The week before South Carolina voted was the week when, at last, even some Democrats noticed. Noticed, that is, the distinctive cloud of coarseness that hovers over the Clintons, seeping acid rain.
That cloud has been a constant accouterment of their careers and has been influencing the nation's political weather for 16 years. But by the time Bill Clinton brought the Democratic Party in from the wilderness in 1992, the party had lost five of the previous six, and seven of the previous 10, presidential elections. Democrats were so grateful to him, and so determined not to resume wandering in the wilderness, that they averted their gazes to avoid seeing, and hummed show tunes to avoid hearing, the Clintons' routine mendacities.
Then, last week, came the radio ad that even South Carolinians, who are not squeamish about bite-and-gouge politics, thought was one brick over a load, and that the Clintons withdrew. It was the one that said Obama endorsed Republican ideas (because he said Republicans had some ideas). The Clinton campaign also accused Obama of praising Ronald Reagan (because Obama noted the stark fact that Reagan had changed the country's trajectory more than some other recent presidents — hello, Bill — had).
This was a garden-variety dishonesty, the manufacture of which does not cause a Clinton in midseason form to break a sweat. And it was no worse than — actually, not as gross as — St. John of Arizona's crooked-talk claim in Florida that Mitt Romney wanted to "surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do" in Iraq because Romney "wanted to set a date for withdrawal that would have meant disaster."
Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the Clintons should bask in the glow of John McCain's Clintonian gloss on this fact: Ten months ago, Romney said that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should discuss, privately, "a series of timetables and milestones." That unremarkable thought was twisted by McCain, whose distortions are notably clumsy, as when Romney said, accurately, that he alone among the candidates has had extensive experience in private-sector business.
That truth was subjected to McCain's sophistry, and he charged that Romney had said "you haven't had a real job" if you had a military career. If, this autumn, voters must choose between Clinton and McCain, they will face, at least stylistically, an echo, not a choice.
I'm all for the honesty and sophistry test. But let's start with the people who count–I mean, have counted for the past 7 years, and still count now. For the Clinton mendacity narrative, and all of the craziness surrounding them, start here.