"The opening of a trapdoor and the sudden snap of a hangman's noose at dawn yesterday brought an extraordinary end to a political era in Iraq." -- Opening line from The Guardian's report of the execution of Saddam, Dec. 31, 2006
"Senator Clinton never gave a second thought to opening the trap door beneath her fellow Democrat." -- Bob Herbert of the NYT, Confronting the Kitchen Sink, March 8, 2008 [emphasis added in both citations].
When Bill O'Reilly, in an impromptu response to a phone caller's question, said that he didn't want to "lynch" Michelle Obama, critics on the left from Media Matters to Keith Olbermann were outraged. Star Jones condemned O'Reilly's statement as "racist, unacceptable and inappropriate on every level."
When Kelly Tilghman of The Golf Channel thought she was being funny when she said the only way for competitors to stop Tiger Woods would be to "lynch him," Al Sharpton threatened to picket her employer unless she were fired. Tilghman wound up serving a two-week suspension.
So how will people -- from Hillary Clinton to the guardians of political correctness -- react to Bob Herbert's line? Are hanging metaphors suddenly acceptable when used by pundits of the left? Will Herbert claim he used the trap door image only to suggest that Hillary wants to make Obama suddenly disappear? What if a conservative pundit had said he'd like to open a trap door beneath Obama? Odds his explanation along such lines would be accepted on the left?
Upon further reflection, it's hard to see Herbert's use of the trap door metaphor as standing for the relatively innocous notion of making someone suddenly disappear rather than the more sinister hanging one.
Consider the context in which Herbert used it:
More serious was Senator Clinton’s assertion that she was qualified to be commander in chief, and that John McCain had also “certainly” crossed that “threshold,” but that the jury was still out on Mr. Obama.
In other words, if a choice on national security had to be made today between Senators Obama and McCain, voters — according to Mrs. Clinton’s logic — should choose Senator McCain.
That is a low thing for a Democratic presidential candidate to do to a rival in a party primary. Can you imagine John McCain saying that Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney or even the guitar-strumming Mike Huckabee might be less qualified than Hillary Clinton to be commander in chief? It couldn’t happen.
But Senator Clinton never gave a second thought to opening the trap door beneath her fellow Democrat.
So Herbert says that Hillary has done a "low thing" by suggesting Obama is unfit as Commander in Chief, and that that this constitutes "opening the trap door" beneath him. But Clinton's accusation is not something that could possibly make Obama suddenly disappear. No one doubts that Obama, with a virtually insurmountable lead among elected delegates, will remain in the campaign to the convention. So it's difficult to see Herbert's comment as meaning other than that Hillary intended to do Obama serious harm.