool" and "hip" in a way that eluded her in her last campaign. Add in her husband's star turn at the Democratic Convention and you have a compelling candidate CV.
While Secretary Clinton has stayed off the campaign trail this time around and focused on her Cabinet position, it's common to search for meaning in all her public statements. At this morning's opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative, she came to the stage alongside her husband to the strains of the Jurassic Park theme music (it felt like the mid-'90s all over again) and delivered a relatively straight-forward speech about global development. When she discussed wealth around the world, though, it was easy to hear resonance for our domestic debates.
"I'm out of American politics," she managed to deliver without smiling, "but it's a fact that around the world the elites of every country are making money. There are rich people everywhere. Yet they don't invest in the growth of their own countries."
The statement is relevant for her role today… and maybe for a role in four years.
This possible course is a vexation to the plans of New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo, as the Times reported this weekend, and other presumptive Democratic hopefuls - many of whom would clear out of her way, but know she can take her time deciding. Cuomo kept a lower profile at the Convention to tamp down speculation. Maryland's Governor Martin O'Malley was less resigned, delivering a DNC address perhaps as part of his introduction to a national audience.
Then there was also President Clinton's opening act, Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. Her speech may not have electrified the nation the way Barack Obama's did when he was a Senate candidate in 2004. Yet fans are imagining the same path for her that the White House's current candidate took: keynote speaker, Senator and, within one-term, compelling national candidate. While this may not be the stated plan, this week's New Yorker indicates it may be the dream.
Warren may embody a more explicitly progressive vision than Clinton, whose association with the policies of '90s has to include the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the tenure of Robert Rubin and other conserva-dem facets of her husband's administration. But many liberals have learned to forgive and forget when it comes to President Clinton, and after her commanding role at State, liberals may extend Secretary Clinton the same absolution.
Hillary Clinton has now been a very good soldier for two presidents. If there are "turns" in politics, it's hers.
If Warren wins this year, the new Senator will need to prove what Clinton faced twelve years ago: That she's a workhorse, not a showhorse. If she can keep up her work ethic, prove herself a problem solver and continue to rile up a liberal base - and if Clinton passes - then Warren might find herself as the progressive champ in the national spotlight. That won't make her a sure thing if she finds herself facing Cuomo in the primary, but an energizing first-time Senator has faced down a well-funded, well-prepared member of a Democratic dynasty before. And we have President Obama to show for it.