Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of the new book "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) -- For all the heavy baggage that she carries, Hillary Clinton is walking on water.
Ham-fisted attempts by the Republicans to smear her brain have backfired horribly (rightly so; they were distasteful), while Republican efforts to hang Benghazi around her neck (Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried this weekend) have barely dented her popularity among Democrats. Obama calls her a "buddy" who would make a "very effective" president, and the former secretary of state remains clear front-runner for her party's 2016 presidential nomination.
In fact, right now, she's the only real runner. And that can't be healthy -- for democracy, for the Democrats or even for Clinton.
How can we be sure she's running? Well, the United States might be the only country in the world where a politician signals his or her ambitions by writing a book. This does not, alas, mean that America's politicians are unusually literate. Often, the book is bad; usually, it's ghostwritten; only occasionally is it worth reading. But it's generally a sign.
The title of Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices" -- out on June 9 and helpfully promoted by a series of interviews with TV's biggest anchors -- suggests a woman who is trying to make sense of a troubled recent past. Becoming Obama's secretary of state, Egypt, Libya and the Benghazi fiasco were all arguably "choices" forced upon her. That they were "hard" implies an admission that the outcome was far from desirable.
Clinton is a potential presidential candidate who has to deal with not just one compromised record but two. First, the Bill Clinton administration; second, the Obama administration. In both cases, she seems keen to remind us, she wasn't technically in charge.
Such is the strange ambiguity of Hillary Rodham Clinton. First, she was the co-president and architect of Bill's most ambitious domestic reforms, the anti-Tammy Wynette. Then, she was the betrayed wife who did stand by her man. Next the liberal senator, the presidential candidate of the overwhelming majority of the establishment, suddenly a primaries loser who had to reinvent herself as Annie Oakley, finally a loyal servant of the President, a man whose abilities she questioned so rudely in the nomination battle.
Like Richard Nixon before her, she is one of those politicians who is defined by longevity. Her politics have changed so often that it's hard to precisely define what Clintonism is anymore, but she has lasted so long in the spotlight that it's become almost impossible to conceive that someday she won't be president.
That 2016 is Clinton's time is reflected in the surprising, even depressing, lack of an alternative. What is Vice President Joe Biden doing with his weekends? Or Newark Mayor Cory Booker (who has ruled himself out, if you can believe that)? Or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo? Without them, who are we left with? Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, headed for Iowa but probably not very well known there? Sen. Elizabeth Warren, sometimes pushed as the working-class Hillary but who would probably be unelectable outside of Massachusetts? Warren, interestingly, has written a book, too.
Contrast this silence with the Republican side.
The GOP is weighing up Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (whether they've showed any interest in running or not), and this pre-contest contest gives the impression that all the action is on the right while the Democrats just sit out what remains of Obama's second term, waiting for the whole thing to come to a dignified end.
And the Republican struggle is attractively philosophical. Paul represents the rise of libertarianism; Christie channels the spirit of Mayor Richard Daley; Bush is our generation's Nelson Rockefeller; Santorum is running to build heaven on Earth. These people are discussing ideas that will shape the future of the country. Clinton is talking largely about herself.
Of course, two years is almost an eternity in politics, and things might change. At pretty much this point in the 2008 contest, Clinton also commanded a lead over her opponents and looked set to win the nomination -- and we all know what happened come Iowa. She is a different kind of politician now, having built statesman status with her time as secretary of state. But headed into her second go at the nomination after over 20 years of dominating the national stage, it's possible that many voters will simply decide that they want a change.
Is America really so locked in its partisan, elitist politics that would tolerate another Clinton vs. Bush campaign? Those who think continuity is unhealthy in a democracy might judge not.