Obamaclintonmandelnganafpgetty

What's really going on between both the Obama campaign's swift response to the blind Novak item about some alleged dirt coming his way and Clinton's super-swift retort in turn? Mark Halperin talks about it here. Daniel Larison echoes the Clinton line that all this reflects Obama's "inexperience."

Here's a more paranoid explanation: at some point in this campaign, if you believe the Washington rumor mill, there may well be some Clinton bimbo eruption stories, i.e. Bill's post-presidential extracurricular activities will come under discussion again. This Novak flap therefore may be a dummy-run for the various responses if such alleged doodoo eventually hits the campaign fan. The story would be relevant again not so much because of Bill but because of Hillary. She is now the candidate and would be forced to respond to such allegations if they became in any way legit. Would any self-respecting wife simply dismiss stories of her husband's possible adultery as self-evident VRCW sleaze - for a second time? How credible, after Lewinsky, would such a dismissal be? And how important then to set a marker down now that all such stories are to be ignored by "experienced Democrats," as Howard Wolfson puts it?

I may not care about the personal details of a president's marriage, but, given the Clintons' history, purple state Americans may not be so sure. The story could remind them of the psychodramas of the 1990s, dramas that impeded a president's ability to govern. It could remind them of how hollowed out Hillary Clinton's psyche has had to become - as a consequence of enabling her husband's foibles as the price for her own political advancement. Either way, the GOP would love it. If Rudy's the nominee, the "scandal" would insulate him from Christianist moralizing about his private life. If Romney's the nominee, it will merely entrench his rep as the squeaky clean family man against that crazy Clinton couple. That's why the Republicans are more than happy to keep these stories under wraps until after the primaries.

But isn't that a reason for the Obama camp to draw attention to them now - before it's too late? Maybe the Obama response to an alleged Obama story is not a function, pace Larison, of "flailing" and inexperience, but a calculated bid to force Clinton's biggest liability out into the open before she gets the nomination? I have no inside information on this, and no solid evidence of either an Obama "scandal" or a Clinton one, but the stakes are very high for all the reasons I've speculated on. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.