“Congenital Liar” – Safire’s Clinton Critique, Twenty Years On

Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s rainin’.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

“Why is Hillary Clinton So Widely Loved?” is certainly an odd way to begin an article, given the former Secretary of State has really bad unfavorability ratings. But it’s the way a recent writer in The Atlantic chose to title a piece in a post earlier this week. And, fair enough, I get it – the author wants to flip the “Clinton is unlikeable” narrative and point out a number of her positive features. The author points out a few, but the article largely becomes a variant on the “Clinton opposition is misogyny” style of defense. Among the various statements to this effect:

  • “Hillary Clinton was guilty immediately when she stepped  into the view of the American public as the first lady of Arkansas. . . . she . . . dared to think herself her husband’s equal . . . .”
  • “She was guilty of not being a traditional first lady. She offended the old patriarchal order. The conservative media loathed her.”
  • “A conservative writer labeled her a congenital liar . . . and the label stuck . . . it was a convenient label to harness misogyny.”
  • “Because Hillary Clinton is a woman, she is judged too harshly for doing what most politicians do . . . .”
  • “She is held responsible for her husband’s personal failings, in the gendered assumption that a wife is somehow an adult and a husband a child.”

The author is also dismissive of present concerns about Clinton’s character, speaking as if Clinton is the victim of a concerted campaign to demonize her despite her chronic forthrightness:

Because she is already considered guilty in a vague and hazy way, there is a longing for her to be demonstrably guilty of something. Other words have been repeated over and over, with no context, until they have begun to breathe and thrum with life. Especially “emails.” The press coverage of “emails” has become an unclear morass where “emails” must mean something terrible, if only because of how often it is invoked.


Well, let’s circle back to that “conservative writer” the author was speaking of, who apparently coined the most clever, catchy, and subtly-misogynistic slam against Clinton such that she has been unable to shake the unfair label ever since. The author refers to William Safire, a conservative columnist for the New York Times who voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 but became a forceful critic of the administration thereafter. The article in question was one he wrote in early 1996 titled “Blizzard of Lies.” In it, he targets the then-First Lady specifically:

Americans of all political persuasion are coming to the sad realization that our First Lady –  a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation – is a congenital liar. Drip by drip . . . the case is being made that she is compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.

Certainly if there was no basis for this assault on the First Lady’s integrity, then this would be an outrageous smear. So why did Safire say what he said and put it in the pages of the New York Times? He mentions three reasons, in-the-moment at the time but now such old hat that most of Clinton’s present-day supporters likely have no idea about them. Let’s dig in to just the first one, and then discuss some more pertinent or important illustrations of Clinton’s disqualifying characteristics.


Safire begins:

  1. Remember the story she told about studying the Wall Street Journal to explain her 10,000 percent profit in 1979 commodity trading? We now know that was a lie told to turn aside accusations that as the Governor’s wife she profited corruptly . . . .

Ah yes, because what’s a politician these days if they don’t have a solid cattle futures controversy scandal under their belt?  This is the sort of controversy that should be politically-disqualifying in the estimation of any Sandernistas out there. As the New York Times reported:

The White House said today that in 1978 Hillary Rodham Clinton invested $1,000 in commodities futures and that the investment grew in 10 months of trading in the notoriously volatile market into a gain of nearly $100,000. . . . the White House issued a statement this afternoon that said the First Lady had put up her own money and that she bore all of the financial risks in a marketplace where three out of four investors lose money.

Sense that whiff of disbelief? It’s not for no reason. Obtaining a return of over 10,000% in less than a year is the sort of exaggerated claim you might expect from Donald Trump blathering on about how he is “really rich” on the campaign trail, but this was the official explanation coming from the White House. Just how did Clinton manage to beat the market and make even the best investors look foolish in comparison? Reading the Wall St. Journal, dontcha know!

Senior advisers to President Clinton and his wife said . . . that Mrs. Clinton based her trades on information in the Wall Street Journal, and that she stopped trading by 1980, despite her success, because . . . ‘she did not have the stomach for it any more and found it to be too nerve-racking.’

Perhaps. The timing is a bit odd given that the string of unsurpassed investment successes came right when it seemed Bill Clinton was going to be the next governor of Arkansas, and the fact that the Clintons had a close friend who was a lawyer with Tyson Foods and who advised Clinton on these investments probably has no suspicious relationship to this brilliant investing. Maybe this is all unsubstantiated innuendo (though, to note, similar suspicious conduct is criminalized in other finance-related contexts). However, it’s hardly innuendo and more like connecting the dots:

Unlike stock investments, commodity futures are almost always purchased with high levels of margin, meaning that the investor is using a substantial proportion of money borrowed from the broker to control positions. Exchanges and regulators typically require investors to keep a minimum amount of cash in their futures accounts to avoid getting into a negative position if futures prices move in the wrong direction. In Hillary Clinton’s case, her $1,000 initial investment was well below the $12,000 deposit required by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for the first trades she executed. So not only did Hillary make an extraordinary profit for a novice investor, she did so without following the rules applied to less well-connected traders.

In addition, as one published analysis concluded, “the odds of a return that large during the period in question were about one in thirty-one trillion.” Well done, Mrs. Clinton!

More odd is that the justifications (apart from “reading the Wall St. Journal”) for these successes didn’t add up:

White House officials acknowledged today that Mr. Blair was consulted on many of the commodities trades and was viewed as an important financial adviser, but they said other people, who they could not identify, were also consulted. A senior aide to Mrs. Clinton also said today that she occasionally spoke to her broker about the trades. But brokers in the Springdale office of Refco where Mrs. Clinton executed the trades, including the one she describes as her personal broker, said in interviews in recent weeks that they have no recollection of ever talking with her about the trades.

