Posted on May 14, 2000
Move Over, Al
The old master shows how it's done
By now, columnists and radio hosts everywhere are busy cataloguing the bizarre, self-congratulatory claims Al Gore has made in recent years. He "took the initiative in creating the internet." He and Tipper were the inspiration for the novel, Love Story. He uncovered the contamination at Love Canal. He devised the Earned Income Tax Credit. When it comes to Gore's own account of his accomplishments, it seems there's nothing he hasn't done that he hasn't done.
After seven long years of President Clinton, the vice president's boastful fabrications have been provoking exhausted cries of "here we go again." In the heat of this election year, it has become a fashionable opinion among Republicans that Gore is as bad a liar as American politics has ever seen. While imagining a Gore presidency in her National Review cover story ("Worse Than Clinton," May 1), Noemie Emery goes so far as to conclude that, "Gore lies more than other presidents did; more even than Clinton."
Let's not get carried away.
Gore's whimsical yarns about his own imagined heroics are the sort of thing that Clinton says just to keep in practice. Last year, for example, at an award ceremony for civil rights icon Rosa Parks, President Clinton was supposed to give a speech paying tribute to the guest of honor, but decided instead to pay tribute to himself. He told of how, when he was nine years old, he saw a news story about Parks on TV. The next day, the story goes, he rounded up a few friends, and they started riding around town in the backs of buses -- freedom riders, at age nine. It was a preposterous story. He might as well have continued by telling how he and Jackie Robinson then roamed the countryside stamping out burning churches. Since he cleverly disguised it as a compliment to Mrs. Parks, however, nobody in attendance dared question him.
If such a tale had been spun by Al Gore, it would by now be recognized as his grand delusional masterpiece of all time. In an archive of Clinton lies, though, it wouldn't even survive the first edit.
Al Gore could never be half the liar Bill Clinton is. We know this because, once he is caught, he exhibits something which vaguely resembles shame. That is why he now jokes about his more infamous tall tales. Even Gore's most dedicated supporters acknowledge that he has made numerous "gaffes," which is what the media call it when a Republican misspells something, or when a Democrat tells a brazen lie.
Bill Clinton would never have given an inch. He would have argued that "taking the initiative in creating" something is completely different from "inventing" it. Even if the internet had already been invented, he might not have known, and could have still taken the initiative in an effort to create it. So he should at least be given credit for trying. Newt Gingrich never tried to invent the internet at all!
This president is the same man who, to this day, insists he gave a "legally accurate" answer when he said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." His explanation is that, while she'd had sexual relations with him, he'd had none with her. He was too busy "getting on with the business of running the country" to even notice that she was there.
Emery argues that Gore is a more dangerous liar than Clinton because, "Clinton lied when big things were at issue, Gore lies to no purpose at all." But Gore's lies serve the obvious purpose of inflating his image, even if only in his own mind. It is Clinton who lies uncontrollably, however trivial the situation. He is no more likely to tell the truth about his golf scores than about whether he suborned perjury. The Bill Clinton who, in 1992, promised to cut taxes is the same Bill Clinton who, during that same campaign, promised a group of Jewish voters that he would install a kosher kitchen in the White House.
Gore hasn't nearly amassed the library of lies that Clinton has, despite the fact that he's been in national politics for a considerably longer time. Any summary of falsehoods from Gore will include the same five or six, whereas there are so many Clinton lies to choose from that every best-of collection of them is different.
...And that's just counting the lies of Clinton's which are transmitted in the form of spoken language. Many of his actions are lies as well. He looks through binoculars with the lens caps still on, wipes away nonexistent tears, and impulsively forms a cross on Normandy Beach, out of pebbles handily left there by his aides.
Not only is Clinton's lying much more profuse than Gore's, but he has also shown an uncanny ability to corrupt others into assisting his lies. One of the ways in which he does that is to manipulate the manners of others, as he did in the case of his Rosa Parks story. Another example of this occurred after ABC's David Brinkley, not realizing he was on the air, voiced his opinion that President Clinton is a boor.
Ever magnanimous, Clinton forgave him, saying that he was not offended that Brinkley found him boring. But of course, Brinkley did not call Clinton a "bore"; the word he used was "boor," which, aside from being a much harsher criticism, is also a much truer one, and would therefore be damaging if it were repeated in newspaper accounts. Brinkley, naturally embarrassed, was not about to correct the president by repeating his original insult, so he accepted his forgiveness, and thus allowed the Clinton version of the episode (i.e., the false one) to be accepted as the truth.
