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According to David Broder, panty sniffing is all the rage in the Beltway.  Not the Chastity Beltway, mind you — that’s somewhere else entirely, as evidenced by Fornigate, among other stories currently making the rounds…but I’m talking full-on, lemon yellow pantsuit hyperventalation, with marital speculation at the juicy gossip level disguised as "news." 

But only in the context of a single power couple — everyone else gets private, behind your back speculation.  And why is that, exactly — because the current power ranger in the family is a girl?  Or just because she’s married to the clenis?

The Dean of Washington Journalism says that the Clinton’s marriage will be a "hot topic" should Hillary choose to run for Prez:

But for all the delicacy of the treatment, the very fact that the Times had sent a reporter out to interview 50 people about the state of the Clintons’ marriage and placed the story on the top of Page One was a clear signal — if any was needed — that the drama of the Clintons’ personal life would be a hot topic if she runs for president.

Ah, yes. Panty sniffing is back in vogue this season. Along with binoculars, a recording device, a quick shutter camera and Linda Tripp’s plastic surgeon.

Good heavens, don’t these people have anything better to do?  Is Rudy Guiliani going to get the Mistress in the Mansion treatment?  Do they plan on running the McCain divorce for the booze distribution heiress marriage up the flag pole to salute?  I could go on, but I’m making myself queasy with the memories of 7th grade note passing.  "Will u b my date 2 the dance?  Write yes or no."  Blergh.

Here’s how it starts:  plant a seed in the NYTimes, and then allow Chris Matthews to provide a little rain to get things going on Hardball.  The next thing you know, all the kool kidz are talking about it around the corporate media water cooler.  Then the Dean of All Things Acceptable in Washington Journalism comes out to watch it blossom as a rumor weed that we can all cherish from now until 2008, spreading its tendrils among the corporate press in print and on the teevee.  And thus, the discussion of the Clinton bedding rituals begins, until this malarky is cemented as a given fact for all the world to know — whether or not it’s true, or even worth discussion at all.  (See last night’s Rove cartoon.)

Except for one thing:  who the hell cares?  I mean really, who cares?  Except for the inside, gossip queens of the Beltway, how exactly does this put gas in someone’s tank, keep their kid safe on the battlefield, stop their job from being downsized, or help them pay the balloon payment on their already-ballooning mortgage?  What in the hell are these people doing calling this crap "reporting?"

I think the last sentence of the Broder piece sums the whole thing up:

Other than that, the elephant in the room went unmentioned.

Until now, that is. Who do you think wants the subject changed from everything going wrong in this country to "where’s Bill playing hide the sausage?"  And how crass is that for a topic about an ex-President?  Grow up!  How about playing a game of "why is George hiding the basis for his false claims of WMDs, nukes and other incentives for going to war in Iraq?"  Murrow is rolling in his grave with this. 

The GOP is perfectly happy for us to discuss anything about the Clintons — it riles up the cheetos-eaters in their base who have nothing better to do than sit around and bitch about the Clintons five years after Bill left office.  And it changes the subject from how much the Idiot Son has screwed up the country, with the GOP along for the ride on the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress Pork Barrel Express. 

For god’s sake, we’re not in junior high.  Grow the fuck up and act like adults who deal with real issues instead of a bunch of panty sniffing losers who can’t get a date for the dance. 

And for everyone else who thought this was a tiny little issue for the one NYTimes story and it would just blow over and disappear — wrong.  It’s multiplying, as rumor weeds tend to do.  Peter Daou has more.  An attempt at shaping conventional wisdom tends to do that — which is why you have to strike early and often to stop the Swiftboating panty sniffing before it gets too far into the panty drawer.

(Photo is the fabulous Anthony Andrews in The Scarlet Pimpernel.)