Like all of us, Sen. Barack Obama needs to be humbled once in a while, no matter how great everyone says he is. But when Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign charges him with plagiarism, their desperation is showing.
They accuse Mr. Obama of plagiarism just because he borrowed a few words from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a friend, without giving proper credit.
Yet since the beginning of this year, Mrs. Clinton and GOP front-runner Sen. John McCain have borrowed Mr. Obama's signature "Fired up! Ready to go!" line, although without much of Mr. Obama's rhetorical fire.
This lack of fire, it appears to me, is Mrs. Clinton's bigger issue. It's not what Mr. Obama says that her campaign finds so vexing. It is how well he says it and how much his audiences swoon. What really riles up the Clinton camp is when the media swoon too.
Team Clinton, including former President Bill Clinton, have charged that the media have a double standard. Mr. Obama gets a pass, in the Clinton camp's view, on slips, offenses and other controversies for which Hillary Clinton would be hammered.
Does the Clinton campaign exaggerate its victimhood in order to gain some tactical advantage? No doubt. In a high-stakes, neck-and-neck contest, you play every card in your deck. Yet at least some of the Clintons' beef appears to have the advantage of being true.
For example, remember how Mrs. Clinton stumbled through a nearly incomprehensible answer to a debate question about whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to have driver's licenses? Critics in the media pilloried her for days. But when Mr. Obama stumbled on the same question in the next debate, his answer was shrugged off as a mere slip of the tongue.
Of course, it is worth noting that Mrs. Clinton's stumble made news precisely because she had performed flawlessly in what seemed to be more debates than anyone could keep count. Mr. Obama, by comparison, was still part of her herd of challengers. Now that he's increasingly seen as the guy to beat, his life should be getting rougher, and the Clintons are frustrated that it isn't.
In Iowa, they point out, Mr. Obama denounced independent spending groups and political-action committees that supported the campaign of John Edwards. Yet when Mr. Obama refrained from denouncing similar groups that put up ads on his behalf in Nevada and California, hardly anyone noticed.
More recently, Mr. Obama appears to be waffling on a vow to abide by campaign spending rules in the general election - if his opponent did. Yet a careful reading of his earlier pronouncements reveals that he was keeping his options more open than he initially appeared to be. Will he be hounded in the media for this in the way that the Clintons surely would? Do voters really care?
That's the trick bag into which Mrs. Clinton had a hand in weaving herself. To make herself sound more electable, she has presented a tough, take-no-prisoners image to show how prepared she is to face any Republican attack machines. That makes it difficult for her to denounce the Obama campaign for its clever maneuvers. It's easier for her to blame the media, which can get old pretty quick.
Mr. Obama, by comparison, looks fresh and new and almost heroic as a biracial newcomer to national politics who nevertheless scores repeated successes against prejudices, politics-as-usual and the old-school political establishment.
But therein also lies a vulnerability. Mr. Obama has risen rapidly and amazingly without facing a contest nearly as tough as some that Mrs. Clinton has faced. However, Mr. Obama is not likely to be as lucky if he ends up facing Mr. McCain, a genuine war hero, political maverick and campaign-finance reformer, in the race for the White House.
Yet that doesn't daunt his supporters. After all, as he points out, "I'm from Chicago," a city where politics is not for the squeamish. And that, too, frustrates the Clinton camp. For a guy who promises to end politics as usual, Mr. Obama is remarkably comfortable at playing the old political games. Instead of criticizing Mr. Obama's comfort with political hardball, his fans seem to draw comfort from the hope that he won't be a patsy for Republican attacks. In that sense, their preference for Mr. Obama is much like a wise man once said of second marriages: a triumph of hope over experience.
Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears weekly in The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.