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Why I'm dreading the 2016 campaign

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Washington on March 23, 2015. Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

It wasn't until I saw Michelle Obama in a head-to-head dance contest with Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show" recently that it really hit home just why I've got such a sense of dread about the 2016 presidential election.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Sunday that she will formally resume a quest for the presidency she's been planning every waking moment of the past decade, and probably in her sleep as well. It's a short hop from counting sheep to counting Iowa caucus commitments. And former Gov. Jeb Bush is reportedly about ready to officially cop to his quest as well.

Cue the emotional letdown.

We have an unusually hip and young first couple. And we're almost certainly not going to after the Obamas leave the White House.

We have a first lady who can actually dance. We have a president who is a regular on the basketball court. This first couple, which is raising teen daughters in the White House, is almost certain to be replaced by grandparents.

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is 67, which means she was born when Harry Truman was president. I understand she doesn't have the nomination in the bag, but neither I nor anyone I know can name a single Democrat that can give her a run for her money. Until someone can, she is, well . . . presumptive. It's not that former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or former Rhode Island Gov. and senator Lincoln Chaffee can't try, it's just that they have as much chance of stealing the Democratic nomination from Clinton as they do of beating Michelle Obama in a dance-off.

And the dynamics of the Republican Party make it much more probable than most pundits like to admit that Bush will be Clinton's opponent. Bush has the establishment wing of the party -- the money of the connected and the votes of the moderate conservatives -- nearly sewn up. And the substantial percentage of GOP voters that may oppose him during the primaries are likely to split their votes among former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Chris Christie and whoever else in the party thinks a run sounds like fun. Bush may only pull 40 percent of the vote in early primaries, but if all the other guys get 12 percent each, 40 percent is going to be more than enough to clinch the nomination early. Bush has liabilities with the party faithful, his support for Common Core and immigration reform chief among them. Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had similar troubles with Romneycare and his past support of abortion. Sen. John McCain was not beloved by the most conservative voters, nor, in truth, was either of the previous Bushes.

But we've seen this movie before, in the 2012 race, when Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Rep. Ron Paul and, like nine other folks, by splitting the anti-Romney vote, got nowhere. And in 2008 and 2000, when the hard right of the GOP could not coalesce around a candidate.

Jeb isn't as old as Hillary, at 62, but he was born during President Dwight Eisenhower's first term and the No. 1 song the year he turned 18 was "My Sweet Lord," by George Harrison. The chart topper the year Hillary turned 18, in 1965, was "I Feel Fine," by the Beatles.

Barack Obama turned four that year.

There's a shallow aspect to pointing to the youth and glamour of the current White House occupants and bemoaning the age and apparent fuddy-duddyness of the likely replacements. But there's also an aspect of it that runs deeper: the average American is 37, and may not easily look to someone 20 or 30 years older for inspiration.

Certainly you can be an older president and a transformational one. Ronald Reagan, our oldest president, was a great example of that. But it doesn't help that neither Hillary nor Jeb seems to have a transformational vision. And certainly Barack Obama's relative youth and inexperience weren't always positives.

But as a middle-aged man, I always felt the Obamas grew up in much the same world as I did, one in which it was understood that pot might not be worse than booze and that there were acceptable lifestyles in the world not encapsulated by mom and dad, two kids, a picket fence and a dog named Rusty.

Hillary or Jeb, who are largely interchangeable in their political views, might be quite good presidents. Neither would be a terrible one. I just find it very deadening that we're likely looking at two candidates who, forced into a dance-off with Jimmy Fallon, would likely be forced to whip out rusty versions of the Twist or the Watusi.

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