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Susan Estrich: Clinton's New Plan

Say it ain’t so Joe. I mean, Hillary.

I don’t believe it. But my friends in Obama-land, the place where all good Democrats are, or are heading to, are worried.

The concern is that Hillary could take a page from the book of one Joe Lieberman, once and former good Democrat, and decide that having lost out on his party’s nomination to someone he couldn’t see winning a general election, the better option (for him) was to run himself in the fall. Which he did. And won. Beating the liberal Democrat who had beaten him in the primary.

Of course, in Lieberman’s case, it was his senate seat, which had been his for some time, in a state where he’d been winning for some time, in a contest where the fate of the Supreme Court, the federal courts, the environment, the right to choose, and a few other things like that didn’t hang in the balance.

Could Hillary be planning to run as a third party candidate, to try to find the space between McCain and Obama, and fill it, and do what no one has done before at the national level?

Would she be willing to earn the enmity of Democrats everywhere, to eliminate her future role in the Democratic Party, in the Senate leadership, as a future nominee, every possibility of a dinner invitation and a donation from Democrats angry that she could be blamed for helping elect John McCain, if that’s what happened, and it very well could? Would she be willing to say goodbye to ever getting a vote in the African-American community, ever setting foot in a black church, ever receiving an ovation from a diverse audience – all for the possibility, the slim possiblity, that she could somehow thread a needle that doesn’t exist right now and find her way to the White House?

I haven’t talked to her, so I can’t claim inside information, but I have known her and her husband and her team for a very long time. And this is what I think: she’d rather be vice president.

Of course, the fact that she’s willing to do it doesn’t mean that he’s willing to have her. For all kinds of reasons, like where she’s from (New York and not Ohio or Pennsylvania) and who and what she’s connected to (the Clinton years, the past, the nineties, Bill) and what she’s said about him (not ready for the red phone) and the challenges an Obama-Clinton ticket would pose for voters (racism and sexism, anyone?), I can imagine the people around Senator Obama whispering, or yelling, little nothings like GOVERNOR STRICKLAND in his ear.

The one thing you don’t want to have happen to you when you’re trying to pick a vice president is to get boxed in the corner by outside forces. That’s what happened, frankly, to Vice President Mondale in 1984 (when the very-same Jim Johnson who Obama has tapped to co-ordinate the process was running that show).

Jim is a very smart guy, but that didn’t stop women, myself included, from boxing in Mondale where he was all but committed to choosing a woman (we literally surrounded him in a much publicized meeting I attended in Minnesota on July 4th that year) and when the campaign, after initially coming very close to tapping Dianne Feinstein, decided to change course, the only woman still standing was my then boss and still good friend, Geraldine Ferraro, whose background they spent all of about one day checking (and she and I spent even less than that getting ready for her close-up) before her name was announced. It was a great convention,but no one was really ready for what came next and it was a very rocky general election, with the press jumping all over her about tax returns that hadn’t been released, and extreme tension (I’m putting a good face on this) between the presidential and vice presidential campaigns.

No, that is not what Barack wants. The most important thing about the vice presidential decision, other than who you pick, is looking like you’re the boss in doing the picking, and while I personally would love to see Hillary get the recognition she deserves, I’m not sure it’s realistic, or even wise, to expect that it will come in the form of a vice presidential nod. And notwithstanding the enthusiasm of many of my old friends to run a campaign for Hillary for Veep, experience has taught me the dangers in such campaigns. Sometimes they succeed, which is not always for the best. Let Obama pick who he wants. He should. He will be judged by it.

But whether she wins or loses in that contest, Hillary belongs on the Democratic side. Despite a few stumbles (I know, RFK), Hillary ran a campaign that she can be proud of. She made believers out of many who were doubters, especially women. Losing gracefully is a whole lot harder than winning gracefully but for that very reason, it is the measure of a man. Or a woman. Lieberman may still be in the Senate, but his future among Democrats is over. He never had one, truth be told. Hillary does. The only thing that could jeopardize it is being blamed for the election of John McCain. That’s the last thing she needs. OR Bill does.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission. A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership. Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.