Did the Clintons learn?

Question of the day: What, if anything, did Hillary and Bill Clinton learn from the drubbing they received Saturday in the South Carolina Democratic primary?

Yes, we know, Bill is not on the ballot but this primary election has become as much a referendum on the former President and his campaign tactics as it is on his wife’s race for the White House. His rough-and-tumble, take-no-prisoners style has rankled rank and file Democrats and led to calls that he either tone down the campaign rhetoric or just shut up and go away.

Clinton’s enormous ego, however, will never allow him to do either and — for now at least — his wife appears content to let him play bad cop in their quest to return to the White House as a roles-reversed power couple.

But South Carolina voters sent the Clintons a message of repudiation Saturday, a stern warning that the politics of divisiveness doesn’t play along with a clear message that they want a candidate that unites, not divides, a nation.

Bill Clinton, with his usual swagger, continued to sneer at Obama and dismissed South Carolina as irrelevant to the process. Obama, he said, is just another Jesse Jackson — the failed African-American candidate who won South Carolina twice in the past. Just wait, Clinton told an audience in Missouri. Super Tuesday is coming and “millions of voters will have their say.”

Hundreds of thousands of voters had their say in South Carolina on Saturday and they said — by more than a 2-1 margin — that they don’t much care for the Clintons or their brand of politics.

Obama collected more than 80 percent of the black vote and held his own against Hillary with white voters. He creamed her among young voters.

No matter how the Clintons try to spin the results, South Carolina was a stunning defeat in a state where Hillary once held a comfortable lead and where her husband won twice.

Hillary continued the snub of South Carolina by being elsewhere Saturday night, refusing to go before the cameras and concede. Her campaign released a statement admitting defeat and she was on the stump, offering only the same rhetoric that now seems to ring hollow with voters.

After the Iowa defeat, Hillary tried to soften her image, even getting teary-eyed in public. But the old, defiant Hillary is back — filled with more testosterone than any male opponent and ready to mix it up in the political arena. Her husband continues to function as her attack dog, nipping at Obama’s heels and scavenging the dumpsters for all the political garbage he can collect.

For the Clintons, campaign 2008 is business as usual: Win at any cost and the consequences be damned.

As America has learned all too often in the past, when any Presidential candidate makes it to the White House by such “win at all cost” tactics, it is the nation that always loses.

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