Women have fought for equality in the workplace and the public square for decades, and now that they have achieved it, two men believe that women have to be protected from big, bad men who criticize their political speeches. The first, Barack Obama, comes as no surprise; he wants to minimize the political damage from a speech Michelle Obama gave at the beginning of February. The second, Republican Senator Bob Corker, has no such excuse:

The office of Senator Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee, has weighed in today, siding with Senator Barack Obama’s objections to the state’s G.O.P. Web campaign against Michelle Obama.

To recap, the officialdom of the Tennessee G.O.P. posted a Web spot that mines remarks Mrs. Obama made in February that “first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.” The ad repeats footage of her speaking those words, interspersed with comments from Tennesseans, talking about how they’ve always been proud to be an American. …

Today, Mr. Corker’s chief of staff, Todd Womack, demanded that his boss’ state party remove the Web ad:

After the Republican National Committee damaged our campaign with their infamous ‘Call Me’ ad — which we immediately denounced — we have strongly encouraged the national party and state parties to absolutely refrain from getting involved in negative personal campaigning, and we have asked the state party to remove their You Tube ad from their Web site.

Republicans will be in much better shape if we spend our time focused on issues like reducing federal spending, lowering the cost of health care and creating a coherent energy policy.

Here’s the ad in question:

As I wrote yesterday, anyone who delivers speeches at campaign events had better grow a thick enough skin to take criticism for their statements, and that includes the spouses of candidates. No one suggested that Bill Clinton’s statements on the stump should get excepted from criticism, and the Obama campaign didn’t follow that policy when decrying Bill’s divisiveness when Bill called Obama’s story on his Iraq policy a “fairy tale”. Why didn’t they observe the spousal exemption then? Is it because Bill’s a man and not a poor woman who requires the protection of her men?

When spouses become campaign surrogates, as Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, and Cindy McCain have, then their statements on the stump are completely fair game for criticism. The Tennessee GOP should continue to run this ad, and Corker should worry less about protecting women from themselves and more about whether he can carry his state for John McCain in the fall.

But while we’re on the subject, why is a Hillary Clinton supporter trying to flack a rumor about Michelle Obama — and blaming it on the GOP? Larry Johnson over at No Quarter has written about a video showing Mrs. Obama at the pulpit at Trinity United Church of Christ “railing against “whitey.” Supposedly, the Republicans — including the bete noir of Democrats, Karl Rove — paid a lot of money for the reel, which will destroy an Obama candidacy if the Democrats nominate him.

Yeah, sure. I don’t believe it for a second. This smells a lot like a political dirty trick aimed at both Obama and the Republicans, on a par with the “love child” smear against McCain in 2000. First, as someone who actually read Mrs. Obama’s Princeton thesis, it doesn’t match up with her outlook:

I have bad news for those who hoped to mine some gold in this thesis; it’s not there. It’s a typical college thesis that has perhaps a slightly more personal nature than most. It’s a well-written look at the differences between black alumni’s socialization patterns with blacks and whites before and during their Princeton years, and the effect that it had after their graduation.

It found — surprise! — that black students who socialized more with whites before and during Princeton were more comfortable with whites later, and those who didn’t, weren’t. Interestingly, they all more closely identified with the black community during the Princeton years, and that mostly declined when they went out into the world afterwards. There were more subtle variations on ideological trends, and attempts to drill down into “literateness” and other subjective analyses, which made the project rather ambitious if not completely convincing. At the conclusion, she acknowledges that her more hard-line attitudes and assumptions about blacks who did not meet her definition of “identification” were incorrect and naive.

In the paper, she started off with some hard-line hypotheses, but found the truth more subtle and moderate. She certainly could have gotten more radical in her beliefs about race relations in America, but most people tend to get less so as they gain more real-world experience, especially as successes build. And frankly, nothing in her life suggests she would be stupid enough to have made speeches like that in public knowing the political ambitions her husband held.

Unless these tapes actually surface, I’m considering them a smear from an increasingly desperate band of Hillary Clinton supporters. Michelle Obama says enough during campaign appearances to merit criticism without indulging in paranoid fantasies.