Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Lay off my wife"

No. Sorry, no.

Not that what I think matters, but:

There really needs to be a bill of particulars regarding who or what is liable for criticism in a presidential campaign.

Rule number one is the same rule as poker:

You can't lose what you don't push to the middle.

Conversely, what you do push to the middle is fair game.

I probably enjoyed The West Wing more than I should have, perhaps because part of the reason I enjoyed it was as a liberal fantasy of a more perfect Bill Clinton: a man possessed of all the requisite political and rhetorical brilliance, but without the horror show of a marriage, without the scandals, and without the shamelessness (the last part, something the Obamites have come to experience).

What counted for a scandal in The West Wing--wht occupied parts of two seasons, for God's sake--was the hero's ability to function as President while keeping quiet his multiple sclerosis, and his MD wife's efforts to medicate him. What President Bartlett made clear throughout his presidency--in other words, throughout the series--that his three daughters were off-limits. They didn't campaign, they didn't publicly speak, they were private citizens, they were off-limits. ("We don't even put them on our White House Christmas cards!" Bartlett raged at one point.)

My thought at the time: Okay, fair enough.

Things were (and until now have been) a little grayer with the real-life Bartlett daughter, Chelsea Clinton. As a teenager, and moreso as a double for the tambourine player on The Partridge Family, she was trotted out and referred to chiefly as a witness to her parents' enduring love. Lately (and not coincidentally), having come out of her ugly stage a hot little number, she's been a central figure in her mother's campaign, at one point sent to have breakfast with a (presumably) horny 21 year-old superdelegate. When David Schuster referred to Chelsea as "pimped out," his language may have been too harsh, but he was onto something.

The inference that Chelsea (who, by the way, is one year older than the age at which Bill's hero Jack Kennedy was elected to Congress) is beyond criticism is ludicrous. So it is with Michelle. You campaign, you take your chances like everyone else.

Jonah Goldberg states it best: "I, for one, want to hear more from her, and she seems perfectly willing to oblige. But if I don’t like what she has to say, I reserve the right to say so, whether her husband finds it acceptable or not."

A small point, leading to a larger one. Throughout the summer, the GOP will be lectured by The New York Times,
CNN and Chris Matthews about what is off-limits: not only Obama's spouse, middle name and past connections, but also his statements, voting record, positions, gaffes, running mate, plus every else plus its opposite: everything, in other words, besides George Bush's record in Iraq, health care, foreclosures and the price of gas.

What McCain unloads on Obama will not be half of what Hillary's crowd came up with. If Haley Barbour (who, if not McCain's running mate, will be roughly analogous to Billy Shaheen) ever called Obama a drug dealer, the race would be over. But eventually, one Republican after another will be driven to ask, "Are we allowed to campaign too?"

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