Lying: The Clinton Family Heritage

It’s hard being a Clinton.

And while I have every confidence that I could get a solid 300 words’ worth of Viagra jokes out of that statement, I’m not even going to go there. No, it’s hard being a Clinton because Clintons lie. They are liars. It is what they do. It is who they are. They lie about big things and small. They lie about lying and they lie about having lied about lying. As R. Emmet Tyrell Jr., an almost unhealthy student of Clintonian prevarication, once said, “The Clintons lie when they do not have to lie, and they tell a gaudy whopper when a little white lie would be perfectly satisfactory.” Often, when I say the Clintons are liars, I hear from people who reply, “So what? All politicians lie.” That’s true, to one extent or another. But it also misses the point. IT’S WHO THEY ARE Let me take a stab at explaining what I mean. One of my closest friends really likes college football — particularly Nebraska football — beer, and chicken wings. One early afternoon about 20 years ago, back when we were both single, I swung by his apartment. He was in his living room. Spread out on the floor was a newspaper opened to the sports page, a copy of Sports Illustrated, and some other intelligence he needed for his wagers. Alongside that: a pile of chicken bones next to what was left of a large order of chicken wings, and a beer, and some assorted chips. On the TV: the pregame chatter for the big Huskers game scheduled to begin soon. “What’s up?” I asked. “JG, you see this?” he asked, as he waved his hands across the full bounty in front of him, sort of like an overly expressive interior designer describing his vision for the curtains, the carpets, the ceiling fan, the wall paint, etc. “You see this?” He asked again, still waving his hands over the wings, the beer, the TV: the whole spread. “This is what I am about.”

When my dog caught a rabbit at Hillsdale College a couple years ago, I was horrified. I’m no hunter and I don’t like seeing cute things kill other cute things. But when I yelled at my Carolina swamp dog, she looked at me with a single clear conviction she wanted to impart: You don’t understand — this is what I am about. Lying is what the Clintons are about. And, no, I’m not talking about Bill Clinton lying about his “relationship” with Monica Lewinsky, or the numerous credible accusations that he was a sexual predator. Bill earned the name “Slick Willie” long before he questioned the meaning of “is” or claimed that while Lewinsky had made sexual contact with him, he had not had sexual contact with her.

Bill lied with half-truths, whole lies, whole truths wrapped in deceptive contexts. He was like the air-traffic controller in Airplane! when handed a weather bulletin just off the wire. Lloyd Bridges asks, “What do you make of this, Johnny?” Johnny replied, “I can make a hat! I can make a broche! I can make a pterodactyl . . .” Well, like the replicator in Star Trek that just moves molecules around to make you any meal you want, Bill Clinton can pluck nouns and verbs from the air and serve them as if they were hot steamy piles of truth.

When a political consultant asked Clinton how he would explain his past pot smoking when he ran for president, Clinton replied that he would simply say he broke no U.S. laws (he smoked weed at Oxford). When Raymond Strother told him that wouldn’t fly, Clinton came up with his “I didn’t inhale” line. I’m going to ignore all of the political lies — for the Second Amendment, against the Second Amendment, for welfare reform, against welfare reform etc. — because they are boring and typical of other politicians. I prefer the lies that more directly reflect his character. The ridiculous, utterly unnecessary, Trumpian boasts that even he couldn’t possibly believe. He was like Dr. Evil’s father, making outrageous claims just to make them. He didn’t say he invented the question mark, but he did tell a farm conference that he knew more about agriculture than anyone who’d ever occupied the White House — which would have been news to, among others, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter. He told educators in New York, “I suppose that I have spent more time in classrooms than any previous president,” which would have surprised professor Woodrow Wilson. One of my favorites was when he was asked whether Al Gore had really invented the Internet. Clinton replied, something like, “Well, you know, he came a lot closer to inventing the Internet than I did.”

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