Hillary Clinton, in her first interview after leaving the State Department, offered a wise metaphor about the current state of presidential election madness.
"This election is more than three years away, and I just don't think it's good for the country," she told New York magazine recently, referring to the fevered speculation about her possible candidacy.
"It's like when you meet somebody at a party and they look over your shoulder to see who else is there, and you want to talk to them about something that's really important; in fact, maybe you came to the party to talk to that particular person, and they just want to know what's next," she says. "I feel like that's our political process right now. I just don't think it is good."
Clinton knows what it's like to be on both ends of that exchange. She was a political spouse; the shortsighted looked over her shoulder for many years, seeing her as merely an adjunct to her accomplished husband. Now, she is the person who draws every eye in the room -- away from even her husband.
Most presidential candidates strain for attention. They rush to Iowa, write books, or take extreme positions on controversial issues. Clinton has to do the opposite, trying to flee the circus ready to chase her down the grocery-store aisle.
But she's in a bind. If she makes too much news this far ahead of the 2016 presidential election, there's a chance people will tire of her candidacy. Last week, Joan Walsh of Salon said she's feeling Clinton fatigue already.
If Clinton steps back, though, the unstoppable flow of stories will come anyway -- especially the highly unflattering ones that feature people loosely associated with Clinton world, like the New Republic profile of Doug Band, who once oversaw the Clinton Global Initiative. Not all of these people leave a good impression.
Clinton is perhaps the first presidential candidate of the modern age who needs a Rip Van Winkle strategy: a disappearing act to remove her from the witless swirl of speculation and gossip, and to preserve her presidential options.
But it's frankly hard to imagine a place she could retreat that would quiet the appetite of editors, gossips and TV producers. Retreating would give voters a pause and Clinton a chance to live a normal life, but there's also a governing benefit: We get sick of our presidents pretty quickly in the age of the hyper news cycle. (Who pays attention to a Barack Obama speech these days?) With candidates starting to position themselves for the presidency earlier and earlier, it's almost certain that we'll be sick of the next president by the time he or she is in office.
If Hillary Clinton is that president, it will be particularly acute in her case.
Though Clinton worries about the country looking over the president's shoulder at the next candidate, she isn't exactly keeping her arms at her sides. It's obvious that she's thinking about running for president. The former secretary of state explained to New York magazine how normal her life is now. She's just flopping about the house, laughing at the dogs. As America's jet-set chief diplomat, she only had time to speak to her husband by phone; now she's watching stupid movies with him.
It all has the feel of a reset, both natural and strategic: Of course she's the competent woman in that C-17 photograph, but she's also normal, real and grounded.
If you're into tea-leaf reading, when you look into the bottom of the New York story, it spells out: Hillary 2016. Clinton positions herself as a secretary of state who was in the thick of it, but independent enough to disagree with the president.
It's the kind of story we once expected to read a year before a presidential race, not three years before. Now she just has to figure out how to manage those two long years in between.