Sen. Clinton as Pandora

by on February 22nd, 2007

Because of the gravity of the office, candidates at the presidential level have an inherently more fragile, which is to say, tenuous, relationship with voters. Even at this implausibly early stage of the race, with the omnipresence of media outlets, the electorate will have the tone of every utterance and nuance of every glance microanalyzed and delivered to their televisions, computers, or handhelds.

It’s therefore axiomatic that any revelation that reflects unequivocal unpredictability in temperament or a predisposition toward political misjudgment will become fodder for one’s opposition. Howard Fineman provides the background and details of Senator Hillary Clinton’s acerbic miscalculation in yesterday’s exchange with Senator Barack Obama.

As Mr. Fineman notes, after calling the Clintons–yes, plural–liars, Hollywood mega-mogul, David Geffen leveled the most damning broadside possible, asserting that the ‘Clinton show’ was “boring.”

The art of not allowing someone under your skin is not universally shared by politicians and revanchist politics for the Clintons renders that phrase effectively redundant. Being keenly aware of her high negative polling, one might think that Mrs. Clinton would not succumb to the ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach that resulted in her husband being the only sitting president to be impeached.

But to amend a legacy that retrospectively projects decades is a task only a political Titan could accomplish and Mrs. Clinton’s savviness aside, her apparent mastery of incremental calculation betrays a remarkable inability to let long-term goals subvert the reflexive instinct to counter-attack. Indeed, this round clearly went to Senator Obama because he correctly understood that Americans are viscerally averse to caustic political responses, which Mrs. Clinton’s faithfully embodied..

Underlying all of this is the fact that Senator Clinton is irritated that she finds herself in the position of having her heir apparent hold on the nomination in such obvious jeopardy. But, she would better serve herself by recognizing that the electorate is seeing things in Senator Obama that are lacking in her–candor, warmth, genuine versus calibrated conviction.

Recall that Pandora, the perfect, first woman in Greek mythology, was fated to open the box that housed all of man’s miseries. Avarice and envy were key among them. As that lesson has so convincingly instructed, an overweening desire for something is almost guaranteed to cloud our judgment, which, in the most classical definition of irony, is instantly apparent to other players–not to mention the audience.

Mella is Founder and Editor of

Philip Mella