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Bill Clinton, in familiar form

I “think it’s cute how loyal and hard-working he is for her,” Sandra Korbelik, an urban planner in Aiken, S.C., told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

Ms. Korbelik attended a two-hour campaign stop by former President Bill Clinton in the horse-country southern town on Tuesday.

She was referring to the take-off-the-gloves criticism of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — chief rival to former first lady and current New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination — in which the former president has increasingly indulged while campaigning.

“People are saying he should tone it down. I don’t think so,” agreed Teresa McMinn, who attended the Aiken town meeting with about 300 other people in the basement of the municipal building. “I think if the other candidates’ wives were running, they’d be right there for their wives like he is,” said the self-employed home renovator.

Mr. Clinton recently characterized Sen. Obama’s account of his voting record on Iraq war funding as a “fairy tale.” That grated on many, particularly in the black community. And his interpretation of Sen. Obama’s comment that “The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time” to mean “Republicans have had all the good ideas” has also brought charges that the former president — anxious to defend his legacy as the era’s great “agent of change” — is willing to bend the truth.

The Obama campaign on Tuesday announced the formation of a South Carolina “Truth Squad” to combat what it called the “misleading negative” Clinton attacks in the run-up to Saturday’s primary there.

Sen. Obama has responded by frequently mentioning “Sen. Clinton and President Clinton” in the same breath and in a pejorative way, suggesting they are running against him as a tag team.

People in South Carolina “don’t want to see this backbiting, bitter give-and-take that we’re beginning to see more and more of, especially from the Clinton campaign,” comments former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. “It’s wrong … and it’s got to stop. It’s not presidential. It’s not in keeping with the image of a former president.”

Donna Brazile, a veteran strategist on Democratic presidential campaigns including both Clinton-Gore bids in 1992 and 1996, has been critical of the former president’s acid tone in some of his comments.

In a Tuesday e-mail, she wrote, “When it comes to mud-fights, the Clintons make their own brew.”

Indeed. None of this should surprise experienced Clinton watchers.

When Mr. Clinton was in the White House, an organized “Bimbo Eruption Squad” stood by, ready to attack the credibility of any woman who came forward to allege she had been sexually assaulted by the president.

Most famously, Clinton lawyer James Carville said of Paula Jones, “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”

The Bimbo Eruption Squad got busy ass-assinating the character of White House intern Monica Lewinsky when reports first surfaced that she and the married president had engaged in sexual activities under his desk in the Oval Office while he spoke with congressmen on the telephone. Clinton hirelings were already preparing to fly one of her former college professors from the West Coast to do the talk show circuit, characterizing her as a pathetic young woman who fantasized about having sex with powerful men — the well-oiled character assassination machine falling silent only when it was revealed Ms. Lewinsky had kept the infamous blue dress.

Compared to the Bimbo Eruption Squad — to whole cadres of once-reputable White House associates suborned into sallying forth and publicly defending Mr. Clinton’s innocence of whatever offense had surfaced most recently — the broadsides we’ve seen unleashed on Sen. Obama to date are lightweight sparring, indeed.

Should he continue to challenge Sen. Clinton’s sense of entitlement to her party’s nomination, Sen. Obama had best get ready for a lot sterner stuff.

 

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