Minneapolis -- We have reached the point in our long national nightmare of a presidential primary season when the two remaining Democratic candidates no longer have anything nice to say about one another, yet do not have the luxury of saying nothing at all.
Never mind their health care proposals. To heck with their stands on the economy and the Iraq war. From now until the party settles on a candidate, the debate is going to center on who can get the press to echo the most simplistic and petty charges about whom.
Petty charges take time and resources to dispel. Resources your opponent can't array against you. The right petty charge can force your opponent's staff to go 48 or 72 hours without sleep, looking for ways to debunk the rumor and coming up with equally petty counter charges to hurl at you.
It works like this. You find something, anything in the way of a petty charge that might stick to your opponent and have a surrogate toss it into the rapacious maw of the combination 24-hour-news/punditry-cycle-and-echo-chamber. Let it incubate for a day or two. Let it grow like a virulent strain of the flu in a lab dish. Eventually it will break out and your opponent will have to deal with it.
While your opponent denies and decries the slander, your job is to stay on the high road. Let your staff comment on it. When asked about it (and you will be asked about it - there's only so much real news for cable television to report and comment on) profess purity of heart. Bemoan the terrible state of the national dialogue.
Then, as the story is beginning to fizzle, reach over and almost reluctantly smear it around on your opponent -- as if you are trying to help them get a blop of mayonnaise off their lapel.
This will keep it going for another news cycle, and keep your opponent's staff from planting virulent rumors and charges about you.
This time of the campaign year, your opposition research people uncovered everything there is to know about the other candidate... You're fresh out of dirt and mud. You need new plausible petty charges. You need them now.
So here, for the benefits of both the Clinton and Obama campaigns are a few plausible, yet unused petty charges.
1. On two occasions in September of 2006, your opponent didn't wash his-or-her hands before returning to work in the Senate Chamber.
2. In high school, your opponent was caught smoking cigarettes behind the big boiler in the cavernous subbasement at the back of the janitor's room.
3, Your opponent has received thousands of virtually anonymous emails offering him-or-her special rates on pharmaceuticals, including drugs that will cure depression and erectile dysfunction, as well as offers to procure high qualty replica wristwatches at discounted prices.
There are lots more petty charges where these came from. There is not much more time for the candidates to toss them at one another. It should be over soon. And this summer in Denver should see the two standing, arms around one another, waving to the party faithful through confetti and falling balloons in Denver.
But that doesn't mean the market for petty charges will collapse by any means. We've got a senator to elect. As petty charges go, we ain't seen nothing yet.