WASHINGTON - As students of the Electoral College flunk their exam, one person is calm in the midst of chaos - Hillary.
She did it! Having moved out of the White House, she has now delighted her supporters and enraged her critics by becoming a full-fledged member of The Club.
For the first time in U.S. history - a phrase that seems to be overused this week - the sitting (sort of) First Lady won a powerful political post on her own. If she doesn't want to, she'll never have to use “Rodham Clinton” again. Like Songbird Cher, everybody will know Senator Hillary.
And it only took six black pantsuits (her count), the decision of the mayor of New York City not to run for the office, millions of dollars, and one lollapalooza of a presidential scandal to get her to the Senate.
She's back here in the nation's capital for a party at the White House, and soon she'll have to oversee the holiday party season as the Clintons thank their supporters with eggnog and fruitcake. But effectively, her days in D.C. are done until the new Congress starts in January. She's made clear she will spend as much time in New York as possible until she has buried the carpetbagger label.
If the uproar quiets over who the next legitimate occupant of the Oval Office is -possibly by Inauguration Day, all those TV camera crews will have to go somewhere. And there is little doubt that “somewhere” will be the subcommittee hearings attended by the junior senator from New York or the hallway outside her new office.
Celebrities, of course, are not unfamiliar in the Senate although they tend to be swallowed up by the place. Fred Thompson, for example, hero of Hollywood movies and a Watergate prosecutor, thought of running for president but bowed out graciously for the son of a Bush. John McCain, war hero and best-selling author, ran for president but was vanquished by the son of a Bush.
But the newly elected senator from New York, who worked tenaciously to win her leather upholstered chair, will not find her new perch an easy seat. In fact, she probably will get the equivalent of a fraternity hazing.
This is what Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican leader of the Senate - the de facto boss of The Club - said about her this week, according to the Associated Press:
“I tell you one thing, when this Hillary gets to the Senate - if she does, maybe lightning will strike and she won't - she will be one of 100, and we won't let her forget it.”
So much for that fabled Mississippi courtliness.
One wonders how they intend to keep her in her place. Will they put tape over her telephone? Will they lock her in the bathroom? Will they tell her the toga party is in the Dirksen Building and then run and hide in the Hart Building?
Now that her husband is trying to find a job and a place to live and wondering if he can get the old Mustang running again, she is back in her old role of being the family's chief breadwinner.
Of course, she hadn't even made her victory speech when speculation started swirling that her real goal is to run for the presidency in 2004. Now that would one-up Eleanor Roosevelt.
But it seems way, way too premature. We need to see what kind of legislation she introduces, if she can get anything passed by the Senate, how she organizes her office, if, for example, she can keep from losing bills and records and how much it costs to join her coffee klatches.
One of the most astonishing aspects of this “Days of Our Lives” melodrama is that Hillary will now be a member of the body that tried her husband on impeachment charges. She will be looking at each incumbent through narrowed eyes, thinking to herself, “I know how you voted.”
And if TV's West Wing sprang from the Clinton White House, can Left Side of the Aisle be far behind? Imagine all those Senate pages walking back and forth really, really fast in a small Senate office suite. And what poor actor will get stuck playing Trent Lott?
Ann McFeatters is chief of The Blade's national bureau. E-mail her at email@example.com.