When Republicans reacted by attacking Hillary's radicalism, Bill played victim, clucking, "They're running against Hillary, basically trying to make it a Willie Horton-like issue. And it's not really about Hillary, but they've had to grossly distort and outright falsify her views in order to attack her. What they're trying to do is make it kind of a Willie Horton kind of thing against all independent working women." Bill targeted Bush in particular. "If he wants to run against my wife," Bill joked, "it's OK with me if he wants to be first lady -- but I don't want to live with him."
The Clintons exploited traditional notions of fair play with regard to candidates' wives in 1992 and 1996. Hillary revolutionized the art of spousal politics by implementing a simple strategy: Make the woman the emissary; have her slam her husband's political opponents; play the victim when political opponents respond.
Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards have learned Hillary's lessons well. Obama's comments are surely the first of many. Edwards has already led the charge against President Bush, Sen. Obama, Ann Coulter and Hillary.
Hillary is the frontrunner and will certainly become the main target of her challengers' wives' ire. And she is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If she responds to Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards directly, she will be seen as a bully. If she allows President Clinton to counter their remarks, she will be seen as a weakling, sending her husband out to defend her against the other ladies. Ah, the irony.
Hillary changed the rules of the game in 1992 with her passive-aggressive victim routine. Now, Hillary will have to lie in the bed she made a decade and a half ago. It won't be comfortable.