The era of big Clintons is soon over
Bill, it could be said, was born to run. Running became Hillary's destiny, too.
One quarter of Americans have never known life without a Clinton trying for or having the presidency. Millions have gone from diapers to diplomas in the time of the Clintons.
When Hillary Rodham Clinton finally exits the 2008 Democratic presidential race, she will end a decades-long, power-couple streak of unique political energy, savvy ideas, colossal policy flops and raw ambition dressed in pants suits and briefs, not boxers.
"Every day is an adventure," Bill said cheerfully at the start of it all. And how.
By now, the Clintons have been assigned mystical qualities of perseverance. The notion that the adventure is over is almost beyond comprehension.
"I never quit," she says. "I never give up."
Even in defeat, Hillary Clinton has made history as the first woman favored for a major party presidential nomination — the first with a real shot at the presidency.
She's gotten more than 17 million votes in her own right this year, enticingly close to the number won by Barack Obama, who is making history, too, because he's black.
With her cachet, not to mention her job in the Senate, Clinton won't drift far from the nation's consciousness. (Nor is Bill likely to get out of the country's face.)
"Whatever else you might say about them, they have contributed to substantive dialogue and policy," says Mary Matalin, a Clinton-era Republican strategist. "Hats off to them substantively.
"They're really kind of giants in this world."
In the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaign years, Hillary Clinton, now 60, will still be younger than the Republican candidate, John McCain, is now. Meantime, she could become a powerhouse senator in the manner of the stricken Edward M. Kennedy. Or a Supreme Court justice. Or Obama's running mate.
Soon, though, there will be no Clinton running for president or about to. Imagine that.
Dial back to Bill Clinton's two terms and a few big achievements and various smaller ones stand out: unsurpassed economic growth, a balanced budget, welfare reform, free trade, a Middle East peace agreement, gun control, more money for police on the street, the first Cabinet without white men in the majority.
Here was a man who could wear people out talking about the fine points of policy while owning up to his choice of underwear.
Another legacy was the transcendent His and Hers failure: universal health care. The complex, secretively drawn plan to achieve that goal was sent to and killed by a Democratic Congress, no less.
And there were the scandals, His and Hers.
They are known, in brief, as: Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Whitewater, the White House travel office firings, White House coffees and Lincoln bedroom stays for donors, FBI background files on Republicans, missing documents and the presidential pardon of a fugitive friend.
The episodes involving women were his. Most of the others were theirs or hers.
Scene from a 'funeral':
In January 2001, shortly before George W. Bush was sworn in, some of the Clintons' fiercest critics from the right gathered in a Washington hotel to feast on filet mignon, salmon and sour grapes.
"It's our way of celebrating the fumigation of Washington," said L. Brent Bozell III, host of the "funeral" for the Clinton years.
"I've never seen a back I've found more attractive," said Robert Bork, the scuttled Supreme Court nominee, meaning Bill Clinton's back when he left town.
Bozell amended the Lord's Prayer to say of Mrs. Clinton: "Her socialist agenda got runneth over." And the Rev. Jerry Falwell gave the invocation, thanking God "a new wind is blowing."
They seemed to be forgetting someone.
Hillary Clinton came blowing into the Senate chamber, the newly minted junior senator from New York.
She was diligent from the start, attentive to constituent needs and a hard worker on the Armed Services Committee. She promised to be "pretty New York-centric," and was.
But everything she did was colored by the expectation of a presidential run.
The most polarizing woman in politics turned into a workhorse and formed surprising alliances with Republicans.
She edged toward the center and attempted to accomplish in little pieces what she could not pull off as a whole in her years as first lady.
Clinton joined Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an architect of her husband's impeachment, in a law improving health coverage for members of the National Reserve and Guard serving in Iraq.
She pushed for tighter regulation of prescription drugs for children and help for recovery workers whose health was impaired by laboring at the site of the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attack.
And she voted to authorize the Iraq invasion, which she would never live down after she cruised to re-election in 2006.
No monumental law bears her name.
But in the campaign, universal health care returned to her agenda. This time, she said, she would learn from her experience and do it right — more openly and less intrusively on parts of the health care system that work.
Clinton was the one to beat out of the gate. Everyone knew her, for one thing.
"Ninety-nine percent of the country feels they have a relationship with her," said Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Clinton.
And there was Bill, still in everyone's face. He stumped for his wife as if possessed. Hillary Clinton flashed him that bright smile on stage through thick and thin.
For some voters, that was one Clinton — or two — too many.
"We've had enough of the Clintons," said Haydon Grubbs, 77, of Shalimar, Fla. "New direction, right?"
Grubbs, a Republican who voted in the past for the "He Clinton," backed Obama this time.
The "She Clinton" found her own voice.
But, like her husband, she seemed the strongest when her back was against the wall.
As the odds of beating Obama sank into the nearly impossible, she campaigned as if there were some previously undiscovered "third way" to win, just as Bill Clinton had sought a third way to govern between the old politics of left and right.
On Friday, she cited the 1968 Democratic primaries as a reason why she should stay in the race. She mentioned the assassination of Robert Kennedy in June of that year, then apologized for bringing it up.
Together, Bill and Hillary Clinton have pulled it out of the fire over and over, going back to 1976, when he bounced back from losing a congressional race two years earlier. He won election as Arkansas attorney general.
Two years after that, at 32, he became the nation's youngest governor.
Then, defeat in 1980 when he sought a second term. It would be his final election loss, but hardly the last dip in the Clintons' seemingly endless cycle of failure and renewal.
By the mid-1980s, when he was back in office in Little Rock, Clinton's name was floating as a Democratic presidential prospect.
He took a pass in 1988. But that year marked one benchmark in the rollout of the Clinton era.
He delivered a speech at the Democratic convention laying out a new orthodoxy that he would bring to the presidential race himself four years later, his activist wife at his side.
The Clintons' national conversation had begun.
The speech went on for so long that some people wondered if it would ever end.
In a way, it never did. Not until now.