Last week, Obama campaign foreign policy adviser Samantha Power made a mistake that may significantly undermine the Illinois Senator's quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. She called Hillary Clinton a "monster" in an off-hand remark to a Scottish journalist. That, however, was not her mistake. Her mistake was resigning from the Obama campaign.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Hillary Clinton is a monster. Monsters are ferocious creatures with fearsome teeth and savage claws. They destroy alpine villages, terrorize the citizens of lowland towns, and frighten small children. Obviously, Hillary Clinton is not a monster. I mean, not literally. Of course it's still not polite to call Hillary a monster. It's just not something nice people say. So Power made an inconsiderate comment, but instead of resigning she should have just apologized and said, "Hey, campaigns are stressful. We all make mistakes. Obviously, I don't really think Hillary is actually a monster." Then Power could have made comparisons to demonstrate that, although there has been a distressing remorselessness in her readiness to personally attack Obama to gain votes, Hillary is not really a monster. A rabid, desperate attack-dog, yes. But a monster? Well, that's a bit strong.
In this way Power could have played to her strengths. She's a scholar: Fine distinctions are her thing. Is Hillary ferocious? "Mean," yes, "vitriolic" even. But probably not "ferocious," which means "given to unrestrained violence and brutality" (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate). Does Hillary have fearsome teeth? Her teeth are "sharp" and "gleaming," but that doesn't make them "fearsome." Has she ever destroyed a village or frightened a child? Remembering that to be a monster she would have to have done both, the answer, again, is "probably not." I mean, not as far as we know.
Had Power stayed on, the incident would have worked to Obama's advantage. We're all adults. We know people sometimes lose their cool and say what the rest of us are thinking. By forgiving Power, the Obama campaign could have treated all of us like the understanding grown-ups we are. Also, by resigning Power admitted to a campaign sin when she only suffered a moment's insensitivity. Her comment may have been unfair, but it was forgivable precisely because it came off the cuff. It's Hillary's calculated slurs against Obama that are unforgivable. When Hillary says Obama is not a Muslim "as far as I know," she plays on the electorate's fear of a religion it doesn't understand.
No one has yet pointed out that her ad, in which a little white girl sleeps in the face of an unstated menace threatening her at 3 a.m., strikes a subtle but clearly racist note. I am not saying Hillary is a monster. I am only suggesting that she is a fearmonger and a racist.
Finally, by staying on, Power could have kept the whole "Is Hillary a monster?" narrative going in the press, even as she distanced herself from it. It would have been the subject of cable news shows all week long. "Tonight on Fox News: Is Hillary Clinton a Monster?" Chris Matthews would have shouted the question to his guests in his sand-paper voice. All the while Obama could have played it cool above the fray. "Look," he could have said, "I don't personally think Hillary is a monster. She may be a calculating schemer who leaves a trail of broken bodies in her wake, but I don't think she would suck the blood from Chelsea if Satan told her it would mean winning Florida."
"At least," he could have added, "not as far as I know."