Can Barack Tell Them To Lay Off?

Marc Ambinder ponders this bit of campaign trivia:

Does Barack Obama believe that he can have his wife campaign for him in public and then also claim anything she says is out of bounds?

I’m sure he doesn’t believe it. To a certain extent, that extent being what she says on the campaign trail, I think that attacking any of Michelle Obama’s statements is fair political game for the McCain campaign or for the GOP in general.

That said, fair or not, Obama telling the GOP to “lay off his wife” just demonstrates old fashioned campaign savvy–it’s a no-brainer retort and scores easy political points. It’s the campaign equivalent of making a slam dunk when you’ve made a fast break into an open court. No matter how much his political rivals protest afterwards, they’re going to come across to the vast majority of people as unfair and sleazy, despite the fact that what they’re doing may well be legitimate. Frankly, Obama would have been an idiot not to do so after the first anti-Michelle Obama ads came out.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. mq says:

    I gotta disagree with you on this one Alex. I understand the meaning behind what Obama was trying to do, but it all came off as sounding whiny and overprotective. I think the better thing to do would have been to let Michelle answer the question herself. That way she would have the chance to defend her own words and get herself some “strong woman” brownie points.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    mq –

    Honestly, I thought it came off as whiny, too. But I don’t think it’ll come off that way to most people.

  3. legion says:

    Frankly, I believe it’s a warning shot over McCain’s proverbial bow. If the GOP continues to make Barack’s wife an issue, uncomfortable questions will start getting asked about Mrs. McCain. And it is already moderately public knowledge that she’s got _plenty_ of skeletons in her closet…

  4. Bob says:

    If Barack wishes for impolite questions to not be asked then Michelle needs to shut up and simply stand by her man. If she wishes to stump then her gaffes are going to aired. Mrs McCain has skeletons in her closet but so far she’s not inserting foot in mouth on video.

    I think he came across as whiney and thin skinned.

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    Ah, the wonders of the new politics as practiced by the transcendental politician. So much better than that messy hypocrisy of the old politics.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Well, it would certainly be a great deal if he can make it stick.

  7. mq says:

    Eh, we already know the conservatives have been all over this like white on rice, and I don’t see it playing well with the feminists either. Then again, most of those people didn’t like him anyway.

    Legion, the problem with that is that going after Cindy McCain wouldn’t fit in very well with the “new” politics Obama says he’s all about. If he’s smart, he won’t go there. There’s no real upside to him and a whole bunch of downside.

  8. anjin-san says:

    While I agree that Michelle Obama has made some remarks that were, at best, ill chosen, where do we draw the line on these things?

    McCain cheated on his first wife, who kept the home fires burning while he was POW. Legit issue, or off limits? You be the judge…

  9. You gotta love anjin-san’s logic. If we have trouble seeing the line at the top of the drain, let’s pull the pipes of the sink and start digging through the sludge to see what we can find. I mean, it’s almost the same thing.

  10. Bithead says:

    Remember how we started this nonsense from OBama? We couldn’t talk about his ears.

    Well, let’s consider how this has grown. Let’s consider the vast number of things we can’t say about Obama, according to Obama. (Indeed, let’s see if I can remember all of them.)

    We can’t talk about his mother.

    We can’t talk about his father.

    We can’t talk about his grandmother unless he does, is pointing her up as a “typical white person.”

    We can’t talk about his wife, unless we’re repeating what she says in laudatory terms. We certainly cannot question HER patriotism, or her statements about not being proud of the country.

    We can’t talk about his racist preacher unless we’re talking about Obama mouthing the words “But I’m NOT a Muslim”, in desperate tones akin to Flipper screaming he’s not a tuna.

    We can’t talk about his terrorist friends like Roy Ayers, and so on.

    We certainly can’t talk about his voting record.

    We can’t talk about appeasement.

    We can’t talk about color; we can’t talk about lack of color.

    We certainly can’t say his middle name… “Hussein.”

    Oops.

    We can’t talk about his lack of experience.

    We can’t talk about his income.

    We can’t talk about his flag pin.

    We can’t talk about his LACK of a flag pin.

    I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few.

    And we thought Hillary Clinton was a control freak.

  11. anjin-san says:

    What’s the difference between questioning Michelle Obama’s patriotism and questioning John McCain’s character?