That is an example of a man who is dangerously adept at dishonesty. Gore poses no similar threat. If faced with the same situation, the vice president would probably have taken the kind of ham-handed swipe he usually takes at his critics, by accusing Brinkley of being a racist, or something equally evil. Rather than coaxing influential members of the press into aiding his lie, he would have repelled them.
If it is the megalomaniacal aspect of Gore's stories that worries so many, Clinton has topped him in that department as well. In a recent meeting with a group of newspaper editors, the president made the following claim: "I think we saved the Constitution of the United States." A feat such as this makes inventing the internet seem like child's play, but the media have not forced Clinton on the defensive as they have done to Gore, because Clinton used the media's own political prejudices as the basis for his claim.
The president explained that he saved the Constitution by being acquitted at his impeachment trial. "I consider it one of the major chapters in my defeat of the revolution Mr. Gingrich led," he puffed. Here, President Clinton has executed a flawless double-whopper. For starters, despite Gingrich's downfall, Clinton has signed many of the items from his Contract With America into law, and now takes credit for them as if they were his ideas in the first place. Moreover, the Republicans still hold a majority in both houses of Congress, and there is no indication that their prospects for the future will be harmed by their support for Clinton's removal.
This bogus story of Clinton's epic victory over the Republicans compounds his lie that his legal team acted in defense of the Constitution, simply by protecting his own presidential rump. The case for Clinton's removal, as presented by the House managers, was airtight. Especially convincing were the presentations by Reps. Charles Canady (R, Fla.) and James Rogan (R, Calif.).
Canady presented evidence from debates at the Constitutional Congress, and at subsequent state hearings on ratification, to establish that the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" encompasses any willful abuse of the public trust. This set the stage for Rogan's meticulous dissection of the president's grand jury testimony, which revealed not just that Clinton had lied, but that he had woven together dozens of interdependent lies, in a premeditated effort to undermine justice.
The lawyers who defended Clinton, and the senators who supported him, ignored this evidence entirely, and instead argued for his acquittal based on polling data, and on the assertion that the House managers were too white, too male, and too Christian. Sen. Arlen Specter (R, Pa.), unable to find any justification to excuse Clinton under American law, went all the way to Scotland, or at least sent his brain there. Sen. Robert Byrd (D, W.Va.) acknowledged that the president was guilty as charged, and that the offenses were constitutionally impeachable, but said that he would nevertheless vote for acquittal, because his constituents seemed to want it that way.
Not only had President Clinton subverted the rule of law, but he'd corrupted the Senate into doing the same. He had also succeeded in convincing his entire cabinet to make false statements to the press on his behalf, and persuading the Democratic Party to soil its reputation for decades to come, rather than cast him aside.
Now he says he did it all to save the Constitution, as if that were ever in his interest in the first place. This president never gives a thought to whether it's constitutional to govern through executive orders, or to promise to uphold treaties that the Senate has voted against, or to seize land, without the cooperation of state governments, in order to build his precious legacy. To Bill Clinton, the Constitution is a challenging word problem on a final exam, which he must pass in order to graduate to king.
Naturally, the editors Clinton spoke to didn't feel inclined to question him on any of these points, because, on a basic level, his statement rang true to them. Their reasoning apparently goes roughly like this: (a) saving the Constitution is good; (b) defeating the Republicans is good; therefore (c) defeating the Republicans = saving the Constitution.
If anyone were to challenge the president's claim, however, he surely would be prepared with some technical distinction by which he can argue that he had told the truth. For instance, if he and Hillary have their own copy of the Constitution, which they keep safely put away in a drawer, or displayed under a glass case, then his statement that "I think we saved the Constitution of the United States" is true, even if misleading.
Then there is that reliable Clinton qualifier, "I think." See? It doesn't need to be true that he saved the Constitution; it only needs to be true that he thinks it. He doesn't even need to believe it. All he has to do is transmit the thought to himself, perhaps in the form of a daydream, and it is then true that he thinks it.
Clinton's devious mind is as far advanced from Gore's clumsy imagination as a computer is from an abacus. To suggest that the vice president is capable of the same level of dishonesty is as great an exaggeration as anything that he has told us himself. The reality about Al Gore is bad enough that the Republicans should be able to defeat him based on his own character. If they can't, then they don't deserve to.
It's a mistake to try to equate anybody with Bill Clinton, because the idea that anyone else can be like him will prevent history from viewing him accurately. If future generations are to learn from the Clinton presidency, and avoid repeating it, the world must remember President Clinton for what he is -- a uniquely selfish, corruptive and dishonest man.
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