Sunday, March 30, 2008

Memories of war

I am sorry, but this I just don’t get.

”I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

Turns out there was a greeting ceremony. With a little Bosnian girl bearing flowers. So the story was altered a bit.

”I was told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac, but that there was this eight-year-old girl and I said, ‘Well, I, I can’t. I can’t rush by her. I’ve got to at least greet her. So I greeted her. I took her stuff and I left. Now that’s my memory of it.”

But then the videotape emerged, showing Hillary Clinton and Chelsea greeting the U.S. officials, stopping for photos, then moving on.

In politics, as Michael Kinsley once noted, a gaff is when a politician tells the truth. When they tell a—well, a non-truth—they misspoke. And so it was here according to campaign aids. For the candidate herself, it was a mistake.

"I made a mistake. I have a different memory."

But the purpose of the story was to impress upon listeners the candidate’s experience and bona fides to be commander-in-chief, to convey a sense that she has faced the fires of war. If the story was not true, a better explanation would have been to tell us of the experience that she was thinking about. After all, running from a plane across a tarmac under sniper fire—with one’s daughter no less—does not appear to be something that one would forget. So either she had that experience—but confused the circumstances—or she never had the experience and recalled the event from whole cloth.

This matters. After all we are in the midst of an historical period when chief executives are granted wide latitude to go to war or not. George Bush wore his flight suit for the media when he landed on the carrier Abraham Lincoln—with the banner Mission Accomplished draped as the backdrop—because he intended to convey a sense of competence to lead and seriousness of purpose. Hillary Clinton’s story of a Leader Under Fire is designed to accomplish a similar, visceral purpose.

Fair enough. Unless it is not true.

I for one do not particularly care if Hillary Clinton was under fire in Bosnia. Unless she was never under fire. Anywhere. If she was under fire, then she misspoke. If she was never under fire, she lied. And that is what matters. After all, we have three candidates from which we will chose our next president, and at the end of the day issues of judgment, honesty and integrity matter.

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