Clearly, when you want the media to lay off of someone, you put them smack in the middle of a carefully staged photo op and then linger for full effect? Right?

Since there is widespread agreement that the children of candidates should not become topics of campaign debate, it behooves us to note that the McCain campaign has almost singlehandedly made Sarah Palin’s daughter a central figure in the Republican convention.

It was the McCain campaign that announced Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy. That alone might be understandable since it appears a supermarket tabloid was about to print the story. But it was the McCain campaign, entirely on its own, that dished up unsubstantiated claims about maternity tests and all sorts of other lurid nonsense that had never been seen in print anywhere. And now the McCain campaign has staged a ceremonial laying-on-of-hands on the tarmac in St. Paul in which Sen. McCain has given his official blessing to the young couple and embrace of Bristol’s boyfriend Levi.

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here. Overwhelmingly, reporters are pressing eminently reasonable questions — her role in troopergate, her lack of experience, her connections to the AIP, her history of earmarking and lobbyists, etc. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is going absolutely non-stop about Palin’s daughter. It is unmistakable.

And the reasoning for that is clear. Even many liberals have granted that Palin’s daughter should be left alone, so the McCain campaign both wants to put the bait out there, and to conflate those very legitimate problems with her daugter’s pregnancy. It’s almost obscenely obvious.