    The GOP has been making a living off of getting down in the mud for a long time now. I would rather stick to the issues, but if you are going to go down the Lee Atwater road, fine. Remember when Sean Connery explained the facts of life to Kevin Costner in “The Untouchables”?

  12. Lee Atwater has been dead for seventeen years. Let the man be. But, by all means, keep on telling us how you would rather stick to the issues.

  13. This was being mean and getting into the “mud?” Wow have we gotten overly sensitive in our politics. Michelle Obama is a surrogate for her husband. Their comments are fair game. The public is pretty savvy to understand what happens when you step onto the political stage.

  14. legion says:

    mq,
    In general, I agree. But the important thing is whether or not the Obama campaign will actually go down that alley (or perhaps, more to the point, whether McCain believes they will…).

  15. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin-san, when I hear Cindy McCain give speeches about how she feels about America, if she is proud or not, whether she feels the nation is nice or mean it will become OK to criticize her if you disagree with her stated position. Michelle Obama has made herself part of the Obama campaign. If you join the fight, you are bound to get hit. Obama can claim she is off limits, but she jumped in the game. Sorry but this is not some communist country ,yet, where people like Obama get to decide who gets to decide. The lousy MFer attacked those who ran against him for every elected office he has held to the extent he ran unopposed. I think his ears prevent him from riding in a convertible as it would slow the vehicle down. His wife is a shrew and his preacher is a race baiting hater. His buddy Billy should spend the rest of his natural life in prison, in solitary.

  16. Brian K says:

    I agree that it sounded whiny and a little amateurish; it seemed to emphasize his lack of experience.

    I think that it would seem underhanded if his wife wasn’t so visual, and she is. And with the latest class of nominee-spouses in the last 20 years, it’s well established that they are not off-limits. The extent at which one is allowed to comment is a direct correlation to their campaign involvement. Michelle’s is better than average.

    Had he not commented, nothing would have come to the ad, and he would look like the same classy and reasonable Obama. Now he looks inexperienced, defensive, and a little weary maybe. Chalk up big points for McCain at very little expense.

  17. Bithead says:

    Wow have we gotten overly sensitive in our politics.

    Isn’t that pretty much the point?
    If he can’t handle this, how the beep does he plan on dealing with Iran?

    Sheesh.

  18. anjin-san says:

    III

    So the McCain’s are only subject to criticism if the y say something you don’t like about America?

    Sorry dude, this is not some communist country were people like you get to decide what can be said and what remains unspoken.

  19. Sorry dude, this is not some communist country were people like you get to decide what can be said and what remains unspoken.

    Agreed. So let’s tell Sen. Obama to not dictate what can and can’t be discussed and debate this campaign.

  20. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, I do not hear Senator McCain telling the DNC to leave Cindy alone, do you? B. Hussein thinks he gets to decide what questions are ask able and what can be discussed. Just wait until this fool steps on the debate platform with Senator John McCain. He will be without a teleprompter. Sort of like swimming without a flotation device. None of the Democratic opponents ever asked Obama what he hoped for and what he intended to change or how he was going to go about that. Some debate will be on Fox news where they will ask real questions. Your foolish hero, Obama will end up looking like the neophyte that he is. Only the truly brain dead will vote for such a fop.

  21. floyd says:

    “”Sorry but this is not some communist country ,yet, where people like Obama get to decide who gets to decide.””
    “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    Next year? America’s version turns out to be a sort of mix of John and Vladimir?…..Imagine? Our new national anthem ,just Imagine!

  22. anjin-san says:

    Agreed. So let’s tell Sen. Obama to not dictate what can and can’t be discussed and debate this campaign.

    Agreed. So let’s see McCain’s medical records and his wife’s tax returns. If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to worry about…

  23. teqjack says:

    So, is BHO going to stop criticising Slick Willy? And is he going to blame everything he has ever said about Bill on his staff and/or friends, like almost everything else that put him in a poor light?

  24. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, do you have attention deficit disorder?
    The topic is B. Hussein Obama and his lovely wife Michelle, there statements on campaign trail and whether or not the lovely Michelle should be able to shoot off her mouth and then claim to comment on her comments is off limits. I know that is tough for you to follow as you would rather talk about anything other than your hero Che, I mean B. Hussein.

