Please Invite Sophocles To Denver

09/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Did the Democrats invite Sophocles to the party in Denver? The scene wouldn't be complete without an ancient Greek dramatist in the house to capture the catharsis.

His Antigone is one grand gal, but has nothing on Hillary Clinton as a "game-changer." Silver-haired, sulky Bill Clinton, who presided over eight golden years of peace, is doing a fair imitation of Oedipus Rex, "a world-renowned king," who keeps dodging his fate until it finally catches up to him.

Meanwhile, over there, Barack Obama is like a young Greek god trying to guard against pride; also, trying not to fly too close to the sun as he gets ready to speak at a mile high.

The roll-call vote at the Democratic National Convention has great stage potential - can't you just see it as a chanting and singing Greek chorus?

Hillary herself has suggested the old-fashioned ritual will play that part for those delegates with "incredibly pent-up feelings." These are her people and their voices must be heard- literally. Facing no choice, the Obama camp warily agreed to let this happen.

"It's as old as Greek drama," Clinton recently told a gathering of supporters. "There's a catharsis. Everybody comes, and they want to yell and scream and have their opportunity, and I think that's all to the good."

Catharsis is the stuff of Greek tragedy too, a point the Clintons, Obama and the wise elders of the party would do well to remember. That actually would be hard to forget, since the first night of the convention will feature a tribute to the star-crossed Kennedy family. The Echo of Greece by Edith Hamilton was one of the late Robert F. Kennedy's favorite books in his last years.

Hey, I'm all for sisterhood and the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, as Clinton described her voters and historic candidacy. Nobody can take her strong fight to the finish away from her. But if the Clintons say anything to steal or spoil the show -- if any bitter stray quote gets off the reservation -- then that will be unforgivable. Bill Clinton is probably more of a problem when it comes to zip-your-lip discipline, as he showed in some petulant moments during the campaign.

From the moment they land in Denver, Hillary and Bill Clinton will need to act with something neither is known for: a dash of humility and deference to the presumptive nominee. As the runner-up candidate she will have to work hard to make sure that her "game face" expression is that of a good loser. If she is overly triumphant, then she could break the party apart and diminish voter participation. She should acknowledge outbursts of enthusiasm with a gracious smile and deflect it all in the right direction in the end -- toward the other historic candidate in the room.

I like to think Obama would do the same for her.

Yes, the Democratic party is a fragile and fascinating web. It's one of their timeless traits (and fates) that acting like team players doesn't come easily. As Will Rogers said, he didn't belong to an organized party; he was a Democrat.

But this year, the election cycle of 2008, is too profound to squander while a Greek drama plays out because of Clintonian hubris. The Clintons need to memorize their lines when they come to Denver and they also need to be watched carefully when they're not the center of attention.

Obama doesn't have a friend or a vote to lose in his race against John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee and a classic warrior. The presidential contest could be as close as the "tie goes to the Republican" one such as we saw in 2000. In a time when the "stain of blood" is on the "shipwreck of our state," as Sophocles wrote long ago on the Aegean, a Greek tragedy is more than we the people can take right now.

The greatest gift the Greeks gave us was not tragedy, but Athenian democracy in the fifth century B.C. - a very rough draft of democracy, but the starting point of a long journey.

Americans deserve to see democracy win the day in Denver and November, not tragedy.