Like Captain Renault in Casablanca feigning surprise that gambling was going on at Rick's Cafe, many liberal pundits and newspapers are shocked to find out there is thuggery in the Clinton campaign.
The Boston Globe laments that Bill Clinton "runs the risk of dividing his own party, which until now had been united in its determination to end the Republicans' grip on the White House...[He] should take Kennedy's and Clyburn's advice and get back on the high road."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette complains: "Bill Clinton doesn't seem to realize that even if his bruising approach against Mrs. Clinton's opponents wins her the nomination, the bitter taste left in the minds of voters could cost her the presidency."
E.J. Dionne frets: "Doesn't calling in Bill Clinton as the lead attacker merely underscore Obama's central theme, that it's time to 'turn the page' on our Bush-Clinton-Bush political past?"
Republicans may be tempted to engage in a round of "We told you so's." They may point out that the same liberal journalists who now lament the Clintons' path of destruction said little when they dismembered the reputation of Kathleen Wiley and Monica Lewinsky. These same journalists rolled their eyes when conservatives pleaded with them to focus on the trail of scandal left behind most anything the Clintons touched.
It is sweet satisfaction to see the once indifferent media, now that there is an attractive liberal victim, scream "enough!"
But where does this leave us on the political playing field? If Hillary and Bill manage to nominate themselves, the script has already been written. She/They are dishonest manipulators who will say and do anything to achieve power.
Hillary is not running and will not govern in her own right. She is powerless without her husband and unable to relegate him to retirement. Any pretense that she/they represent a "change" is ripe for scoffing.
And if Barack Obama somehow survives the onslaught? He will find a bitterly divided party, angry and vengeful Clinton followers, and a heap of opposition research delivered to the Republicans doorstep by the Clinton machine.
THE REPUBLICANS WOULD be smart to show restraint, not an easy task under the circumstances. But remember the first rule of politics: never interfere when your opponents are destroying themselves.
However, it would be a mistake to rely simply on the Clintons' fiendishness to secure a Republican victory in 2008. While the Democrats are destroying themselves (and experiencing the ramifications of racial and gender identity politics to boot) Republicans would do well to talk substance.
On the issues of Iraq, the economy, healthcare, and border enforcement, the Republicans have much to work with and much to attract voters. It would be a mistake to merely sit back and gawk while the Clintons' temper tantrum distracts the media.
Moreover, the GOP contenders should avoid a replay of 1992. They are under no compunction to run as defenders of the incumbent administration. The candidates showed good judgment in last week's debate in refusing to excuse the fiscal laxity which ruined the reputation of Republicans over the last few years. They smartly refused to cheer for a stimulus package that may be a sop to public opinion but does little to secure an economic rebound.
The Clintons (indeed the entire Democratic Party) have been running against George W. Bush for the last eight years and would like nothing more than to continue that battle. Republicans need not play along and should make clear that big government and incompetent administration are an aberrant thing of the past.
If the race in November is about 2008 and the Clinton machine, the GOP will be in good shape. If the sly Democrats can shift the focus, play the three card Monty game they are so good at, and make the election about Bush, it will be much harder. For now, things are looking up.