In the rush of candidates to declare themselves into the 2008 race for president, it has only belatedly been noticed that Ms. Pandora, that original celebrity of Greek mythology, has declared herself into the contest. Of course, she's not a candidate, but for the zillionth time she opened her legendary jar (it was a mis-translation to call it a box), and let out the usual suspects of greed, vanity, slander, envy and covetousness.
A quick review of Ms. Pandora's resume: In Greek mythology, she was the first woman, and the giver of gifts. Everything was fine until the god Prometheus stole the secret of fire and gave it to mankind. The uber-god Zeus then ordered Haephaestus, the god of technology, to make Pandora part of the punishment of mankind for this theft. She subsequently opened the jar which contained and held back the miseries of mankind and loosed them on the world. No wonder the ancients treated women so badly. (But if Zeus ran for president in 2008, he wouldn't carry a single precinct.)
Politically incorrect as she may be, however, Ms. Pandora is in the game in 2008. That's because, instead of waiting until the autumn of 2007 to declare their intentions, most of the presidential aspirants this time didn't even wait for the ball to fall in Times Square, and started announcing as soon as the 2006 elections were concluded.
Several commentators, myself included, have begun to observe this premature phenomenon. Undoubtedly, as some have already suggested, the technology of communications has undergone such a transformation in the past four years, that it was a jar waiting to be opened. In any event, Mr. Haephaestus is back in business.
It has also been suggested that some partisans are in a hurry to get Mr. Bush out of his command post, and consider an early campaign a way to distract him from his duties.
But no matter the causes, the "miseries" are out of the jar, and as far as I know, once they're out, there is no putting them back in.
So what will Ms. Pandora's little ritual do to the 2008 contest?
It will, as David Broder and others point out, make fundraising and political discourse go out of control.
Certainly, the financial aspect of campaigns that last eighteen months is a farce. Mrs. Clinton declared McCain-Feingold dead as a smelt in the harbor when she was the first to opt out of the federal program. One by one, the other serious candidates in both parties (perhaps minus Senator McCain) are following suit. The sheer cost of a campaign visit to one of the major primary and caucus states with a full retinue of campaign staff, air transportation, ground transportation, security, hotels, etc., now can exceed the entire budget of an entire pre-convention presidential campaign only a few decades ago. And that does does not include TV, radio, internet and print media advertising.
The prediction that the nomination contests in both parties will be over after Super Tuesday early next February rests on the premise that one candidate in each party will win most of the delegates in those early contests that could include delegate-rich Florida, California, New York, Michigan and Illinois and other states. (There is another scenario that few seem to be considering now, i.e., that party voters in those primaries, having been subjected to a year of sound bites, gossip and insults, will remain undecided, and will split their votes among two or more of the top contenders, or they will elevate a long shot into contention.) The conventional wisdom is based, of course, on the precedents of recent nomination contests, and it is logical that a consensus candidate will emerge early. But the havoc that is overtaking this process, with its elongated calendar, might produce an ironical result, i.e., no candidate with the nomination sewed up before the party conventions.
Already the infighting is producing a tone of bickering between and about personalities, Mr. Obama taking on Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Clinton firing back, the media savaging Mr. Biden's loose lips, the tabloids highlighting Mr. Edward's extravagantly opulent new home in North Carolina while trying to champion the poor, the wags and pundits speculating whether Mr. Gore will win an Academy Award or not. With Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Murtha in the lead, the Democratic aspirants are falling over each other to bring our troops home from Iraq. Can even Democrats endure this mulishness for the next twelve months?
As for the Republicans, the top contenders do not represent the traditional GOP formula for social conservatism. Mr. McCain is a maverick, his campaign finance law is a shambles, and he's a hardliner on Iraq. Mr. Giuliani has extreme chutzpah because he asserts that his pro-gay, pro-choice views views are trumped by his tough record on crime and his conduct during and after September 11 when he was mayor of New York. Mr. Romney's Mormon faith and his charisma are too tempting for the media to pass up for a mere discussion of serious issues, and besides, he's decided, after years as a Massachusetts moderate, that he's the new conservative hero. The Republican hopefuls have become zebras without stripes. Only Mr. Gingrich won't play ball, but the gossip columnists are lying in wait for him should he suit up for the game.
What happened to the clock ticking on social security, private pensions funds, and health care? What happened to an education system in collapse? What happened to immigration policy out of control? What happened to the international security and trade system threatened as it has not ever been before?
Only Ms. Pandora may know the answer to these and any other truly important questions and issues facing America in 2008. But remember, her role is to punish mankind. Most persons didn't know or forgot that when she opened up her jar and let out all those nasty items, the myth says she left one thing, hope, inside.
Can you imagine a Lincoln, a Franklin Roosevelt, a Ronald Reagan, or for that matter, a Hubert Humphrey without hope? Is there anyone in the current crowd of candidates, Republican or Democrat, who has anything real to tell us that will make us look to the future with some optimism?
Hold on, folks, this may be bumpier than we thought.
-This article originally appeared on Real Clear Politics on February 24th, 2007.