Politics & Policy

Pictures Don’t Lie and Neither Do Dresses

Hillary Clinton’s departure from a 9-11 ceremony in New York City, September 11, 2016. (via YouTube)
The videotape destroys Hillary’s credibility just as the blue dress destroyed her husband’s.

Early in 1998, as the Clinton White House was trying to discredit Monica Lewinsky, a rumor began to circulate that Miss Lewinsky had in her possession conclusive evidence of her affair with Bill Clinton — a stained blue dress.

Clinton propagandists were initially terrified. Proof that the president had carried on a sordid affair with a 21-year-old White House intern would not only destroy their campaign to depict Lewinsky as a liar, a fantasist, even a stalker; it could bring down Bill Clinton’s presidency.

But days and then weeks passed, and no dress was produced. As winter turned to spring, the Clinton machine and Clinton’s supporters in the media were growing increasingly confident that there actually was no dress, no DNA evidence of the president’s misconduct. So instead of trying to tamp down talk about a dress, the Clinton people began talking about it themselves — treating the rumor of such a dress as one more example of paranoia and conspiracy theorizing by Clinton’s deranged enemies in the fever swamps of the political Right. Soon Clinton’s defenders were taunting his critics about the alleged dress: “The right wing even claimed there was a blue dress with President Clinton’s DNA on it. If it exists, why don’t they produce it?”

Then, in July, Monica Lewinsky did just that. And testing proved that the stain on the dress did in fact contain Bill Clinton’s DNA. The president was guilty as sin (so to speak). He had committed adultery with a young underling in the very precincts of the Oval Office, and he had flagrantly lied to the American people in saying, “I never had sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, and I never told anybody to lie, not a single time.”

Why hadn’t Lewinsky produced the dress earlier? Because she was negotiating an immunity deal with prosecutors. She had lied under oath (claiming not to have had sex with President Clinton) in a case that former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones had brought against the president (stemming from an incident that had occurred when he was governor of Arkansas), and she had attempted to suborn the perjury of Linda Tripp, a confidante who had taped telephone conversations in which Lewinsky admitted the truth to her. (It was Tripp, by the way, who had talked Lewinsky out of dry-cleaning the dress, which would have destroyed the DNA evidence. Tripp — wisely — had warned Lewinsky that the White House attack machine would try to protect Clinton by smearing her as a liar in an effort to destroy her.) Once Lewinsky had obtained immunity against prosecution for her own crimes, she turned over the dress to the prosecutors.

RELATED: The Clinton Diagnosis — Chronic Secrecy and Dishonesty

The stained dress proved that Bill Clinton was both an adulterer and a liar. The credibility of Clinton and his public-relations apparatus was smashed. Even his supporters knew that they could no longer believe, or ask others to believe, anything he said — he had, after all, lied to them, too, personally assuring Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other staunch Clinton defenders that there was no stained dress because there had been no adultery. His word was worthless.

Now, what does any of this have to do with Hillary Clinton’s health (or health problems)?

Well, the pattern is remarkably similar. Rumors began to emerge months ago that Mrs. Clinton had significant health problems. Her coughing spells and other episodes caused some critics to raise the possibility that she was not well. At first, the Clinton propagandists were content simply to deny that there was anything seriously wrong with her. But then they began seeing a possible political advantage in making her health — or, more precisely, her critics’ questions about her health — an issue. They would ridicule and taunt the “right-wing conspiracy theorists” who, having accused her of hiding e-mails, of lying about Benghazi, and in more extreme cases even of committing murder and treason, were now claiming she was physically unfit. And the Clinton people seemed to be getting some mileage out of it.

RELATED: Hillary’s Health — Let’s Talk about the Facts 

Then, approaching her car as she left a 9/11 ceremony on Sunday, Mrs. Clinton fainted. And the entire episode was caught on videotape. She drooped, then fell forward as she was grabbed under the arms and held up by aides. She lost a shoe as she was lifted into the car and out of sight, then whisked away.

The Clinton campaign initially tried to make light of it, claiming that their candidate had simply become dehydrated and overheated on an extremely hot summer day. But as the videotape was played and relentlessly replayed, especially by the cable networks, the campaign was forced to admit publicly that Clinton had actually been suffering from pneumonia. In denying that there was anything seriously wrong with her, they had been lying to the public.

#related#Now, of course, Americans are wondering whether even this story is something other, or less, than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Pneumonia is a serious affliction, but might she be suffering from something even worse? Perhaps not. But Mrs. Clinton’s word, and the word of her campaign spokesmen, is not good enough. Just as Bill Clinton’s credibility was destroyed by the production of the stained blue dress, Hillary Clinton’s credibility — which, according to public-opinion polling, was never anything to write home about — was devastated by her physical collapse on Sunday.

— Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.

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