Susan Estrich: So Now What?

So now what?

Now we wait.

Anyone who tells you they know the last scene, how it will play out, is just lying. Or guessing. All we can do is review possibilities.

It’s possible, I would say likely, that Hillary will win comfortably in Pennsylvania, and if she does, say this is the springboard for Inidiana and North Carolina, and put up a major fight in those two states, at the same time keeping an eye on Puerto Rico, and leading the still undecided superdelegates to remain,largely, still undecided.

Of course, it’s also possible that Hillary could lose Pennsylvania, in which case the obituary writers will start drafting, support could soften in Indiana, and absent a miracle two weeks later, it will look and feel like a very long movie is finally about to end.

Then again, it is also possible that if Hillary wins Pennsylvania, she could jump up in Indiana and North Carolina, and if she can beat Obama in North Carolina, which I doubt, which is why it would be so signigificant, he’d be left in deep trouble, and she could then make the dramatic move of offering him the number two slot on the ticket, and doing the O Henry ending.

And of course, it’s also possible that Hillary wins Pennsylvania, that she and Obama split Indiana and North Carolina, and that I’m writing another column that looks a lot like this one, that looks a lot like ones I’ve been writing for months, in two weeks from now.

The real question, at least for those of us who are not on the payroll or members of the immediate family of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, is whether any or all of these scenarios is going to doom whoever does win to becoming the next Mondale/Dukakis/Gore/Kerry of recent Democratic history, which is to say, to losing.

The good news, at least from the perspective of Pollyanna Estrich here, is that for all the scrambling and sloppiness of recent days, I think the candidates, both of them,are in the end getting stronger, tougher, better prepared to deal with what the fall election will look like.

You think Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos are tough? You ain’t seen nothing yet. You think the Clintons play hardball?

Welcome to the way the Republican National Committee plays.

Remember not just the Swift Boat ads, but the one with the blonde playgirl used to tank Harold Ford, that came straight from official Republican headquarters. You think the Republicans are going to treat Jeremiah Wright (the pastor) or William Ayers (the Weatherman) or the presidential pardons of Bill Clinton, as old news? Think again.

Of course McCain is taking a bump up in the polls, while Clinton and Obama take it on the chin. But no one’s attacking him right now, while the two of them are getting tarred every day.

Just wait.

The important thing, or things, are that whatever is out there is coming out, and both candidates are getting easier and stronger and more secure about dealing with it. I remember, back in 1988, Al Gore attacked Michael Dukakis exactly once about Willie Horton (the murderer who got out on furlough, remember him?) during the primary campaign. Then Gore backed down, reportedly afraid that people would think he was racist, and the argument of many of us inside the campaign and out (Bill Clinton included) that Dukakis needed to deal with the Horton/crime issue preemptively fell on deaf ears. It simply wasn’t a problem, not until it was a disaster.

It’s too bad, in a way, that John Kerry was able to win the Democratic nomination so easily last time, without any of his competitors in fact taking him on about his war record and then his post-war criticisms of American troops. It might have caused him to think twice before beginning his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention with the ill-fated line, “Lieutenant John Kerry, reporting for duty.” Indeed.

What I am hearing, from voters if not from some of the staffers surrounding the campaigns, is that the enemy, as it were, the target, the real opponent, is John McCain. In a series of radio interviews I listened to after the Pennsylvania debate this week, the common theme of the women who gave their views was that they would be happy to support either Democrat over John McCain. That is the ball Democrats need to keep their eyes on.

Is the process pleasant? No. Is it messy? Yes. Is it long, painful, sometimes excruciating and frustrating. Yes. It is also, as Marty Kaplan once wrote in a speech for Mike Dukakis, the “music of freedom.” Let it play on. It will be over soon enough, and then it will be time to applaud and move on.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for