Some political moments are so bizarre that you have to believe they actually are sincere.
One such moment came this weekend, when Barack Obama mocked John Edwards in a speech.
Obama had done it before, but that was before Edwards suspended his campaign last Wednesday. (Suspending his campaign may not turn out to be a bad thing for Edwards. In 2004, Howard Dean achieved his sole primary victory his home state of Vermont two weeks after he suspended his campaign. Maybe some candidates would win more states if they never began campaigning at all.)
On Sunday, Obama was giving a speech in Delaware when he brought up Edwards. (I first noticed the video on Mark Halperin's "The Page." You can also find it in the blogs of Marc Ambinder and Politico's Ben Smith.)
In a humorous riff, Obama mentioned a debate in which Tim Russert had asked him, "What's your biggest weakness?"
Obama went on: "Well, I'm always losing paper. And so I have to have somebody around me to help me file things and keep my desk clean."
Obama then said Russert had asked Edwards the same question.
"And he says, 'Well, I am just so passionate about helping poor people,'" Obama said dryly.
It was a funny and sarcastic observation on the pomposity that can mark presidential campaigning and this is not the first time Obama has made that joke.
As Jeff Zeleny noted on Jan. 17 in The New York Times, Obama did the same setup and then added: "If I had gone last, I would have known what the game was. I could have said: 'Well, you know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don't want to be helped. It's terrible.'"
Which is even funnier.
For the record, this is what Edwards actually told Russert his biggest weakness was: "I sometimes have a very powerful emotional response to pain that I see around me."
Which you can either view as a very human and sincere moment, or you can say, "Oh, puh-leeze, gag me with a spoon."
Obama apparently viewed it the latter way. But why is he bringing it up again now?
It may be because Edwards has failed to endorse Obama, and Obama is irritated with him for holding out. And perhaps Edwards is asking for too much in return. (Real negotiating goes on for these endorsements, by the way, with real jobs mentioned.)
Or Obama could have just been making a joke. But it is a joke that strikes at the heart of the collapse of Edwards' campaign: his inability to sell himself as an authentic champion of the poor and I am not just talking about his expensive haircuts.
I was in New Orleans in late December 2006 when Edwards announced for the presidency in that shattered city, and I later wrote a column praising Edwards for his courage in championing the impoverished rather than the middle class.
Most Democratic candidates for president pander to the middle class because that is where the votes and the campaign contributions are.
Yet here was Edwards, not just making poverty the centerpiece of his campaign but asking middle-class Americans to sacrifice to help the poor, including the possibility of paying higher taxes.
Isn't that a risk? I asked him back then.
"There is clearly a political risk, no question," Edwards told me. "But I actually believe this is what America needs."
He didn't stick to it. By early January 2008, before the New Hampshire primary, Edwards was barely mentioning the poor. Instead, he was portraying himself as a tireless fighter for you guessed it the middle class.
Which did not do much for him. And so Edwards began to swing back to being a champion for the poor again. Which also did not do much for him.
But when he went back to New Orleans last week to suspend his campaign, he announced he had extracted pledges from Hillary Clinton and Obama to "make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency and ... central to their presidency."
Maybe Obama found that another inauthentic and self-aggrandizing moment by Edwards.
And maybe Obama didn't like publicly being forced to declare his devotion to the poor by a candidate who took up that cause and put it down when it suited him.