If there's one thing political strategists fear and detest, it's losing control of the message of their campaign. That's why the current super PACs that are the rage his year are at best a mixed blessing for the candidates whose interests are intended to be served by them.
In the super PACs' independence, real or feigned, their operatives often inject into the campaign views that the formal message-shapers would prefer to be ignored or unstated. When these views prove detrimental to the official line of the campaign, official strategists are obliged to spend time and effort disavowing the free-lance comments and getting the campaign back on the intended track.
The same applies to those not formally part of a candidate's official campaign organization but who have enough of a political or ideological association that they are taken as reflecting its thinking or position on an issue.
That is the case with one Hilary Rosen, identified as an independent Democratic strategist and public relations consultant, who offered her two cents on CNN about Ann Romney as a stay-at-home mom. In doing so, she brought the Obama campaign a world of grief for her stupidly injudicious remark that Mitt Romney's wife had "never worked a day in her life."
For someone who is billed as an expert in public relations, Ms. Rosen's observation was about as helpful to the president's cause as saying he was really born in Kenya. Her remark came as President Obama was riding high in the polls with female voters, one of the obvious reasons that Ann Romney had become more outspoken in her husband's campaign.
As a public relations consultant, Ms. Rosen should have known better than to commit a cardinal sin of her trade: Don't intrude on your candidate's campaign message and thereby throw the opposition a lifeline. Ann Romney seized it, using the social-network abomination Twitter to remind voters, "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."
Even President Obama weighed in on the side of stay-home moms. He offered the examples of his own wife currently and his mother, a single mom after his father's desertion, in rejecting Ms. Rosen's comment, as well as "commentary about spouses of political candidates."
Ms. Rosen beat a hasty retreat, saying: "As a mom, I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. As a pundit, I know my words on CNN last night were poorly chosen." So, indeed, was her self-description as a pundit, which my dictionary describes as "an expert or authority, a person who makes comments or judgments in a solemnly authoritative manner." Some solemn. Some authoritative.
Any political public-relations consultant worth his or her salt knows that the subject of Social Security is "the third rail" of politics -- not to be touched, at the risk of public revulsion and defeat. So it is, as well, to criticize a candidate's spouse or other family member, in the quest for political gain or for the detriment of one's opponent. Mr. Obama's chief political strategist, David Axelrod, showed considerable restraint as well as professional discipline in calling Ms. Rosen's meddling misstep "inappropriate."
This particular tempest in a teapot has stirred up a host of stay-at-home moms to defend Ann Romney. However, the question is whether it will make much dent in her husband's perception problem with women as a successful businessman so wealthy that he seems inured to the daily challenges of poor and middle-class Americans.
As for the political pros running the official Obama campaign, the episode is a clear illustration why they prefer to hold all the strings in shaping the message of the president's campaign. They can do without the unsolicited kibitzing of outsiders, no matter how well-meaning and articulate -- or, in this case, bone-headed.
With Rick Santorum's "suspension" of his campaign and Newt Gingrich's meaningless ego trip continuing, the wait for Mitt Romney's convention coronation in late summer invites all manner of subplots to fill the political news vacuum. On the Obama side, prayers need to be offered up to save him from friends who should know enough to leave the campaign message to the strategists who have carefully shaped it.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is email@example.com.