It's time to put the Rodham back into Hillary Rodham Clinton. Should she run for the U.S. Senate from New York? Absolutely. It'll be the best medicine for what ails her: Spousal Accommodation Overdose.

It will be good for New York, too, to have her as a candidate. She's tough, she's gritty, and we're a tough, gritty state. And she is an extraordinarily smart, capable politician--one of her generation's best.

For more than two decades, Hillary has used those estimable abilities for Bill Clinton's benefit, much more than for her own. There's nothing wrong with that, of course--it's what loving spouses do for each other all the time, and should do.

But surely there is a limit. And surely, Hillary reached it some time ago.

From the moment she moved to her husband's home state of Arkansas, Hillary Clinton has chosen to subvert her own highly promising career path. As her Wellesley class's top student, as an outstanding Yale Law School graduate, as a young activist and lawyer, she seemed marked for groundbreaking achievement and success. Instead, she took an old-fashioned route--curiously so, given how often she is portrayed as a threateningly strong woman. She became first lady. Is there any more traditional job title?

Along the way, she toned down her natural assertiveness, changed her name (not to mention all those hair changes--and don't tell me they didn't mean something) and stood by her man. All with an eye on his poll numbers.

Enough of that already. Twenty-five years later, it's time at last to turn the tables. Not only should Hillary run, on Friday she gave the clearest signal yet that she will run. Her announcement follows months of cozying up to obscure county executives and Democratic Party chairmen throughout New York.

While her candidacy is still not quite a done deal, I'm convinced she'll run because of a psychological imperative: She needs to run. Throughout the Lewinsky firestorm, one heard people speculating. What on earth can Hillary be thinking? How can she stand this? Why would she continue to support him?

Only she and her closest friends can know for sure, but here's a theory. Hillary was cutting a private deal with herself: I'll endure this, reap the benefits of wifely loyalty in my own public opinion polls and have the last laugh. It would be a strange irony: Parlaying a popularity won on the least feminist of terms into her own election to public office.

Pundits and friends have said she'd be crazy to run for the Senate when she could have greater influence otherwise--as an author, ambassador, lecture-circuit speaker. And she could avoid the mudslinging of a campaign, the mocking tabloid headlines, the reopening of old wounds like Whitewater.

Somehow, though, one gets the idea that Hillary Rodham Clinton just wants this. And that she has suffered enough, feels she deserves this and is going to have it. And why shouldn't she? Well, plenty of naysayers are eager to supply the reasons. Their very eagerness reinforces what a formidable candidate she'll be.

She's a carpetbagger, they say, who doesn't know or care about New York state. As a nearly lifelong New Yorker, I think residency is less important than other qualities: leadership, brains and savvy. (And I'd wager that, right now, Homework Hillary knows more about the state and its residents' concerns than many of its top officeholders. And she'll know more as the days pass.)

It'll be an ugly campaign, they say, that will drag her and President Clinton through more mud. Her potential Republican opponent, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, can be a bulldog, and the city's tabloids are not known for their kid-glove approach. (But Hillary Clinton has incomparable experience with ugly campaigns and tough press coverage and has shown she can survive very well, thank you.)

A loss would be too bruising for her, they say; it's not worth the risk. (Why should anyone protect Hillary from her own ambition? If she loses, she can be an author, ambassador or lecture-circuit speaker just as well as she can now. If she wins--certainly a solid possibility--she'll cope just fine with the challenges, frustrations and setbacks.)

I can't think of a single good reason why she shouldn't have a run at it.

It's time--high time--for this self-proclaimed feminist to step out from the shadows of her husband's career.

Margaret Sullivan is the managing editor of the Buffalo News and a former Buffalo News columnist.

CAPTION: As the first lady's campaign machine lurches into higher gear, she must think about how New Yorkers in all parts of the state would take to her candidacy for the Senate.