new lies / old lies / whose lies

Wednesday, February 7, 1996

So It Begins

Election '96 promises to be a Superbowl of Lies

It's caucus time in Iowa, and that can only mean one thing: Our collective store of credulity is about to be drawn down once again. Presidential elections are always colossal lie-fests, but this one promises to be especially bad, with the lack of real issues propelling the candidates to lie early and often, inventing virtues for themselves and vices for the opposition and trumpeting it all with a vociferous zeal guaranteed to leave even the most cynical observer reeling.

It's gonna be great.

Few experiences in this media-numbed age can match the thrill of seeing a first-class liar working a crowd. And make no mistake: Each side in this election will be fielding an all-pro team. (Steve Forbes notwithstanding. Early doubts about his mettle have given way to enthusiastic cheers as he demonstrates that a third-generation business-press mogul gives away nothing to the politicos when it comes to spinning out whoppers.)

Colin Powell, by pulling out of the contest early, relieved it of whatever shreds of amateurish honesty it might otherwise have possessed. He also removed any lingering uncertainty over the outcome, since barring some fortuitous act of God we're clearly doomed to Four More Years of Bill Clinton. But for true fans of campaign lies, the fact that the outcome is already decided doesn't lessen the prospect of fun. If anything, just the opposite.

Freed from the worry that a particularly bald falsehood might hurt their chances (since they effectively have no chances), the Republican contenders will be able to deliver comforting myths to the faithful and brazen taunts to the opposition unconstrained by petty issues of truth and accountability. And while Clinton will no doubt stick with a conservative gameplan, running play after play up the middle in a savvy effort to grind out the clock, he can be counted on to deliver the usual revisionist pap about his performance over the last four years.

You remember the last four years. That was the time during which Bill Clinton led this nation out of the abyss, delivering it unto a shining new morning in which all of its citizens - black and white, liberal and conservative, crackhead and board chair - could bask in the warmth of his forthright leadership. God bless Bill Clinton. God bless America. God bless us, every one.


God bless Hillary, too.

As far as scandal-fodder goes, the firings in the White House Travel Office and the dematerializations (and rematerializations) of Vince Foster's files are strictly Pop Warner, as William Safire, of all people, surely knows. Still, it's a fun warm-up for the election-year hijinks to see the First Lady roasted as a "congenital liar" in the New York Times, and to have the President respond with a threat to punch the offending columnist in the nose.

The real reason President Bill is so pissed, of course, is not that Safire called his wife a liar, but that the former Nixon stooge didn't bother to include the elected Clinton in the characterization. By doing so, Safire reinforced the popular notion that the President really isn't in the same league as his better half, a fact that has been painfully obvious ever since the "didn't inhale" debacle in the '92 campaign.

Please understand: When Clinton admitted that he had participated in pot smoking at Oxford, but hadn't actually inhaled, he wasn't lying. The weed they passed around at those student mixers was not some mellow sinsemilla bud, lovingly de-seeded and rolled up neatly in a ZigZag. It was a wicked mixture of harsh Turkish tobacco and hot-burning shake wadded into a fat cigar that would make even hard-core wastoids (to say nothing of momma's boys just trying to fit in) hack their lungs out. Lots of people at those get-togethers didn't inhale, and when candidate Clinton, in a moment of weakness after a long day of campaigning, admitted to reporters that he was one of them, he was telling God's own truth.


That bonehead mistake cost him points in the polls, and four years later "didn't inhale" remains a rallying cry for brain-dead Dittoheads, who see it as the ultimate example of Clinton's dishonesty. As usual, the Dittoheads are flat wrong. The "didn't inhale" line was almost certainly the last time Clinton spoke the unvarnished truth in a public forum. It was a tyro's mistake, and one that Hillary has no doubt made him promise never, ever to repeat.


The more things change... One thing, at least, will be different about this election: the existence of the web. During the last presidential election the only people who knew HTML were a few particle physicists in Switzerland. Today even fat cats in pinstripes who attend $1,000-a-plate party dinners sport URLs and @ signs on their business cards (even if they leave the actual use of such things to the underpaid geeks in the lower ranks of MIS).

Predictably, the "official" campaign sites are mostly shovelware. On a slightly higher plane are the mock campaign sites, like the one at, though with the $100 domain-registration fee that those greedy bastards at NSI are charging, the bucks-to-yucks ratio for such sites is pretty steep.

There actually are a few sites that do a decent job of pulling together information for the 0.5% of the population that still takes its electoral duties seriously. If you fall into that unhappy demographic you could do worse than to check out Vote Smart Web, while extreme politics junkies can go to the PoliticsUSA site.

For real web fun, of course, you need to steer clear of the official outlets. NewtWatch is a good example of what you can find on the web if you apply yourself a bit. If your pointer dangles in the opposite direction you'll doubtless appreciate the fun and games at The Right Side of the Web (which gets points for style, but where most of the cgi's are, sadly, broken).

Finally, it's comforting to me that Pat Paulsen is still doing the same election-year shtick.


So it's time for the innuendoes and revelations, the pounded podiums and foam-flecked lips. It's time for young campaign workers with stars in their eyes, and penitent candidates blinking soulfully into the klieg lights as their wives explain that they forgive them their human failings.

It's time for the kickoff.

I'm not particularly superstitious, but I confess I felt a chill when I counted up the number of past presidential elections and realized that this one is number 53. So what? Just this: In the Roman numeral scheme that is standard for keeping track of great cultural spectacles, we're embarking on Presidential Election LIII. Anyone who's puzzled out vanity plates on a gridlocked freeway knows how to read that one.

Welcome to the Superbowl of Lies.

Perfect Tommy

new lies / old lies / whose lies

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