03/02/2014 11:27 EST | Updated 05/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Bill Clinton's sex scandals are suddenly a topic again in U.S. politics

WASHINGTON - Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions have suddenly resurfaced as a discussion topic , as American politics experiences a Rip Van Winkle moment — one that will likely recur over the next few years.

The dormant, two-decade-old conversation was stirred back to life over the last month in what could become a common phenomenon if Hillary Clinton runs in 2016.

Old documents were recently released that chronicled her feelings while the sex scandals unfolded. Meanwhile, the 1998 impeachment proceedings were re-broadcast on public-access TV.

But nothing whipped up the wave of anti-nostalgia like comments from a potential 2016 rival.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul used the ex-president's cheating ways as an argument against returning him to the White House in the role of first spouse. He said the 1990s scandals should be fair game if Hillary Clinton enters the 2016 race.

"The media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office," Paul told NBC.

"That is predatory behaviour, and it should be something we shouldn't want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office.

"This isn't having an affair. I mean, this isn't me saying, 'Oh, he's had an affair, we shouldn't talk to him.' Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office? I mean, really. And then they have the gall to stand up and say, 'Republicans are having a war on women?' So, yes, I think it's a factor."

But is it fair to punish Hillary for her husband's cheating? "I'm not saying that," Paul said before adding: "This is with regard to the Clintons, and sometimes it's hard to separate one from the other."

Paul's comments were repudiated by other Republicans.

At the same time, about 25,000 pages of documents are being released by the Clinton Library over the coming weeks. They likely include confidential communications within the White House.

Even more personal notes from the 1990s have just come to light.

The private papers of a close Clinton friend were first reported last month by the conservative website Washington Free Beacon.

They were compiled as a personal project by Diane Blair, a political science professor whom Hillary eulogized in 2000 and whose papers were left to the University of Arkansas.

Even before her own career in elected politics, Hillary Clinton appeared to pride herself on her political toughness.

According to different media accounts of the documents, Blair wrote that:

— She scoffed at Washington politicians' thin skins: "Clinton said that 'most people in this town have no pain threshold.'"

— After Congress moved toward impeachment "she sounded very up, almost jolly. ... (She) told me how she and Bill and Chelsea had been to church, to a Chinese restaurant, to a Shakespeare play, greeted everywhere with wild applause and cheers."

Clinton said "this ... is what drives their adversaries totally nut(s), that they don't bend, do not appear to be suffering."

— She defended her husband and seemed to blame Monica Lewinsky: "It was a lapse, but she says to (Bill's) credit he tried to break it off, tried to pull away, tried to manage someone who was clearly a 'narcissistic loony toon'; but it was beyond control."

— She even blamed his political opponents, saying their hateful behaviour had taken a toll on the president.

— In 1993, while she was leading the administration's doomed effort at health reform, she expressed a position different from the one she publicly held and one that's at odds with the current Obamacare reforms.

In fact, according to the documents, she sounded like a Canadian politician: she called "managed competition (in the health system) a crock, single payer necessary; maybe add to Medicare."

One analysis suggests the current Clinton-bashing is more about 2014 than 2016. It suggests the goal is to keep Bill sidelined during this year's congressional races, not damage Hillary in 2016.

An NBC blog cites Democratic strategists saying Bill Clinton has 60 per cent support in all the states with Senate races in 2014. It suggests the Lewinsky talk is about harming his standing with female swing voters in those states, should he be tempted to campaign.

In any case, he appeared undeterred. As former Clinton aide Paul Begala was quoted saying this week: "Getting Bill Clinton on the campaign trail is like force-feeding sugar to an ant. You don't have to ask him twice."

So there he was this week, campaigning in Kentucky, on behalf of the candidate hoping to take out top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell. The appearance prompted a fresh round of attacks from Rand Paul.

Kentucky also happens to be Paul's state.