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So a Novak column said that Clinton operatives were spreading word about “scandalous” information that Clinton had on Obama, but which she wasn’t going to use, prompting Obama to…demand that she reveal whatever she has.  If this sounds strange, that’s because it is.  Obama issued a statement:

She of all people, having complained so often about ‘the politics of personal destruction,’ should move quickly to either stand by or renounce these tactics.

File this under the “not ready for primetime” category.  Obama here gives Clinton an opening to appear wise in the ways of the political world, while he flails about over some Beltway gossip in a column most Democrats probably will not even have read (and may not have heard of until he drew attention to it). 

By all accounts, Obama is remarkably clean for an Illinois politician (save the Rezko business, which may still dog him in months to come), and there seems to have never been any suspicion of any infidelities on his part, so I suppose I can understand reacting strongly to suggestions that there is something “scandalous” out there about him.  But given his reputation, he shouldn’t need to respond to some rumour in a column.  It doesn’t end up helping him, and confirms the impression that he is getting outmaneuvered by Clinton and that he would be an easy target in a general election fight.

Update: Obama’s campaign issued a retort to the Clinton campaign.  They won’t let it go.  Here was the latest statement:

The ‘experience’ America’s looking for today is not the practiced Washington art of evasion and deflection. Once again, the Clinton campaign refuses to answer two simple, direct questions:

Are “agents” of their campaign spreading these rumors? And do they have “scandalous” information that they are not releasing?

Yes or no?

This is bizarre.  Why keep alive a controversy that makes you look either a) weak and a little bit whiny or b) defensive about vague ethics charges? 

Second Update: Mark Halperin has a different view of the episode, seeing Obama’s response as “a tough call-to-arms for his supporters.”  Maybe it will work out that way, but I doubt it.  It can very easily be turned around him and show how easily he can be “rattled” or “distracted” by trivia.  It probably doesn’t change anything about the primary contest, but confirms Obama supporters in their assumptions about “conventional Washington politics,” while reconfirming Clinton supporters in their belief that Clinton is more politically experienced and capable of winning the general election.  Obama needs to break out of that dynamic, and what he has done this weekend reinforces it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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