  25. kristianjl says:

    “Your foolish hero, Obama will end up looking like the neophyte that he is.” Just hold on there… even George Will knows this guy is no pushover. What was the quote? “McCain’s problem might turn out to be the fact that Obama is the Democrats’ Reagan. Obama’s rhetorical cotton candy lacks Reagan’s ideological nourishment, but he is Reaganesque in 2 important senses: People like listening to him, & his manner lulls his adversaries into underestimating his sheer toughness, the tempered steel beneath the sleek suits” Tempered STEEL, baby!!!!

  26. anjin-san says:

    III

    Look, I understand why you are afraid to discuss the McCain’s issues with tax and medical records. So keep dancing. The “Trash Obama” strategy worked so well in the recent special congressional elections, by all means, stick with it.

  27. Bithead says:

    Agreed. So let’s see McCain’s medical records and his wife’s tax returns. If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to worry about..

    Thank you Senator McCarthy, for that report.
    In other news….

  28. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, you, evidently have a reading problem also. Notice the large font letters at the top of the page and repeat what they say. I believe it says “Can Obama tell they to lay off?” Where in that headline to you see the name McCain or how you get to anything about McCain from that title? In some circles you might be known as a troll. Here is a good one for you Pilot. Did you listen to what Obama had to say about Iran in Portland Ore., and then what he said while in Billings, Montana. Probably not. I will give you a clue. In Oregon, Obama stated Iran posed no significant threat to America. In Montana he made it clear he considered the threat from Iran grave. Look to Powerline for the video clip. Why is this fool not a laughing stock?

  29. just me says:

    I think in general Obama comes across as a whiner at times. I am not sure if it is word choice or what, but he comes across as a whiner when complaining.

    That said-I think his wife, when her actual words on the campaign trail are being questioned is fair game. I also think defending his wife is an appropriate response, he just seems more whiney than firm defender.

  30. C’mon, anjin-san is sticking to the issues. You know he hates the mud slinging personal stuff. He said so!

  31. anjin-san says:

    III

    Ok be a good little hero of Soviet labor who only talks about what he has been given express permission to discuss. Hey man, where did it mention Montana in the 4 words at the top of the page? Better watch your step…

  32. anjin-san says:

    excuse me… the large font letters at the top of the page that is.

  33. anjin-san says:

    Thank you Senator McCarthy, for that report.

    Let’s see Bit, you have been cheering for years while Bush and Cheney wipe their rears with the constitution, but if someone questions a member of the GOP, its a witch hunt.

    OK…

  34. jojo star says:

    how can she campaign and say such stupid things and then not be chanllenged on it. if he wins election and she becomes fist lady sure she will be very political so lets discuss that now not when it is too late.

    my view she is the one who brought him to that church and she thinks like the pastor, this is a dangerous group of people he is associated with and needs debate

  35. Bithead says:

    Let’s see Bit, you have been cheering for years while Bush and Cheney wipe their rears with the constitution, but if someone questions a member of the GOP, its a witch hunt.

    And you wonder why so few take you seriously, after coming up with nonsense like this.

  36. malach hamovess says:

    “beer baroness druggie gets favorable treatment for drug thefts”;

    Cindy McCain keeps to the background because she has yet to answer for the favorable treatment she received, skipping any real prosecution and avoiding all but a minor slap on the wrist. Her direct involvement in the Keating 5 also led to John McCain getting off a lot easier than his colleagues. When she does open her mouth she’ll sound just like another candidates’ wife who’s financed her war-hero husband’s political career with her family fortune and will wind up an embarrassment to his candidacy – it’s just a question of beer v. ketchup.

  37. Michael says:

    Bithead’s right, when we can’t talk about a candidate’s family, skin tone, pastor, fashion accessories, fictional political associations, fictional religious associations or even a funny sounding middle name, what is left for us to base our votes on? Issues?

  38. Bithead says:

    Apparently, you don’t feel a lack of patriotism, a leaning toward racists and socialists, and a socialist background, (All proven) is not a valid group of voter concerns. We are fortunate, that you are not the final arbitor in such matters, Mike.

  39. Michael says:

    Apparently, you don’t feel a lack of patriotism, a leaning toward racists and socialists, and a socialist background, (All proven) is not a valid group of voter concerns. We are fortunate, that you are not the final arbitor in such matters, Mike.

    What lack of patriotism? What “proven” racist leaning? How is he any more socialist than your average Democrat? You’ve got nothing, Bit, and you’re trying to make a mountain out of it.

  40. anjin-san says:

    proven = “Rush said so”