Two years ago, in the middle of the 2004 primary season, Hillary Clinton was the preferred presidential candidate by 45% of Democrats. That was in a crowded field that included John Kerry, Howard Dean and others. To say she now has a head start on the 2008 campaign is not exactly going out on a political limb.

What is less certain is whether the soft Hillary or the hard Hillary will eventually hit the campaign trail. Some of us remember a time when Hillary represented a more humane, evolutionary stage in American politics. What Tikkun called the politics of meaning was really an existential stance in which “doing the right thing” was about our own personal and social redemption. It was evolutionary because the purely utilitarian view of politics gave way to something far more aspirational and inspirational. Whether she asked to be queen of POM is questionable; on the other hand, “It Takes a Village” is Hillary’s interpretation of the politics of meaning, it is the soft Hillary, the aspirational and inspirational Hillary.

The hard Hillary we also got to see — up close and angry. It was the ideological Hillary, the woman with a thousand enemies, daggers drawn, ready to close in on her. It was the old politics of meaninglessness, the utilitarian Hillary.

So which Hillary will emerge in 2008?

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