A lot of people are jumping on Bill Clinton regarding his mind-boggling move Thursday to defend Hillary on the Bosnia sinper fire tale– a lie that even her campaign would acknowledge is indefensible and best left alone to be forgotten. Worse yet, Bill Clinton resorted to more lies– lies that were even easier to debunk than the original– to make his case.
The lies and mischaracterizations have been well documented by now, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version:
1. Hillary told the tale twice in the morning and I believe once in the afternoon, but definitely never at 11:00 p.m. at night.
2. She didn’t tell the story once, she told it at least three times.
3. She didn’t immediately acknowledge the error. In fact, her campaign initially mocked comedian Sinbad for questioning her version of events before they realized that there was a videotape of the incident that– like Sinbad– wildly contradicted her version of events.
4. She has acknowledged the error but she has yet to– as Bill claims– apologize for it.
5. According to the pilot of the plane, he has never in his career ordered anyone to sit on their flak jackets.
6. Again, as has been reported and fact-checked several times, there were no snipers in the hills. No one expected snipers in the hills. At no time during the trip was there any danger or security threat whatsoever to Hillary, Chelsea, Sinbad, or Sheryl Crow.
7. And lastly– not a lie, but certainly a gaffe– is the comedy of Clinton suggesting that people should cut Hillary a break because basically she’s old, and like most old people she gets tired and groggy at the wee hour of 11:00 p.m at night. I don’t think there’s a news organization or blogger on the planet who hasn’t yet contrasted this with the irony of Hillary’s claims that she is most ready to handle that 3:00 a.m. phone call in the White House. If she’s old and tired and prone to mistakes and possibly in need of a diaper change at 11:00 p.m., how’s she going to answer the phone and deal with a national crisis four hours later?
The reaction around the media and the blogosphere has been swift and justifiably unforgiving. Ana Marie Cox at Time called Bill Clinton’s defense possibly “the most dense collection of misrepresentations ever collected into a single statement by a politician.” Jake Tapper at ABC needed to use footnotes to document and properly cite all the lies. Even Nancy Pelosi suggested that Clinton “may have been having a late-night adult moment.”
Most interestingly, the First Read team at MSNBC makes this argument:
Watching Bill on the trail makes folks wonder whether he could have held up to scrutiny in 1992 had YouTube and instant fact-checking existed back then. No one has seemed less prepared for the intense scrutiny of this campaign than Bill. He seems to forget that even when he’s in rural Indiana, he’s on the national stage.
In ’96, the Clinton campaign thought their local market strategy was innovative (it was), since it allowed him to talk to key media markets outside of the interference of the national press. Now, the national press is everywhere since local can become national in an instant. Today’s Bill Clinton gaffe is going to revive this question: Has Bill Clinton helped HRC’s bid more than he’s hurt it? She may not have gotten this far without him, but is he preventing her from getting to the finish line?
Any questions of whether Bill Clinton is hurting Hillary’s campaign more than he’s helping it have to be weighed against the fact that she most likely wouldn’t even be a senator, let alone a presidential candidate, let alone a presidential candidate who began her campaign with enormous institutional and financial advantages, if she were not Mrs. Clinton.
Also, while the media and the blogosphere is firmly entrenched in the YouTube era, the vast majority of the American public is not– as evidenced by the fact that even the most viral political videos only get a couple million hits or so. It may have been easier for Bill Clinton to get away with these sleight of hand tricks in the 1990s, but I promise that even now these stories are going over the heads of most voters.
Most people already know that Bill Clinton can’t help himself but to run his mouth– often unconcerned with the truthfulness of what’s coming out of it– especially when there are cameras (or, some would say, women) around. Outside the necessary discipline of being a candidate himself, he literally cannot not run his mouth.
It’s not difficult to imagine how this trait would carry over into a White House where he would have no real responsibility or accountability to anyone but Hillary, but voters thus far don’t seem to be concerned with that possibility. Nevertheless, for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the benefit of the crowds Bill brings in, the instant credibility he gives to Hillary’s candidacy, and the countless political favors he’s cashing in on her behalf outweigh the occassional reminder of how the Clintons really operate– and no one knows all this better than Hillary Clinton.
The fact is, the only way Bill could really damage Hillary’s campaign from this point forward is to begin revealing some of the hidden cracks in their relationship– any behind the scenes tension that might… Wait, this just in:
The former president said that his wife called him last night to ask him to let the issue lie. “Hillary called me and said ‘You don’t remember this. You weren’t there, let me handle it.’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am.’”
More about Bill’s defense of Hillary’s Bosnia tale. Here is Bill Clinton on February 7, 2008 acknowledging the mistakes he made running his mouth in South Carolina and explaining the lessons he had learned– number one being that he, as a former president, should let Hillary defend herself. The irony is staggering:
Everything I have said has been factually accurate. But I think the mistake that I made is to think that I was a spouse like any other spouse who could defend his candidate. I think I can promote Hillary but not defend her because I was president. I have to let her defend herself or have someone else defend her.
Whenever I defend her, I a) risk being misquoted and b) risk being the story. I don’t want to be the story. … This is her campaign and her presidency and her decisions. And so even if I win an argument with another candidate, it’s not the right thing to do. I need to promote her but not defend her. And I learned a very valuable lesson from all that dust-up.