Former President Bill Clinton
(November 2007)

When the Scoreboard began, the David Manning Liar of the Month designation was called "the David Manning Trivial Liar of the Month," as it focused primarily on lies that had little impact because nobody could possibly believe them. Later, the "trivial" was dropped, after I concluded that even trivial public lies were not truly trivial, because they threatened to create to a culture that didn't value truthfulness.

But Bill Clinton's recent assertion, while on the Iowa campaign trail for Hillary, that he opposed the U.S. attack on Iraq "from the beginning" makes me nostalgic for "trivial." It would fit his statement perfectly. For what could be more trivial than a blatantly and demonstrably false statement made by a public figure whose willingness to bend, misrepresent, and misstate the truth is his defining characteristic?

Just to get the record out of the way, here is Clinton in 2004 chatting with Time Magazine about various subjects as he promoted his memoirs, which was then hitting the book stores. In this section, he is responding to a question about whether Bush did the right thing to go into Iraq:

You know, I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over… At the moment the U.N. inspectors were kicked out in '98, this is the proper language: there were substantial quantities of botulinum and aflatoxin, as I recall, some bioagents, I believe there were those, and VX and ricin, chemical agents, unaccounted for. Keep in mind, that's all we ever had to work on. We also thought there were a few missiles, some warheads, and maybe a very limited amount of nuclear laboratory capacity… After 9/11, let's be fair here, if you had been President, you'd think, Well, this fellow bin Laden just turned these three airplanes full of fuel into weapons of mass destruction, right? Arguably they were super-powerful chemical weapons. Think about it that way. So, you're sitting there as President, you're reeling in the aftermath of this, so, yeah, you want to go get bin Laden and do Afghanistan and all that. But you also have to say, Well, my first responsibility now is to try everything possible to make sure that this terrorist network and other terrorist networks cannot reach chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material. I've got to do that. That's why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for.

Even Clinton, word parser extraordinaire, can't make that statement translate into opposition to the Iraq attack, but he is trying. Since various versions of the same sentiment are in print and on tape since 2003, Clinton's Iowa claim has commentators of every political stripe crying foul, or rather "liar, liar, pants on fire." Clinton's spokespeople's response, according to the New York Times: well, as a former president, he was being a statesman. It would have been inappropriate for him to openly oppose the sitting president.

Ah! So he was lying then, is that it? Oh, what the heck difference does it make? Does anyone know when Bill Clinton is telling the truth? Does he know? Clinton's lies can't do any harm for the same reason his truthful statements will always be suspect; everyone who isn't completely bewitched by his charisma and style has to know that whatever other virtues the man may possess, he is above all else a liar. At this point, Bill Clinton can't make his reputation for mendacity worse, or cause any more cynicism than his public word games through the years already have.

Unless, or course, you believe him. But then it is you who has a problem, because Bill Clinton has done everything possible to make certain you don't.

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