Yes, Hillary Clinton has probably lied at some point. That makes her normal.

Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post just wet his pants over this exchange between Hillary Clinton and CBS News’s Scott Pelley:

Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, screenshot via YouTube

Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, screenshot via YouTube

PELLEY: You know, in ’76, Jimmy Carter famously said, “I will not lie to you.”

CLINTON: Well, I have to tell you I have tried in every way I know how literally from my years as a young lawyer all the way through my time as secretary of state to level with the American people.

PELLEY: You talk about leveling with the American people. Have you always told the truth?

CLINTON: I’ve always tried to. Always. Always.

PELLEY: Some people are gonna call that wiggle room that you just gave yourself.

CLINTON: Well, no, I’ve always tried —

PELLEY: I mean, Jimmy Carter said, “I will never lie to you.”

CLINTON: Well, but, you know, you’re asking me to say, “Have I ever?” I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever will. I’m gonna do the best I can to level with the American people.

It’s very obvious from the exchange that Clinton is not comfortable saying, unequivocally, that every statement she has made during her time in public life has been true. This is presumably because saying so would be false. At some point since Clinton’s years as a young lawyer, she has probably fibbed, which would make it impossible for her to say, truthfully, that she has never lied.

Cillizza doesn’t care:

I mean, what? W-H-A-T?  “I’ve always tried to” tell the truth?  On what planet is this a good answer for a politician?

The answer, of course, is on no planet. While I am less familiar with politics on Mars than I am with those on Earth, I am pretty sure that being unable to simply say, “Yes, I have always been truthful with the public,” would be a problem on the Red Planet, too.

I think I understand why she answered the way she did. She knows she has been in public life for a long time and that she has said lots and lots of things. Because of that, it’s possible that at some point in the future, someone will unearth a statement in which it could be construed that she wasn’t telling the whole truth. Clinton is protecting against the damage incurred by such a revelation.

But when you have the problems regarding honesty and trustworthiness that Clinton does, the only right answer to Pelley’s question is: “Yes, I have always been truthful. Of course.” That Clinton didn’t give that simple answer suggests she is either (a) unaware of or doubts the depth of voters’ concerns with her ability to be honest, or (b) she is so naturally cautious as to get herself in trouble even on a question she has to know is coming.

Cilizza’s analysis misses the most obvious answer. Rather than being unnecessarily lawyerly and hedging against some inconsistency of which she isn’t aware, it’s much more likely that Clinton has in fact lied at some point, and knows it.

Hillary Clinton became First Lady of Arkansas in 1983. She became First Lady of the United States in 1992. Regardless as to which year you choose to start your timeline for Clinton’s tenure in public life, that’s a really long time to go without lying. Has Bernie Sanders gone more than 20 years without lying? Has Marco Rubio? Has Chris Cillizza? Have you? Not just on something small and harmless; I’m talking about something major and worth remembering.

Even our bastions of honesty couldn’t or wouldn’t stick entirely to the truth all the time. George “Cannot Tell a Lie” Washington started his career in the army as an awful liar and ended it as an expert liar. Even Jimmy Carter, after promising that he wouldn’t lie to the American people, lied to the American people.

Everyone lies. Politicians lie a lot. People in our national security apparatus — say, perhaps, the Secretary of State — lie a ton. It’s part of their job. There’s a line between public disclosure and national security, and while we can have major disagreements over where that line is, we all agree that the line exists. That line, like it or not, is drawn in lies. By offering up the alternative answer of “Yes, I have always been truthful with the public,” Cillizza is basically arguing that Clinton should have lied. About lying. Would that have made her answer any better?

Getting lied to sucks. People who lie consistently for antisocial reasons should be judged accordingly. Hillary Clinton’s perceived dishonesty may have merit, and it may result in a well-deserved drag on her poll numbers.

But let’s not pretend that it’s reasonable to expect someone who’s been in public life for decades to have never once said anything that was false. We all know better, and none of us are that good.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

Share This Post

© 2018 AMERICAblog Media, LLC. All rights reserved. · Entries RSS