Clinton's Endearing Fictions

Do Americans prefer a shameless liar in the White House?


During the Pennsylvania primary campaign, Barack Obama made a rather charitable gesture not only toward his Democratic rival but toward the presumptive Republican nominee as well. "You have real choice in this election," he told a crowd in Reading. "You know, either Democrat would be better than John McCain, but … all three of us would be better than George Bush."

That was all it took to set off Hillary Clinton. She rattled off a list of McCain's misguided positions, asking her audience over and over, "Is that better than George Bush?" She concluded, "We need a nominee who will take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain, and I will be that nominee."

It came as a revelation to hear that Obama, who I thought was plotting to become president, actually has been shrewdly maneuvering himself in position to lead the pom squad at McCain's inauguration. But there was something else that struck me as strange about Clinton's reaction: Obama was not the first of the two Democrats to say something nice about the Arizona senator. He was the second.

A few weeks ago, campaigning in Texas, Clinton sounded downright glowing about McCain. Referring to those 3 a.m. phone calls at the White House, she said, "I think you'll be able to imagine many things Sen. McCain will be able to say. He's never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Sen. Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002."

Let's review. Clinton criticized Obama for ranking McCain No. 3 in a four-person assessment, ahead of Bush. But Clinton herself put McCain No. 2—or maybe even in a tie for No. 1—in her evaluation of the three candidates.

She thinks McCain is better than Obama and McCain is no better than Bush. Which can mean only one thing: Bush is better than Obama!

Of course that's probably not what she actually believes. But it's a tribute to her talent for bold deceit and bizarre logic that she can attack Obama for doing something that she herself had done so recently, and more fervently.

And it brings me to my real revelation about Clinton. In the wake of her Pennsylvania victory, I pondered what it is about her that appeals to so many voters, even when she looks hopelessly out of the race. And I decided only one thing can explain it: A lot of us like our politicians to lie and fudge—the more flagrantly, the better.

Why would that be? For the same reason women enjoy hearing that their eyes are like sapphires and guys like to be told they resemble Greek gods—even when they know full well that the person talking is not being entirely candid. If a politician won't mislead you to get elected, it seems as though he or she doesn't care enough to deserve the office.

Clinton has always been willing to do just about anything to win, which apparently endears her to many voters. Biographer Carl Bernstein, who made his name uncovering President Nixon's monumental dishonesty, judged her guilty of "Jesuitical lying, evasion, and … stonewalling." The Bosnia sniper tale was unusual only in that her campaign actually admitted that what she said was not, uh, true.

And with Clinton, you get a double dose—one from her and one from her husband. For anyone who's forgotten his memorable performance of 1998 ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman"), he recently provided an encore. He told a radio interviewer that the Obama campaign "played the race card on me." Then, when a reporter asked him about the comment, he replied, "When did I say that and to whom did I say that?" before wagging a finger and insisting, "That's not what I said."

It was a vintage Billary performance. Say something false, then deny you said it, while blaming the person who's telling the truth. It may not be convincing, but it's mighty entertaining.

Some people are of the same mind as the rock band Monday In London, which sings, "Lie to me, baby, and I'll let you get away with it." And if Hillary Clinton gets elected, they are going to have a blissful four years.