From time to time there's chatter that Senator Clinton is planning a future run, perhaps in 2012 if Obama loses this year. It may be, but if it is, it's deeply unrealistic.
The Clinton-in-2012 speculation relies on the assumption that the political environment in four years will be basically unchanged from the one we inhabit at the moment. That's always a doubtful proposition, but this year it's a complete fantasy.
Our country faces major challenges on many different fronts. John McCain has no serious policies for addressing our current crises, and some fervently-held policies that would exacerbate them. He has no real proposals for our banking crisis, our energy crisis, our economic difficulties or our worsening environment. What proposals he floats are profoundly unrealistic. His ideas of military and foreign policy are almost criminally foolish. Our military is extended beyond its breaking point, and he wants to extend it further. With our international influence in tatters, he wants to abandon internationalism and impose our power solely through military power that we do not, at the moment, possess.
Four years of McCain's leadership will leave this country in such distress that a successful presidential candidate will need to offer either a radical or else a reactionary program, far more extreme than anything Hillary Clinton will ever propose. The swing from Bush to Obama will be enormous; the swing from McCain to a liberal successor would be far larger. The winner of a post-McCain presidency would need either to promise an enormous leftward shift, a renunciation of the status quo at least as profound as 1932's and indeed probably deeper, or else to traffic in a militaristic fearmonging well beyond HRC's capacities. After four years of McCain, the voters will either have accepted the logic of perpetual war, leaving space only for strong man figures, or have rejected the status quo so thoroughly that Obama would be too centrist. In short, four years of McCain will be polarizing, and Clinton cannot occupy either pole effectively.
Indeed, if there was ever a chance to win a campaign for a Clinton Restoration, it may have been 2004. True, HRC had only spent four years in the Senate, but one of the central rationales for her campaign was her experience in her husband's administration. If there was ever a moment when voters would be open to turning back the page and picking up where Bill Clinton left off, it would be in 2004. Now too many events have intervened to make going back to 1999 seem plausible. And in 2012, the Clinton Administration will only seem less relevant, and further away.