The Clintons play dirty when they feel threatened. But we knew that, didn’t we?

The recent roughing-up of Barack Obama was in the trademark style of the Clinton years in the White House. High-minded and self-important on the surface, smarmily duplicitous underneath, meanwhile jabbing hard to the groin area. They are a slippery pair and come as a package. The nation is at fair risk of getting them back in the White House for four more years. The thought makes me queasy.

The problem is not Hillary Clinton per se or the sharp exchanges and personal accusations that squeamish political reporters deplore. That’s what politics is always about. Tough, even nasty conflict is educational, also entertaining. Politics ain’t beanbag, as Mark Shields likes to say.

The one-two style of Clintons, however, is as informative as low-life street fighters. Mr. Bill punches Obama in the kidney and from the rear. When Obama whirls around to strike back, there stands Mrs. Clinton, looking like a prim Sunday School teacher and citing goody-goody lessons she learned from her 135 years in government.

I thought Obama did quite well in response, looked strong and stayed in character. But we shall see. He was compelled to play defense and to hope the audience recognized foul play. It’s possible the Clintons won on points, simply by making Obama look like a confused young man who had to keep repeating what he had actually said.

The style is very familiar to official Washington, not just among the Clintons’ partisan adversaries, but among their supporters. The man lied to his friends. All the time. They got used to it. They came to expect it. I observe a good many old hands among the Senate Democrats are getting behind Obama. It would be good to know more about why they declined to make the more obvious choice of endorsing the power couple.

We are sure to see more of Mr. Bill’s intrusions because the former president is pathological about preserving his own place in the spotlight. He can’t stand it when he is not the story and, one way or another, he will make himself the story. I used to be sympathetic toward Mrs. Clinton on this point. No longer.

She is using her egocentric husband to do the low-road hits for her campaign. He is good at it–a real charmer if you’ve never seen his act before. Or is Mrs. Clinton’s husband using her? People can ask that question without disturbing the principles of feminism.

Evidently, many of the mainstream party faithful want the Clinton team as their presidential nominee. It’s their choice, of course. But does the rest of the country really deserve this?