By A. B. Stoddard - 04/02/08 05:38 PM EDT
That was a great April Fools’ joke about challenging Barack Obama to a bowling match, but let’s face it, Hillary Clinton’s comfort with untruths isn’t very funny.
The story Clinton fabricated about running from sniper fire on the tarmac in Tuzla was not a case of misremembering or even dismembering the truth. This sniper scenario actually happened to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), but unlike great phrases in speeches, an escape from gunfire cannot be borrowed from a fellow politician. For Clinton, it was simply fiction.
Once caught, Clinton didn’t backtrack but instead doubled down. In her response to a reporter questioning her account on March 17 she filibustered about the armored sections of C-17s and how they can “maneuver agilely to avoid incoming fire.” And, aware again this was being videotaped, she concluded: “There was no greeting ceremony and we basically were told to run to our cars. Now that is what happened.” There was no defiance in Clinton’s tone; she seemed at ease.
No matter that people, from those who truly did negotiate for peace in Northern Ireland or shepherd the Family Medical Leave Act into law, have questioned the many roles Clinton claims she has played.
Truth-stretching and hyperbole are practically required for success in politics, after all. Her supporters can rationalize that it is those men — not Hillary — who are suffering from senior moments.
However, the latest rhetorical billy-club of Michigan and Florida has been distorted and custom-designed by Clinton as she struggles to pass the long stretch to Pennsylvania and another win. Without the Michigan and Florida ruse she can’t cut off the math conversation, which comes up often. Her path to victory, she maintains, runs through both states and the remaining 10 contests where she thinks she will win the popular vote. Currently behind in that count by 700,000 votes, Clinton seeks to sweep the primary season’s end to become the next Al Gore. Once she is a popular-vote martyr like Gore, she would be poised to corner those superdelegates and make the case for why she is better positioned to beat John McCain.
Currently Clinton is telling voters — few of whom understand that the two states violated rules of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Clinton agreed to follow herself — that voters are being disenfranchised in those states and that the situation must be resolved. She does so urgently, with her trademark certainty and authority. When lawmakers from those states agreed to move their primary earlier there was no such outrage from Clinton. Furthermore, she knows there will be resolution and it still won’t tilt the math her way. The two delegations are likely to be seated at the convention under an agreement that splits them equally among the two candidates. As one informed Democrat close to the DNC told me this week, Florida and Michigan may be “enfranchised,” but they will never be rewarded for breaking the rules, which means Clinton’s popular vote in an illegitimate election cannot be counted.
Weeks after the publication of his legendary column on Clinton in The New York Times, William Safire explained he had rejected “ ‘habitual,’ ‘inveterate’ and ‘chronic’ as too mild” before settling on “congenital” to describe what kind of liar he thought Clinton was. Safire cataloged Clinton’s lies, about Whitewater, billing records, commodities trading and on and on but added that she lies for good reasons — like not getting in trouble.
Clearly, survival and victory require all the tools in the box and often a few others as well. As her husband/president might advise Hillary Clinton, it all depends what the meaning of truth is. We should brace ourselves for what could come in the weeks and months to follow — we may need to take shelter in an armored C-17.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.