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Rod McCullom Headshot

This is What Barack Obama Should Tell Bob Novak: "Put Up or STFU!"

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What a difference a day makes ... twenty-four little hours and apparently no lessons learned by the spinmeisters at the Barack Obama campaign. Only hours after his none-too-impressive performance in Las Vegas--that was when the Democratic presidential candidate was loudly booed after comparing a key policy difference with Hillary Clinton as "the kind of thing that I would expect from Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani"--the campaign continues to test drive none-too-clever and patently obvious Republican talking points. The latest political zeitgeist: The Obama campaign demands a response to an anonymous rumor planted by the Prince of Darkness himself, right-wing operative and Karl Rove confidante Robert Novak.

Stop laughing. This is serious presidential business, at least according to the Obama brain trust.

First, the back story. On the morning after the Sin City Showdown, the Huffington Post published our post on Barack Obama and John Edwards' grasping at straws--sorry, strategic offensive, they probably call it--called, "Paging John Edwards and Barack Obama: Your Republican Talking Points Are Calling!" It seems to have struck a nerve. Several hundred Huff Post readers commented and many, if not most, took issue with our premise that Messrs. Obama and Edwards were using Republican talking points to attack Sen. Hillary Clinton. It's not that Hillary Clinton doesn't have numerous vulnerabilities, and, Obama cannot brand himself as an attractive and credible alternative. By all means, Obama should be further ahead, but, he is stalled in the polls--up to 30 points behind in Nevada--because his campaign staffers continually seek inspiration from the professional Hillary haters on the right.

Fast forward to Sunday. Robert Novak's Sunday Chicago Sun-Times column claims "agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, but has decided not to use it. The nature of the alleged scandal was not disclosed."

No details, no sources, no information--just sensational charges and the lurid strokes of a keyboard. It's like Perez Hilton was hired to ghostwrite a Robert Ludlum novel. Who would fall for such a thing, besides gossip hounds, the loony left, and, the professional Hillaraters?

The music should be very familiar. Republicans plant a story with a friendly source. Simple-minded folks and those with nothing to lose become easily distracted. The Republicans smirk and mutter, "Dance, puppets, dance." It's an old Jedi Mind Trick that most of us should easily resist.

Most of us, but, no such luck at Camp Obama, whose not-ready-for-primetime Rapid Response Team--which should have been deployed before the Donnie McClurkin debacle--took the bait. Instead of ignoring the column, or using it to line a cat litter box, the senator immediately denounced the ridiculous story. Obama's wording is classic, more of that meta-messaging "change" rhetoric so beloved by his amen chorus among the e-telligentsia. "The cause of change in this country will not be deterred or sidetracked by the old 'Swift boat' politics....I am prepared to stand up to that kind of politics, whether it's deployed by candidates in our party, in the other party or by any third party."

Naturally, the Clinton campaign dismissed the disinformation but there was even more tough language from Obama campaign manager David Plouffe: "Are 'agents' of their campaign spreading these rumors? And do they have 'scandalous' information that they are not releasing? Yes or no?"

Trash is trash, no matter who sweeps it up. If you're going to quote non-attributed, non-sourced, ambiguous alleged hearsay published by a notorious right-wing operative--the same one who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, by the way--why stop there? Is the Obama campaign going to repeat Bob Novak's amen chorus to the Bush Administration's fiasco in Iraq? What about Novak's war-beating on Iran in this morning's column?

Here is an even better question to the Obama campaign: If you're going to quote Republican talking points from the Prince of Darkness, why don't you quote what he said last July on Meet the Press, when, on one of their typical all-white and all-male panels, Novak told Tim Russert--who also has credibility problems in this area--that a "woman or African American" Democratic nominee would "give the Republicans hope" and energize their base like nothing before. Media Matters has the video. Watch it.

Robert Novak is a right-wing apparatchik and his version of "hope" is a throwback to the 1950s. This is the exact opposite of the politics of "hope" that is basis of Barack Obama's presidential aspirations. If there is anything "scandalous" to the Novak column, it's the fact that Obama's not-ready-for-prime-time team actually fell for it.