LOS ANGELES -- As he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama is campaigning against "the smallness of our politics" and "scoring cheap political points."
It would seem, then, that Team Obama has a higher self-imposed standard when it comes to responding to shots, even cheap ones, lobbed at the Illinois Democrat. It makes life on the trail much tougher, but that's the high-minded course Obama set for himself.
The volley aimed at Obama came Wednesday via a live-fire e-mail from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. The New York Democrat was filleted by movie mogul David Geffen in an interview he gave to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. Geffen co-hosted Tuesday's glitzy $1.3 million Beverly Hills fund-raiser for Obama, followed by a dinner at his home where a small group of the best donors got to mingle with Obama and his wife, Michelle.
Geffen was once close to the Clintons, Bill and Hillary.
Not the chairman
"Everyone in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling," Geffen told Dowd.
Clinton's chief spokesman, Howard Wolfson, read Dowd's column and zapped out a demand that Obama "disavow personal attacks" Geffen delivered in Wolfson's morning paper.
"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash-and-burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband," Wolfson said.
"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money."
Geffen, however, is not Obama's finance chairman. That title goes to Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker. Geffen is not part of the Obama campaign. His main role is as major fund-raiser, a job he completed, at least for now, Tuesday night.
Obama's response came from his chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs.
"We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom. It is also ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford, who said if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because 'he's black.'"
Gibbs reminded everyone of the mid-1990s Lincoln bedroom Clinton campaign finance scandals. He also injected a racial element by bringing up Ford.
Clinton and Obama are clearly concerned about how they are being defined in the opening weeks of their White House campaigns.
Gibbs reacted exactly as most would in his shoes: He took it to the next level and smashed back.
Wolfson drew attention to a devastating Clinton column that probably would have had a short shelf life if he let it alone, a seemingly bizarre tactic.
But Wolfson may be crazy like a fox. Gibbs' hardball response, the Clinton team seems to be betting, may serve to show that the Obama campaign may not be as different as it claims.