Kathryn, in fairness to President-in-waiting Rodham’s proposed “national conversation,” it (at least in theory) requires rather more input from her than Senator-presumptive Rodham’s mega-lame “listening tour” with which she launched her New York campaign in 1999. This involved her sitting in Legion halls upstate and nodding thoughtfully while people complained about prescription drugs and education. If you tossed in an observation about, say, Kathleen Willey, she stopped nodding and the room temperature dropped 30 degrees. But, by and large, the vapid content-free “listening tour” worked.
Will it work this time? I would doubt it, but not for the reasons you state. Barring another direct attack on the US mainland (ie, not Bali nightclubs, London Tubes or US targets overseas) I don’t think in 2008 the American people will be looking for someone who can “stare down jihadists.” If anything, it was already clear in ’06 that huge numbers of the American people have psychologically checked out of the war. I would wager that by 2008 the consultants will be advising that words like “jihad” test badly with the focus groups. Democrats and increasing numbers of Republicans will attempt to paint the war as a kind of geopolitical Monica – an issue that goes away when the incumbent does. When everyone’s talking about “guaranteeing health care”, “leading the fight against global warming”, “strengthening our middle class and ending the shame of poverty” (John Edwards’ “priorities”, though I’ll bet Hill and Obama will also be willing to take such bold stands in their “national conversations”), when everyone’s cruising on autoplatitude, a guy who’s obsessed with “staring down jihadists” will sound as nutty as a fellow trying to win American Idol by doing the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor.
Unfortunately for Hillary, if you’re looking for a bland novelty to croon the New Muzak, she’s seriously out-blanded on her side. In 2004, Democrat primary voters drove around with “ANYBODY BUT BUSH” stickers. This time they seem already to have metaphorically pasted on “ANYBODY BUT HILL.”