On the matter of Bill Clinton’s recent Fox News interview, a statement from an old pastor comes to mind. Asked if he believed in deathbed conversions he said, No, he reckoned people died just as they lived. Likewise, in Clinton’s political afterlife he’s instinctively re-employing his best defense in times of trouble: crafting manifest prevarications on his role in the War on Terror. His claims have been meticulously examined and roundly rejected like the whopper about building a plan to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan, which, alas, no associates seem to recall.
It is certainly fair to ask whether Bill Clinton’s truth-stretching matters now, but of course it does. Anytime a well-known person, and especially a public official, tells a deliberate falsehood and it is discovered it removes a little more substance of belief in open discourse regarding key issues. If the typical American comes to conclude all elected persons routinely dissemble, it would greatly undermine public confidence and obliterate the very logic behind creating a democracy. If all politicians lie, why listen to any of them?
For Clinton, it is perhaps another stone in the fortress he toils to construct, Sisyphean style, around his legacy. But for all others, including legions of rabid fans, a new Bill brawl has boiled over. Fascinatingly, the spat doesn’t seem to revolve around accusations he fibbed, but instead whether Chris Wallace and Fox got “owned” by the randy debater. This recalls one of the saddest casualties of Clinton’s White House years. Beforehand there was a naïve belief that “Truth” existed independent of any human, and could be discovered with diligence and care, and that it was the duty of responsible citizens to find this, if possible. After Clinton, the question was whether a claim was “plausible” in the way lawyers mean when trying to create a reasonable defense, which recognized all known facts. We are stuck with a new ethical yardstick for public statements, gauging plausibility instead of veracity.