LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Is Vice President Hillary Clinton a Clintonite fantasy or a valid possibility?
Even Monday’s announcement of White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley’s resignation boosted the hopes of Hillary supporters who chose to see it as a harbinger: Could more shake-ups occur in the Obama administration before November? Say, a switch of Joe Biden for Hillary Clinton?
With everyone from Bill Keller of the New York Times to novelist Anne Rice jumping on the bandwagon, at least one of the Clintons couldn’t be happier. (“Hillary Clinton for vice president now!’’ Rice wrote on her Facebook page. “Strengthen the ticket and prepare for the future! What a spokesperson she would be for the administration in the coming campaign months! Let’s hear it for Hillary!”)
Some of Bill Clinton’s closest friends and allies here say the entire scenario is the former president’s wishful thinking, and that his not-so-secret fantasy is that his wife could make history as the country’s first female vice president; apparently, he pushes the idea to anyone who will listen.
Other Clinton friends, however, say both Bill and Hillary Clinton think the Democratic Party needs a jolt only she can deliver.
At this point, even I don’t know which wing of the family is right; the Clintons and their allies have been spinning yarns and leaking rumors for decades, daring reporters to decipher them.
And I’ve been covering Bill Clinton literally since childhood.
When I was eight, my third grade class ventured to the Arkansas state capitol on a field trip. We accidentally met Bill Clinton, then a newly elected governor, who greeted us in the capitol’s rotunda. One of my friends immediately fell in love with him. She taped pictures of him on her bedroom wall as if he were a rock star.
The teacher assigned us a report to write about our meeting. I’m unsure what I said, but he was a nice enough guy, shook our little hands and answered questions. He was my first connection to the political world.
In high school, then-Governor Bill Clinton often spoke at the state’s high school journalism convention. Inevitably, we would write a small story about what he said. Those printed jewels now lie in some dusty library archive, but Clinton was always an inspirational figure, urging us to follow our dreams.
Once, he invited college newspaper editors to the state capitol for one-on-one interviews. As a sophomore, I walked into the imposing governor’s conference room with its long wooden table, grasping my now-archaic gigantic tape recorder, and asked him about his higher education plan for Arkansas.
By 1990, as I stood on a sidewalk in a small Arkansas town watching a parade, Bill Clinton crossed the street to greet me and called me by name. Pro politician that he is, he shook my hand, met my parents and mentioned our interview the previous year.
When he became president, I covered scandals and impeachment, then the construction of his presidential library and his life after the presidency. Along the journey, I’ve seen the Clinton machine regularly drops clues about the future. They leak to reporters via phone calls. They float rumors over glasses of wine. Then they deny everything once it’s printed. It’s their modus operandi.
The vice-president rumor has been white-hot for several months in Arkansas. On their home turf, the gossip hit fever pitch in early October, when Hillary made a rare appearance here.
Hillary – along with Bill and their daughter Chelsea – celebrated the 20th year anniversary of Bill Clinton’s announcement for president. The three walked hand-in-hand across a newly dedicated bridge, leading to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center near the Arkansas River, and acted like the first family we remember from the 1990s.
At a packed lecture, Hillary talked about her work as Secretary of State. She waved to the crowds that gathered on the grounds of the historic Old State House Museum, the site of Bill Clinton’s 1991 presidential announcement. She sure didn’t act like a baby boomer longing to retire to Chappaqua and write a new volume of memoirs.
Long-time supporters whispered that she was open to joining the 2012 ticket with Obama, a president who isn’t at all popular in this Southern state.
In December, when Bill Clinton visited Arkansas for a book signing, many supporters told him they wanted Hillary on the 2012 ticket – and he certainly didn’t quash the possibility, even, or perhaps especially, with reporters listening.
(On that occasion, I was informed in advance that Clinton had requested that I ask the first question at the news conference. It didn’t happen that way, because another reporter jumped the line. But that’s OK; I’m too young to become the Helen Thomas of the Little Rock press corps.)
So having covered Bill Clinton for most of my life, what’s my bet? The current vice-presidential rumors aren’t being floated for naught. Hillary may not land on the ticket, but Clintonites certainly want Obama to strongly consider it.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker