The other day an unpaid foreign policy adviser for Barack Obama called Hillary Clinton a “monster.” In a political age when every word is automatically taken literally, this caused a monstrous stir. It has calmed down a bit since the pants fell off New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s dignity, but I think this bears more examination.

Apologists might say that the loose-tongued Samantha Power, who resigned over her comment, was not suggesting that Hillary was a real monster. It was merely a figure of speech. It was, however, very rude of her.

Good form insists even as the knives go in that all political critiques from opposing camps these days must suggest that the candidates are great chums and would send each other Valentines if only it didn’t disturb the bluebirds nesting in their mailboxes. Frankness is forbidden.

As one who normally likes a figure of speech as much as the next person, I think the more interesting question is whether Power was literally correct.

Sure, Hillary looks more like a chipmunk who has nuts in her cheeks than an actual monster, but looks can be deceiving. The question is whether Hillary is the last remaining Pantsuitosaurus, which roamed America during the age when conservative dinosaurs controlled Congress.

The Pantsuitosaurus was a striving beast that fed on wonky details as it sought to stake out its turf. It usually traveled in a herd, sometimes independently of its mate (Bill, in this context).

While they are at it, experts should also determine whether John McCain is really an ancient iguana and whether Barack Obama’s outstanding ears are the vestigial relics of the distinctive armored plates that ran down the back of the Stegosaurus.

When this has been investigated, only then can we say that this silly issue has been taken to its silliest literal conclusion, which, after all, is what we do here in America.

We are not yet at that happy place in the matter of Spitzer, the caped crusader against corruption who tripped over his cape.

While I cannot claim to be an expert in all the deadly sins — except, of course, sloth and gluttony — I do want to say something about lust, the downfall of Spitzer. He has been linked to a prostitution ring called the Emperors Club VIP. It turns out that too many emperors had no clothes.

Whatever his moral failing, he certainly showed very poor judgment in picking this sin from the range of sinful options. If he had committed the deadly sin of anger, for example, it would not be all that deadly. He could have become a celebrated talk-show host.

If he had been swelled with pride, he would have been lost in the crowd of people blowing their own horns. If he had been possessed of envy, he could have claimed it was his duty as a Democrat.

If he had been full of greed, he could have said he was a consumer giving a boost to the economy. If he had been guilty of sloth, he would have stayed in bed rather than gotten frisky.

And if he had fallen prey to gluttony, no jury of obese Americans would ever convict him, even if he ordered several super sized sandwiches and had fries with that.

But, oh no, Mr. Smarty Pants Prosecutor-Turned-Governor had to commit lust, or at least get himself into a situation in which lust was the business model. That is the one deadly sin in America that is super deadly.

As outrages go, the vice of lust has the virtue of being simple for people to understand. You have a snake, you have an apple, you have a Client No. 9 (hard to tell him from the snake), you have hypocrisy, you have incredible male stupidity. This sordid situation is as old as the human race.

The trouble with most sins is that they are too complicated for public comprehension. They involve nefarious deals, machinations of special interests and the oppression of the poor in a fog of bewildering detail.

Yet you can take several deadly sins — say pride, sloth and anger — mix them up into a lethal cocktail and pour out the Iraq occupation that some hail as a virtue, not a vice.

But let just one hypocritical public figure be caught in Room 871 with someone called Kristen and the very foundations of the state are thought to crack in a way that huge acts of state-sponsored folly and bloodletting could never do. That does not make lust right; it just makes it clear that the banality of evil is the real monster in our midst.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)

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