Over the last eight years, what has been the one, constant, distasteful theme of the Clinton administration? Is it corruption? Not necessarily; there were whole months when influence peddling and policy selling did not occur. Self-indulgence? Tackiness? Vainglorious military overreach? Cynical blame-shifting on everything from Medicare to race relations? The syncopated porn Muzak which bawmp-bawmp-ditty-bawmp-bawmped on like a refrigerator light every time Bill Clinton opened the door for an intern?
These are all good guesses, and people of good will can disagree. But ultimately all of these things are simply fuel for the true Unified Field Theory of Clintonism: Lying. Bill Clinton utters more lies than all the boys on prom nights have ever uttered combined. He is a liar about all things relevant, irrelevant, important, trivial, tasteful, distasteful, big, small, medium, extra large, extra crispy, your way, my way, every which way he can. He is a liar. Sure, his trousers may blaze in another sense too, but he is a liar, liar, pants on fire.
Now I am an unapologetic — though, I think, perfectly rational — Clinton hater (See Clinton Hating Explained) and quite conservative politically. So, don’t take my word for it, or the word of my fellow conservatives. Listen to his team:
Former White House press secretary Mike McCurry noted, according to Howard Kurtz, “The White House lies about everything; our credibility is zero.” Democrat Bob Kerrey said, “Clinton’s an unusually good liar. Unusually good.” Barney Frank, one of the president’s most vociferous defenders, lamented that he wished the president just “would stop” lying. The New York Times was vexed by the president’s “mysterious passion for lying” and penchant for “lying about his lies.” About the president’s tendency to lie, Robert Reich regretted “not simply the fact of it … but its passionate intensity.” The New Republic’s Andrew Sullivan noted of Bill Clinton that “from the beginning, Clinton has lied with indiscriminate abandon. He has lied about genocide and he has lied about his golf scores.” He adds, “Every label he has attached to himself, every public position he has taken, has smacked of opportunism, not conviction, self-interested deceit, not public-interested candor.”
Despite what the Blumenthal Set has long spun, the character issue was never centrally about Bill Clinton’s sex life. It was about his lying, his untrustworthiness, and specifically about his pathological need to have everything both ways. He smoked pot but didn’t inhale; he would have voted with the Gulf War majority but he agreed with the minority; he would have stopped Rwandan genocide if he had only known it happened; Monica Lewinsky could be telling the truth about footnote 210 but he could also be telling the truth that he never was in a sexual relationship with her. The both-ways lie wasn’t the only kind of, course. Bill Clinton lied about remembering church burnings that never happened, and meeting Israeli orphans that he never met.
The point is that “compartmentalization” is, was, and always will be a pernicious myth. If you are a gifted and relentless liar in one sphere of life, you will in all likelihood be a liar in all spheres of life. I defy anyone to point to a single Clinton scandal — Monica Lewinsky, Resolution Trust, the billing records, Whitewater, any of them — where America and, often, the administration itself wouldn’t have been better off if they had simply told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, right away.
Lying matters, the truth matters, and the truth is that Al Gore is a liar, a huge, fat liar. It now turns out that almost no personal note, aside, or allusion Al Gore offered during the first presidential debate wasn’t substantively fraudulent. Al Gore doesn’t lie as well as Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton’s dishonesty is baked into his motherboard, as the computer geeks might say. Gore lies like his outdated processors weren’t designed for it, but his software compels him to. (Note to readers: I would list all of Gore’s lies but there isn’t room here. Instead I refer you to NRO’s list of Gore lies. It isn’t exhaustive by any stretch. The editors have set an extremely high bar for inclusion, but it will give you a nice sense of things. You might also see New York Times’ s woefully belated discussion of the topic.
Americans understand that truth telling matters, I think. I hope. And I thought the press understood this, but I’m changing my mind. Look at all of the time and energy the media has spent policing George Bush’s verbal gaffes while ignoring Gore’s lying. While annoying and sometimes embarrassing, a speech problem is almost entirely meaningless. Moses stuttered, for heaven’s sake. But lying goes to the heart of politics and turns it black. It is always relevant. And after eight years of Bill Clinton it is supremely relevant.
I mean who really cares about technical violations of campaign-finance laws? Not me (and certainly not the Clinton Justice Department). But I do care about the flagrant and bald-faced lies Al Gore spews about them. He still says that he “doesn’t know” if the Buddhist fundraiser was actually a fundraiser. This sort of denial is hilarious in Monty Python skits but it’s creepy at American politics, especially after we’ve been through this before with Bill Clinton.
Republicans need to understand that just because Al Gore gets his panties in a bunch and cries about “personal attacks,” it doesn’t mean pointing out he’s a liar is a personal attack. And if the press thinks this isn’t an important issue, then to hell with the press. The idea that the next president of the United States will be the one who can unload free prescription drugs for old folks the fastest is disgusting.
In fact, all of these arguments about whose economic “plan” is better are mostly garbage. No campaign plan has ever in the history of the republic been implemented without considerable changes after the election. The only relevance of these budgets is to reveal the philosophies and temperaments of the candidates. We will never have all the facts at the disposal of a president, which is why philosophy and temperament are important. While a “plan” is simply a list of things that will go wrong, temperament and philosophy are predictive of how someone will act in new situations.
Al Gore wanted the first presidential debate to be a job interview with the American people. If that’s the case, all we know is that when he’s put in a new, stressful situation, Al Gore’s first instinct is to lie. And that’s why we shouldn’t hire him.
According to something called top9.com National Review Online is the number four news magazine site on the web. I should mention that there is a separate list of online magazines which we are not on. But I should also mention that according to their data, National Review Online would rank as the third (!) most visited online news magazine (and pretty much tie for the number two spot). Now, I don’t know how Top9 works, and their numbers for unique users are very different (i.e. much lower) than ours, but so long as they use the same criteria for everyone, we’re pretty psyched. But more than that we are very grateful to the drooling mob of hyper-smart freaks, shut-ins, news junkies, and flying monkeys who have gotten us where we are. Thanks a bunch to our readers.
Second, I’d like everyone to come by this weekend and check out National Review Online’s Weekend Edition. We have great stuff on tap. You should also know that we will be closed Monday for Columbus Day and Yom Kippur.
Third, I know I owe you people a corrections column. It’s coming. In the meantime I’d like to clarify one point from a piece I wrote yesterday. Not all undecided voters are morons. Just a whole bunch of them.
Have a great weekend and holiday.