Voices
Krieg Barrie/WORLD

Identity theft

Campaign 2008 | Hillary Clinton creates the narrative that suits her

Issue: "Save our cities," April 19, 2008

Both his fans and his critics hail Bill Clinton as the first postmodern president. In his personal constructions of truth and morality, his continual re-invention of himself, and his insistence that even the word "is" depends upon your interpretation, President Clinton became a poster boy for the relativistic worldview.

Now Hillary Clinton is continuing her husband's political legacy.

The most flagrant example of Mrs. Clinton's embrace of contemporary philosophy is her description of a trip to Bosnia in which she had to duck sniper fire, landing with no ceremony into a war zone and running from the airplane with her head down.

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When the comic Sinbad, who was on that same trip, said that he remembered being in no such danger, Mrs. Clinton first dismissed his account as coming from a mere comedian. Then others in her entourage at the time, including the pilot of her military aircraft, denied that there were any snipers. A spokesman for her campaign offered the postmodernist mantra that "everybody's perceptions are different."

In this case, though, everybody's perceptions were not different, since no one else perceived bullets flying or having to run for cover. Then CBS dug up footage of the first lady's landing in Bosnia that showed not perceptions but facts: a peaceful, conventional meet-and-greet ceremony with no gunfire from snipers, just a little girl reading a poem.

At that point, Mrs. Clinton retracted her story, saying that she "misspoke," that she made a "mistake," that she was only "human."

Some Democrats equated Mrs. Clinton's mistake about snipers with John McCain's mistake of confusing Sunnis and Shiites in a speech about Iran's support of Islamic terrorists. But his was a confusion over objective facts, immediately corrected when Sen. Joe Lieberman whispered the correct information into his ear.

Mrs. Clinton was following the postmodernist playbook: She constructed a narrative-an entire story, complete with conflict and action-to advance an agenda of power. In this case, using her own jargon, she fashioned her own identity so as to present herself as someone with "experience," in contrast to her rival Barack Obama. Of course, if getting shot at is an index of presidential experience, McCain-who was not only shot at but shot down-has Mrs. Clinton beat.

Comments? Email Ed Veith at gveith@worldmag.com.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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