SOMETIMES, A DIG IS JUST A DIG…. There was a point a couple of months ago in which campaign reporters, at the McCain campaign’s urging, began to see the word “confused” as an ageist attack. So, if someone were to point out that John McCain is confused about whether the U.S. can maintain a long-term troop presence in Iraq, this was necessarily insulting, whether he’s confused or not.

The argument was premised on the notion that those of us who aren’t senior citizens, apparently, don’t get confused. In reality, the McCain campaign was so concerned about the age issue, it pressed reporters into hair-trigger sensitivity on the issue.

We’re seeing it again today. Robert Gibbs, the Obama campaign’s communications director, appeared on MSNBC this morning, talking about the crisis on Wall Street. Time’s Mark Halperin asked about the political implications and recent polling trends, and Gibbs responded, “What I do think in the last two and a half to three weeks — including that last debate — that people got a sense of who is steady in a crisis and quite frankly who’s erratic in a crisis.”

The “Morning Joe” panel pressed Gibbs on the “erratic” claim, and he responded, “Just yesterday, John McCain said we shouldn’t fix blame. He took a breath and then fixed blame. He said the fundamentals of our economy are strong, and he flip-flopped. He opposed the bail-out of AIG, and then he supported it. This guy zig-zags. Look, if he’s driving a car, get off the sidewalk.”

People chuckled, and the show went on.

But in response, some observers are crying “foul.” The Politico’s Jonathan Martin said Gibbs took an “age swipe” at McCain, and his comments were intended to remind voters of “images of elderly drivers who have plowed into pedestrians in recent years.” Similarly, Time’s Michael Scherer blasted Gibbs for deliberately, and foolishly, offending older voters.

Gibbs is a very sharp communications director, and I suppose it’s possible that his comments had an underlying meaning, but I kind of doubt it. The message he wanted to emphasize was the “erratic” line, not the driving metaphor, which was an obvious afterthought.

Besides, aren’t there dangerous young drivers, too? Maybe the political world is being a little overly sensitive on this?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.