Politics & Policy

Habitual Liar Lies Habitually

(Steve Pope/Getty)

The proposition that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a committed liar hardly need be litigated in the fact-check columns. It is as plain as her surname. It is practically syllogistic: All Clintons are liars, Herself is a Clinton, ergo . . . 

The specific lie here is Herself’s claim that Donald Trump’s boobish pronouncements are used in ISIS recruiting videos. This isn’t true. Even Trump, a habitual liar who wouldn’t know the truth if it were printed in gigantic gilt letters across a second-rate hotel tower in Las Vegas, knows that this isn’t true. So: Habitual liar lies habitually about habitual liar, who demands apology. Not the most edifying spectacle in American public life, but what the hell do you expect from an encounter between these two great hemorrhoids on the body politic?

Here’s the thing, though: You can’t tell lies. Even about a lying cretin like Donald Trump.

Never mind the question of personal character: Judging a Clinton–Trump conflict on character grounds is like judging the Iran–Iraq war on human-rights grounds — one wants both sides to lose. Never mind what this says about Herself’s fitness for the presidency: We all know that she is morally, ethically, and intellectually unfit for the job. She’s unfit to manage a Walmart in Muleshoe, Texas. She’s unfit to have a route delivering the Buck County Courier Times. From cattle futures to bimbo eruptions to Internet auteurs inspiring terror attacks in Benghazi, anybody who is paying any attention understands that Herself’s relationship with the truth is a lot like her relationship with the Big Creep: all politics, a marriage of convenience.

This isn’t about Herself. This is about democracy.

#share#Democracy is not our form of government; it is an aspect of our form of government, and an important one. A republic without representative processes and democratic norms is no republic at all. Those democratic norms do not require that the capital-P People prevail — in fact, the best aspects of our constitutional order, such as the Bill of Rights, ensure that the People do not prevail when the People do not deserve to, e.g. when the People are having a bout of buffoonery. (The Bill of Rights: Top Ten Things You Idiots Don’t Get to Vote on.) But democratic norms do require that the People have a meaningful say in the debate, and there is no meaningful debate without at least a few agreed-upon facts. Debates have to take account of the real world.

RELATED: Hillary’s Insane Lie About Trump

It used to fall upon the news media to police this sort of thing, but they are today utterly incapable of doing so. So-called fact-checking sites such as PolitiFact are nests of intellectually dishonest partisan hackery, and even journalists who want to do the right thing have a very difficult time doing so in a world of infinite media choices. Cognitive bias is very powerful: When people have decided on a certain model of how the world is, they tend to take to heart stories that reinforce that view and to discount those that challenge it. That is one of the reasons why the Washington Post is retiring its “What Was Fake?” column dedicated to exposing popular hoaxes. You cannot reach the unreachable or educate the ineducable, especially those who do not want to be educated.

The reason Herself cannot tell the truth about Trump and Islamic State recruiting is that the actual facts would undercut her case.

Unfortunately, that leaves those of us who want to see an honest and rigorous debate about public affairs largely dependent upon the moral character of politicians and other people in public life. It’s not working out too well: The reality of economic life in the early 21st century is incomprehensibly complex, and the real-world policy factors involved are myriad. But in the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders, this all comes down to two words: “rigged economy.” That isn’t an oversimplification — it’s a lie, and Sanders knows better. But he also knows that this stuff gets real hairy real quick — having seen the man in action, I very much doubt that he could explain to any informed person’s satisfaction what a derivative is or how a synthetic CDO comes into the world. His enthusiasts couldn’t, either. But it’s easier to traffic in conspiracy theory — which is what “rigged economy” is — than to deal with reality.

#related#The reason Herself cannot tell the truth about Trump and Islamic State recruiting is that the actual facts would undercut her case. Yes, Trump’s bluster, and the underlying policy ideas (“ideas”) that his bluster attempts to express, are certainly the sort of thing that might show up in an Islamic State video. But so is the U.S. Marine Corps. So are our drones. So is the Pentagon. “This is the sort of thing that enrages the terrorists” is a dumb line of analysis, because the terrorists tend to get most enraged about the instruments and processes that are most effective in the war against terror. There’s no doubt that taking a more rigorous approach to security at our borders and ports of entry would inconvenience and annoy the Islamic State — that’s a reason to do it, not a reason to refrain. Killing Osama bin Laden wasn’t terribly popular with the suicide-vest set, either.

If we want to have authentic democracy, then we have to insist that people in public life be truthful about the events and personalities of the real world. We have to tell the truth about the people who are running for president. We also have to tell the truth about bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Omar Abdel-Rahman, Timothy McVeigh, O. J. Simpson — and even Donald Trump.

Of course Mrs. Clinton owes Trump an apology. She owes the rest of the country an apology, too.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.

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