The first question to Hillary Clinton from an audience member during Monday night’s Democratic town hall in Iowa must have been a blow from one so young – a potential new voter – this close to the caucuses.
The query came from a fellow who asked what her response is to his friends who say she’s dishonest. Flinching slightly, Clinton rested her expression somewhere between sadness and weariness.
Ever the pro, she rallied: “I’ve been around a long time – people have thrown all kinds of things at me,” she said. “They throw all this stuff at me, and I’m still standing.”
Clinton offered a similar response when asked about Benghazi.
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“They” presumably are Republicans and others who for decades have pointed out discrepancies between Clinton’s version of the truth and reality as checked against facts.
In one of her political ads, Clinton is shown repeatedly giving more or less the same speech about helping children realize their full potential – from her college days to the present day. Her efforts for women and children are consistent, admirable and irrefutable. Yet one can’t help thinking upon seeing this ad that she’s been around a long time.
Questions about Hillary Clinton’s honesty are not recent to Benghazi or to emails and a private server, but began ages ago with any number of fabricated – or at least exaggerated – stories. Many may remember what New York Times columnist William Safire wrote about Clinton in 1996:
“Americans of all political persuasions are coming to the sad realization that our first lady – a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation – is a congenital liar,” he said. “Drip by drip, like Whitewater torture, the case is being made that she is compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.”
Safire’s concerns at the time – Whitewater, travelgate, “lost” records – may seem remote and trivial to some, but the drip-drip he identified didn’t stop with the White House years. Subsequent to the various “-gates” were, for example, the story of coming under fire on a tarmac in Bosnia, or about her having been named for explorer Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, despite her having been born about six years before his history-making climb.
These are such trivial stories to invent that one wonders why she bothered. The answer can’t be easily divined except as Safire suggested. Or, is it that she is reflexively prone to dissemble? Would this be a matter of habit? An innate need to inflate one’s status – even when it isn’t needed?
These stories have been well-known at different times but eventually fade or are dismissed as politically motivated. Politicians can bank on voters’ ever-shrinking memories, especially in the 140-character era of Twitter and YouTube. It’s a pretty safe bet few enough will care what happened in 1996.
But more recent issues of inaccuracies are both concerning and consequential. We now know with certainty (thanks to her mail to daughter Chelsea the night of the Benghazi attacks) that the then-secretary of state knew it was a terrorist attack, contrary to official reports in the days following about street riots that escalated. We also know from the intelligence community inspector general that her private server contained information ranked beyond top-secret, contradicting her assertions to the contrary.
What difference at this point does any of it make? When it comes to public trust in a presidential candidate – everything.