March 26th, 2008


When Obama called his grandmother a "typical white woman" that was a genuine example of mis-speaking. I'm sure he didn't mean to sound so dismissive. What he aimed to say was she had typical views, but the adjective slipped out of its proper place in the sentence and located itself elsewhere- and he was left with a mini-crisis on his hands.

And when he announced to a flabberghasted audience that 10,000 people had just died in a tornado strike in Kansas- when the actual death toll was 12- that was- well- I'm not entirely sure what that was: he was tired, it had been a long day, he'd misheard something an aide had whispered in his ear. Whatever it was that caused the mis-speak, it wasn't anything that particularly redounded to his discredit; it wasn't a lie; it was just a little side-slip into the surreal.

I'm having greater difficulty putting a benign spin on Clinton's claim that she came under fire at Grozny airport. I know memory can play you tricks because my own memory is none too brilliant these days- but if I found myself remembering traumatic incidents that could be proved never to have happened I think I'd be worrying about my mental health. Being shot at is a life-changing experience; it isn't something that becomes a little fuzzy with time. Unless you're suffering from Altzheimers you know whether you've had that experience or not. Someone fired an air rifle in my direction once; it's indelible. No, this wasn't a simple mis-speak (I'm coming to hate that word); It was a construct, presumably agreed in advance between Clinton and her speech-writer- designed to big up her reputation as an international stateswoman and confer some sort of ersatz warrior glory- which would come in handy if and when she faces McCain. But it was stupid claim- because it was so easy for her enemies to check and falsify. Silly woman- she just went and swift-boated herself.

Politicians lie. It's what they do. I don't want to suggest Obama is cleaner than Clinton; I believe he's said all sorts of things that don't check out- about his relationship with that sleazy guy back in the hood, for example-  but he hasn't yet screwed up the way Clinton has screwed up over Grozny. The thing about Clinton's mis-speak is it's so televisual, so meme-worthy. Already there's a clip on YouTube that says it all: first the self-aggrandizing speech, then the footage from the airport- featuring the reception committee she says wasn't there and the little girl she stooped to embrace. It's a killer, it really is- and if her candidacy continues it's going to get played and played and played.

As lies go it wasn't a bad one- it was a bit of puffery; it didn't start a war- but the trouble is it's not a lie that can be obfuscated by a lot of lawyerly talk. She can burble all she likes about mis-speaks- and all her opponent has to do is run the footage. There are no bullets, she doesn't run for cover; instead she smiles and greets and dawdles. Seeing is believing. Nothing but nothing can cloud the clarity of those pictures.