'Hottest Ring in Hell' for Messing with Michelle

My late father, who worked with the toughest kids in a Brooklyn high school, used to say that when a person's reaction is disproportionate to the stimulus, something else is causing it. So when Obama campaign co-chair Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) dramatically reserved the "hottest ring in hell" for those who would go after Michelle Obama, my antennae went up. Interviewing him, MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell also seemed a bit taken aback by the forcefulness of Durbin's response.

O'Donnell broached the subject by quoting from Maureen Dowd's NY Times column of this morning:
It’s good news for Obama that Hillary’s out of the race. But it’s also bad news. Now Republicans can turn their full attention to demonizing Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is the new, unwilling contestant in Round Two of the sulfurous national game of “Kill the witch.”
View video here.
NORAH O'DONNELL: What's your reaction to that?

DICK DURBIN: Well, I know Michelle, she's been my friend, a friend of my wife, for many, many years. She can take it. She can handle herself. She's a very accomplished person. But I will tell you this: the hottest ring in hell is reserved for those in politics who attack their opponents' families. And if there are some Republican strategists who think that't the way to win the election, I think they're wrong.

O'DONNELL: Wow-w-w! Well there you have it! That's a line.

Touchy, touchy, Senator. Sure, going after a candidate's family on superficial or private matters is off limits. But Michelle Obama has played an active, substantive role on behalf of her husband. That makes her controversial statements along the campaign trail fair game for discussion. And indeed her comments, among others, about this being a "mean country," of which she is now proud "for the first time," have been much discussed. So Durbin couldn't have had that in mind. Is there something else the campaign is concerned that might emerge? Did Durbin's dire warning amount to a pre-emptive strike?

For that matter, unfairly attacking a candidate's wife is bad, but does it really merit "the hottest" ring in hell? I mean, hotter than that reserved for, I don't know, serial killers?

Dad would say something's going on—and he was a Democrat.

UPDATE | 8:50 PM EDT: Dem Talking Point? Maddow Echoes Durbin


I'm beginning to think that Durbin wasn't freelancing with his warning, but instead mouthing an Obama campaign talking point. On this evening's Race for the White House, Air America's Rachel Maddow also tried to warn Republicans off going after Michelle. Host David Gregory was discussing polling data revealing Obama's weakness in various demographics.

View video here.

DAVID GREGORY: Among white suburban women: McCain 44%, Obama 38%. Rachel, how do you read that?

RACHEL MADDOW: I think that Obama's obviously looking to bring back, to lock up the Hillary Clinton demographic, in terms of women who supported him [sic], women who supported her, bringing them over to him. One of the things we talked about earlier in the show today which I think is important here is if the McCain campaign, and conservative groups outside the Republican party proper, are really thinking about attacking Michelle Obama, that is going to drive women toward Obama in droves. There's almost nothing that Republicans and conservatives could do more than attack the spouse, I think, than to bring women home to Obama.

Is ardent liberal Maddow really offering good-faith advice to McCain—or is this a Dem campaign tactic to bluff Republicans away from attacking Obama on a vulnerable point?  Can it be pure coincidence that two Obama supporters just happen to make similar points on MSNBC within a few hours of each other?

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.