These days, almost every political conversation ends up with a little Hillary at the end.
Catnip. The gift we give ourselves.
It would make absolutely no sense for Hillary Clinton to decide today whether she will or will not run for president. So the only sensible stance to take is that it's not impossible or, if you prefer, it certainly is possible, which is to say they flirt and we fan it.
Even out of office, Hillary Clinton obviously has the power to bring attention to issues, propose solutions, define problems, shape the debate. And if there's a chance she might be in office again, she has more power still. You are never more popular, certainly with the press, than the day before you announce. Until the day she says for sure she isn't running, she'll be treated as if she is.
That's the easy part. The press bores easily. But us? What I find striking is just how many of us, less than a year into our president's second term, are getting stars in our eyes thinking about Hillary 2016.
Have we so quickly lost interest in 2013 — or in the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?
The president is on vacation. I don't begrudge him that. But there is something about the image of carefree days on the beach that seems so old and completely out of touch with where the country is.
Things did not turn out exactly the way we boomers expected, which is certainly a big piece of the "there's still Hillary" coda. I know all of these amazingly qualified people who are ready for the next act, who still, God willing, have decades of work and life and expenses ahead, just not in the job or place they've been in the past.
Does the president get it? One of the things that was so striking about the president's comments on the George Zimmerman verdict was how clear it was that he understood the ordeal of Trayvon Martin's family and those who support them.
And maybe a little of the backlash (which was unwarranted on any rational grounds) owed to the folks who are wondering whether he'll ever understand their lives.
But there's more to it. Barack Obama — he of the gifted voice, the soaring spirit, the 21st-century politician — sounds more and more like everybody else in Washington. You can half-close your eyes, and it's all a bunch of word soup: "the American people" yada, yada, "but our opponents" yada yada, we're on the side of "the American people," and "they're blocking progress... " If you throw in "Benghazi" and "tax breaks for the rich," you can pretty much turn the page.
Now, I'm not saying that Hillary Clinton wouldn't sound just like Obama if she were sitting where he is (I'm long past re-fighting 2008). But he's where he is — and she's more than three years from that seat — and he'll spend the rest of his life looking back at these months, particularly this critical period before the midterm elections, and wondering what more he could have done.
Obamacare is about to take center stage. Sometimes, listening to the president's attackers and defenders, I think Kool-Aid must be all that's being served in D.C. Hello! Isn't the challenge right now to make the system work as well as it can for as many people as it can? Isn't that what we should talk about: How do we do it, fix it, work it? Not whether the president was right or wrong.
The point of sending representatives to Washington is to see what they can agree on, not what they can disagree on. You can disagree on cable news. If the president can't make Washington work before the midterms, will it really be easier afterward?
A little Hillary is nice, but Obama is the president. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
(Susan Estrich is a law professor at the University of Southern California. Long active in Democratic Party politics, she managed the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis in 1988.)