I'M SURE SEN.

Barack Obama

didn't intentionally set out to up his heartthrob-ability when he uttered the words "lay off my wife," but how could he not?

For the female voters who already swoon over Obama in his crisp white shirts with the rolled-up cuffs, yesterday's pushback gave them something new to moon about: A bronzed Sir Galahad coming to the defense of his Lady. It was just one of those fleeting early- morning TV moments that, if you turned to refill your coffee cup, you might have missed.

But thanks to video and the Internet, yesterday's sound-bite-of-the-day was replayed over and over, prompting much jawboning on all sides of the political spectrum. The co-hosts on ABC's chat fest, "The View," were all abuzz about Obama's defense of his wife, as was a colleague who stopped by my office to sigh about it. And, to be honest, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to feeling a small measure of satisfaction watching Obama, who has been criticized for being too easygoing, stand up for his wife so publicly. Even if it was a futile gesture considering the rhetoric that passes for political discourse these days.

Obama made the "lay off my wife" remark while being interviewed by ABC's Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America," and the subject was a video on YouTube that portrays his wife, Michelle, as being unpatriotic. Created by Republican operatives, the four-minute video intersperses Michelle's much-maligned comment in which she said, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country" with commentary from Tennesseans explaining why they are proud to be Americans.

In total, Michelle's remark, which she made in February and has since clarified, gets played six times during the spot. When asked about the video during "Good Morning America," Obama called the strategy "low class" and said, "Whoever is in charge of the Tennessee GOP needs to think long and hard about the kind of campaign they want to run, and I think that's true for everybody, Democrat or Republican.

"The GOP, should I be the nominee, can say whatever they want to say about me, my track record," Obama said. "If they think that they're going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful because that I find unacceptable, the notion that you start attacking my wife or my family."

Even without Obama's gallantry, methinks Michelle Obama can handle herself just fine on the campaign trail no matter how people attempt to portray her. She knew they'd be coming after her the moment she stepped into the limelight and began acting as her husband's surrogate. That's the way it goes.

Even if family members don't step forward in the manner of Bill and Chelsea Clinton or Michelle Obama, they still are fair game and likely to be scrutinized to the point of distraction. When it comes to politics, no one gets a pass.

That's why so many qualified people with great ideas never even think of stepping forward. They hang back to spare themselves and their families the level of public scrutiny and ridicule that Michelle, for example, is withstanding. And withstanding pretty well, too. But I suspect it made her smile to see her husband charge to her defense. *

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