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Commentary: Obama lucky with his enemies

  • Story Highlights
  • Paul Begala: Friends can do you in but enemies can save you
  • Bill Clinton was lucky to have Newt Gingrich, Ken Starr opposing him, he says
  • Begala: Many of Obama's opponents have been erratic and wildly off base
By Paul Begala
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He is an affiliated professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and an adviser to the Service Employees International Union, which supports President Obama's health care plan.

Paul Begala says the president has been blessed by the missteps of his enemies, including Rep. Joe Wilson.

Paul Begala says the president has been blessed by the missteps of his enemies, including Rep. Joe Wilson.

(CNN) -- It's a truism in politics that your friends can do you in quicker than your enemies.

If you think back to President Obama's near-death experiences with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers last year, the old saying seems to apply. But there's a corollary to that rule. Call it the Clinton Corollary: your enemies can do you more good than your friends.

Think back to the hyper-partisan Newt Gingrich or the hyper-prude Ken Starr. We may be seeing the same pattern with Obama.

When Obama pointed out, accurately, that Democratic health reforms specifically exclude illegal immigrants from coverage, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, yelled out "You lie!" As we Southerners say, his mama must have raised him better than that.

John McCain's mama certainly did. As soon as he could, Sen. McCain, R-Arizona, went on "Larry King Live" and denounced Wilson's conduct as "totally disrespectful. No place for it in that setting or any other, and he should apologize immediately." Wilson quickly issued a statement of apology, and phoned his contrition in to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, but the damage was done.

McCain is doubtless just as opposed to the Obama health reforms as Wilson, but McCain is old school and part of a dying breed: Republicans who believe the other party is their opponent, not their enemy. Obama is blessed that the face of opposition to his speech was not the civil and patriotic McCain, but rather the obnoxious Wilson.

This is not the first outburst from Wilson. When Rep. Bob Filner, D-California, claimed the United States had supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical and biological weapons, Wilson accused him of "hatred of America." (In fact, Filner should have said the United States tacitly supported Saddam's use of chemical weapons and provided Saddam the building blocks for biological weapons. The Centers for Disease Control has confirmed that, in the words of Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, "the U.S. government provided nearly two dozen viral and bacterial samples to Iraqi scientists in 1985 -- samples that included the plague, botulism, and anthrax, among other deadly diseases.")

Wilson is not the only clownish enemy helping Obama. The GOP response was delivered by Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Louisiana. Boustany, a former heart surgeon, is a litigious fellow.

The oppo research on this guy from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reads like a bad script from "Boston Legal." Boustany reportedly sued two men over a scheme to sell him a British lordship.

Boustany claims he was trying to buy historical papers, but the men in question were convicted in Britain of selling phony British titles of nobility. Lord Boustany also has been sued repeatedly for malpractice, and the Louisiana Medical Review Panel found his conduct in one case to be "below the acceptable standard of care," as Glenn Thrush reported for Politico.

Recalling Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's impression of Kenneth the Page from "30 Rock" after the last Obama address to Congress, my old pal James Carville suggests prohibiting Louisiana Republicans from responding to Obama.

But it's not just Louisiana -- nor is it just South Carolina -- although Joe the Blowhard and Mark Sanford are quite a Palmetto pair. Comes news this week also of California Republican Assemblyman Mike Duvall.

The family values conservative (aren't they all?) was caught on an open microphone bragging about literally being in bed with lobbyists, as well as his firm commitment to strong discipline.

And then there are Sarah Palin's repeated references to the ludicrous idea that health care reform legislation will create "death panels." This week she wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Is it any wonder that many of the sick and elderly are concerned that the Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead to rationing of their health care by -- dare I say it -- death panels?" She should be ashamed of herself for lying to my mother and yours.

She should say mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa rather than insist that there's any truth to the death panel idea.

In an important new book, "Republican Gomorrah, Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party," journalist Max Blumenthal reports how a party once epitomized by honorable conservatives like Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush and John McCain has come to be dominated by extremists, lunatics and just plain creepy people.

Blumenthal says, "The GOP has become subsumed by dysfunctional personalities with no capacity for restraining themselves, either from acting out hysterically or from their most devious urges. For these internally conflicted figures, who will continue to produce new and increasingly bizarre scandals, right-wing political crusading is simply a form of self-medication."

Contrast the Republican rogues' gallery of Wilson, Sanford, Boustany, Duvall and Palin with the faces of the Democratic Party: the Obamas, the Bidens, the Clintons and Justice Sotomayor, and ponder how truly blessed Barack Obama is by the quality of his opponents.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Begala.

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