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GOP Game-plan: When In Doubt, Go After The Candidate's Spouse

In 1992, Republican attack dogs went after Bill Clinton by denigrating Hillary Clinton as often as humanly possible. In 2004, the GOP took great pleas

In 1992, Republican attack dogs went after Bill Clinton by denigrating Hillary Clinton as often as humanly possible. In 2004, the GOP took great pleasure in taking on Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Now, the attack machine has decided to take rhetorical aim at Michelle Obama.

“Mrs. Grievance” bellowed the cover of a recent National Review, which featured a photo of a fierce-looking Obama. The magazine’s online edition titled an essay about her stump speech “America’s Unhappiest Millionaire.”

Michelle Malkin, the popular conservative blogger, called her “Obama’s bitter half.”

Even the relatively liberal online magazine Slate piled on. In a piece subtitled “Is Michelle Obama responsible for the Jeremiah Wright fiasco?” the contrarian Christopher Hitchens blamed her for her husband’s pastor troubles since she was a member of the church first.

The would-be first lady does not make pronouncements about policy and has insisted that her priority in the White House would be her two young daughters…. It was an unscripted remark as she spoke in February about the enthusiastic response to his message of hope that set off conservatives: “And let me tell you something,” she told a Wisconsin crowd. “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.”

The Obama campaign quickly explained that she misspoke: “What she meant is that she’s really proud at this moment because for the first time in a long time, thousands of Americans who’ve never participated in politics before are coming out in record numbers to build a grass-roots movement for change.” Even First Lady Laura Bush — hardly a liberal Dem — defended Michelle Obama, agreeing that the comments didn’t reflect her true feelings.

But the Smear Machine doesn’t much care. “It’s exactly why I hate politics,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz. “It’s wrong. It’s attempting to demonize someone who is very smart, very accomplished, but not totally tuned to the dangers of political discourse.”

It’s your party, Frank.

Take our AOL poll on whether it's a smart tactic to target Michelle Obama

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A few angles to consider here. First, the Obama campaign is aware of the Republican strategy, is taking steps to prepare.

Recognizing the extent to which Republicans view Michelle Obama’s strong views and personality as a potential liability for her husband, Mr. Obama’s aides said they were preparing to bring aboard senior operatives from previous Democratic presidential campaigns to work with her, a clear departure from the typical way the spouse of a candidate is staffed. Mrs. Obama’s operation would include senior aides devoted to responding to attacks and challenges to her, particularly if she continues to campaign as much as she has so far.

Second, the possibility of a backlash is real.

John Kerry, who has campaigned with Michelle Obama, said the attacks could backfire. “She’s a mother of two young daughters, and her self-made story is America’s story,” the Massachusetts senator said. “I think a lot of people will be repelled by the attacks on her, because it’ll feel like an attack on their own family. Republicans smear her at their peril.”

And third, be sure to check out Kathy G’s very sharp piece on the “Hillary-ization” of Michelle Obama.

What I’m wondering right now is, what can we - as Democrats, as feminists, as people who are deeply committed to racial equality — do to help and support her?

That last question is especially important. I’m open to suggestion.

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