White Lies Matter

Column: Hillary Clinton’s history of deception catches up to her

Hillary Clinton
April 22, 2016

How bad is Hillary Clinton’s image? This bad:

Fifty-six percent of Americans view her unfavorably, according to the Huffington Post pollster trend.

One-third of New York Democratic primary voters say she is neither honest nor trustworthy.

Her image, writes Dan Balz, 'is at or near record lows among major demographic groups."

Like, all of them.

Among men, she is at minus 40. Among women, she is at minus 9. Among whites, she is at minus 39. Among white women, she is at minus 25. Among white men, she is 17 positive, 72 negative. Her favorability among whites at this point in the election cycle is worse than President Obama’s ever has been … Among African Americans nationally the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows her with a net positive of 51 points. But that’s down 13 points from her first-quarter average and is about at her lowest ever. Among Latinos, her net positive is just two points, down from plus 21 points during the first quarter.

Emphasis mine. No doubt some of this degradation is related to a primary that has turned out to be much more competitive than Clinton imagined. But it’s also worth asking why that campaign has lasted so much longer than we assumed.

A lot of the reason is Clinton: her tin ear, her aloofness, her phony eagerness to please, her suspicion of the press and of outsiders, her let us say complicated relationship with the truth, the blithe way in which she dissembles and deceives.

Over the course of three decades in public life Hillary Clinton has misspoke and misled the public and mismanaged herself and her team to such a degree that voters cannot help noticing. Yes, many of her falsehoods are white lies. But white lies accumulate. They matter. Not only do they harm the truth. They are turning Clinton into one of the least popular candidates in history.

Since 1998 Clinton has blamed her poor reputation on the vast right-wing conspiracy. Whitewater, Travel Gate, File Gate, the health care disaster—it was all the fault of the Republicans. What’s forgotten is that Clinton has been lying in the service of her ambitions—most notably by protecting her husband from the truth of his infidelities—since long before Bill ran for president. Nor can she blame conservatives for her failure to win the Democratic nomination eight years ago. Hillary can’t help being secretive and deceptive. It’s her nature.

Think of the transcripts of the speeches she gave to Wall Street audiences. Bernie Sanders would like Clinton to release them. She refuses. Why? 'When everybody agrees to do that, I will as well, because I think it’s important we all abide by the same standards." What baloney. Democratic primary voters see the obvious: Hillary is hiding behind a standard she invented.

What the other candidates have said to bankers isn’t the issue. No one expects Donald Trump to have been anything other than fulsome in his praise of Wall Street. He probably spoke mainly about himself anyway. What Sanders wants to know is if Clinton said one thing to the financial services industry and another to the public. Fair question. Especially considering the lady we’re talking about.

It’s also a question that Clinton could settle rather easily in her favor. Other than the most committed of Bernie Bros, does anyone really think Clinton offered to sell her soul to Lloyd Blankfein, at least on stage? The transcripts won’t contain bombshells but platitudes—thank you so much for having me, it’s great to be here, Bill and I really appreciate the socially conscious investment and work you’re doing for young people around the world, diversity, inclusion, hot sauce, Chelsea built a clinic in Haiti, climate change, I’m a grandma, blah, blah, blah. You won’t be shocked by what she said. You’ll be bored.

The act of concealment transforms the banal into the insidious. I sometimes wonder if Clinton does this just to give her rather humdrum and lackluster public life a frisson of excitement and danger, or to goad her enemies into overreaction.

Take the emails. She built the private server to shield her privacy. But the public learned of the server nonetheless. The public always finds out. A judge ordered the emails released. Thus the result of Clinton's actions was the very opposite of her intent.

It remains to be seen whether the FBI will indict her for compromising national security, though I rather doubt that will happen. There is no smoking gun. The emails themselves show Clinton to be a tech ignoramus, a workaholic, harried by the pace of events, self-interested, paranoid, dependent on a few close advisers. Nothing we didn’t already know.

But that didn’t stop Clinton from lying about it. Never does. 'The secrecy and the closed nature of her dealings generate problems of their own, which in turn prompt efforts to restrict information and draw even more tightly inside a group of intimates," wrote Sarah Ellison last year in Vanity Fair. 'It is a vicious circle." And the person responsible for keeping the circle going is none other than the candidate herself: circumspect, wary, so damaged by her years in the public eye that she trusts no one. And receives no trust in return.