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.