People are surprised that a supporter of President Clinton would suggest — no, urge — that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde be stoned to death and his family killed.

That’s what actor Alec Baldwin reportedly said on a recent airing of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

“If we were living in another country, what we, all of us together, would go down to Washington and stone Henry Hyde to death, stone him to death, stone him to death!” said Baldwin. “Then we would go to their house and we’d kill the family, kill the children.”

People are shocked by the comment — understandably so. But, as repulsive, inexcusable and hateful as it is, this comment is not really out of character with this administration or its defenders.

Remember James Carville? He’s told us over and over again that “This is war.” He also suggested that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr should be knee-capped.

Some people laugh this stuff off, as Conan O’Brien’s studio audience apparently did. But Hyde is not laughing.

“I heard about it, and I’m sickened by it,” he said. No wonder. Hyde has been the recipient of a series of death threats ever since he became the point man in the effort to impeach Clinton. He is under constant armed guard. “You have someone like that, talking in those terms, about killing your family? To kill my family because you disagree with me? To laugh about that? There are people out there, sick people, who are just waiting for a push. Excuse me for not laughing. He wants my family stoned to death by a mob. Imagine if a Republican said such a thing. I don’t find the humor in it.”

But why should any of us really be surprised by such a verbal assault from an apologist for the Clinton administration? This White House’s hallmark has been force, intimidation and threat. It fights dirty and it plays for keeps.

I would rather take my chances in mano a mano combat with Alec Baldwin than be put through the wringer of a politically motivated Internal Revenue Service audit. Isn’t it ironic that not once during the impeachment hearings did anyone mention the fact that Paula Jones was audited within days of turning down a settlement offer from the White House? And she’s hardly alone. Dozens of political enemies of the White House have been so victimized.

The Clintons have been shrouded by mysterious deaths before they ever moved into the White House. Since then, they’ve been surrounded a rash of “suicides,” professional hits and unexplained terminations. The administration can chalk it all up to coincidence, but the Clintons also revel in the fact that they are feared on Capitol Hill because of the doubts about Vincent Foster, Ron Brown, Jerry Luther Parks, Kathy Ferguson, Bill Shelton and others who have met an untimely demise that proved politically convenient and expedient to Clinton.

Is it any wonder, then, that a defender of this administration would resort — even in faux humor — to death threats?

No, it isn’t. It’s impossible for an ordinary rational mind to comprehend the depravity to which one needs to descend to defend the indefensible. We witnessed that in the hearings last week. You can’t exchange opinions with Maxine Waters. You can’t have dialogue with Barney Frank — at least not and stay dry. You can’t have a meeting of the minds with a rabid, committed socialist such as John Conyers. And, likewise, it’s too much to expect decency, civility and respect for the rule of law from a know-nothing dilettante like Alec Baldwin.

Some insight into his character, morality and priorities was offered in a column yesterday by John Kass of the Chicago Tribune.

Last August, Kass writes, Baldwin threw a Hollywood fund-raiser for Clinton. But he almost called it off at the last minute. Why? He learned that the White House organizers were preparing foie gras.

An angry Baldwin called up the Democratic National Committee bigwigs demanding that this outrage be stopped. You see, to make foie gras, geese are force-fed to enlarge their livers. The Baldwins are animal rights wackos. Making geese eat too much is bad. Stoning politicians you disagree with and advocating the killing of their families is good. Get it? Any questions?

It all makes sense in a peculiar, twisted kind of way, doesn’t it?

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