Odd: do you think that you might recall if the state first lady came to you for financial advice if you were in their situation? Curious that these “other people” whom Clinton spoke with were unidentifiable, no?

Even more curious:

Tax returns disclosed last Friday show that the Clintons claimed about $100,000 in capital gains from the trades. The returns, which the Clintons had declined to disclose during the campaign, were made public only after a New York Times article on March 18 revealed that the Clintons had made the commodities profits. But in the tax returns the Clintons ignored Internal Revenue Service instructions to detail how much money was invested, how much was earned and on what dates the trades occurred.

Isn’t refusing to disclose your tax returns one of the cardinal sins of politics?

At any rate, Clinton eventually decided to address the allegations head-on in a “highly unusual news conference” to explain her financial dealings and apologize “for the way the White House has handled questions about them.” The inconsistencies and suspicious conduct were all the result of “poor efforts to remember and an initial reluctance to reveal information she considered private” – yes, like your secret to a 10,000% return and the name of the investor who helped you achieve it!

As the Supreme Court has said,

To establish fraud, it is not necessary to prove it by direct and positive evidence. Circumstantial evidence is not only sufficient, but in most cases it is the only proof that can be adduced.

Rea v. Missouri, 84 U.S. 532, 543 (1873). The circumstantial evidence – 1) a nearly-impossible investment return rate for a first time investor; 2) initial claims that she acted alone and learned all the savvy investment advice she would need to pull off this type of return rate simply by reading the Wall St. Journal; 3) refusals to disclose critical details that raise eyebrows until forced to do so well after the fact; 4) incomplete disclosure after the fact accompanied by convenient explanations for prior falsehoods (e.g., not remembering, saying it was miscommunication, etc.) – certainly paints a particular picture, i.e., one of fraud. And this was just one among a number of unseemly activities Clinton would be around, involved in, or implicated in, as Safire detailed in his op-ed.


So Safire wasn’t really off the mark when he fretted that the First Lady appeared to be a “congenital liar.” And time has only vindicated his assertion.


Take her 2008 campaign tall tale of landing under “sniper fire” when she visited Bosnia as First Lady in 1996. She spun this yarn while giving a speech at George Washington University on foreign policy, which was evidently meant to bolster her case to be made commander-in-chief. She ran into trouble, however, because, as Sharyl Attkisson noted, one’s memory should always match the videotape:


What was Clinton’s defense when called out for the inconsistency? “I say a lot of things – millions of words a day – so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement,” she said. And perhaps that would be believable – if she had not 1) doubled down on the validity of the story when asked about it right after the speech (“now that is what happened!”), and 2) used the story multiple times on the stump in 2008 (“We landed in one of those corkscrew landings”!) before she got caught. The comedian Sinbad, who was with her on the trip, wasn’t buying those explanations back in 2008 as he stumped for Obama:

In an interview with the Sleuth Monday, he said the “scariest” part of the trip was wondering where he’d eat next. “I think the only ‘red-phone’ moment was: ‘Do we eat here or at the next place’ . . . . I never felt that I was in a dangerous position. I never felt being in a sense of peril, or ‘Oh, God, I hope I’m going to be OK when I get out of this helicopter or when I get out of his tank.'”

In her Iowa stump speech, Clinton also said, “We used to say in the White House that if a place is too dangerous, too small or too poor, send the First Lady.” Say what? As Sinbad put it: “What kind of president would say, ‘Hey, man, I can’t go ’cause I might get shot so I’m going to send my wife . . . oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.'”

Ok, ok – this is much ado about nothing, right? I mean, politicians and public figures make up and embellish stories all the time! This one just got so much attention because “it’s about Hillary” (read: evil misogynists are out to get her) and because there was video footage contradicting her! I mean, “everybody’s perceptions are different,” amirite?  No one else – and certainly not a straight, white, cisgendered male – would experience the same accosting for a similar “misstatement”!!!!

Except, uh . . . .


And, uh . . . .


And, well, uh . . . .


And, I mean, uh . . . .


Please don’t tell me that you think we should hold journalists more accountable than presidential candidates for statements that impugn their credibility and trustworthiness?


Then, of course, there is email-gate, which has been so fully covered in the media that there is no need here at this time to recount the transparent lies of Clinton in the matter. This article does a great job detailing all the lies as of September last year. And this video does a pretty good job of juxtaposing the facts that have emerged since then with Clinton’s deception:


Then there are the various deceptions related to the intermingling of her functions as Secretary of State and the Clinton Foundation’s endeavors. Though investigative reports abound, here’s Reuters yesterday with a new story:

The Clinton Foundation has confirmed it accepted a $1 million gift from Qatar while Hillary Clinton was U.S. secretary of state without informing the State Department, even though she had promised to let the agency review new or significantly increased support from foreign governments.

Despite this violating her promise to abide by the transparency guidelines she signed onto when she became Secretary of State, she seems less-than-remorseful to this and other accusations swirling about this appearance of corruption. What, precisely, has Clinton’s response been about allegations and appearances of impropriety with respect to the Clinton Foundation? Well, not exactly a mea culpa, according to WaPo:

“We provided a massive amount of information and Donald Trump doesn’t release his tax [returns] and is indebted to foreign banks and foreign lenders . . . .” Clinton argued — as her supporters have in recent days — that Donald Trump’s potential conflicts are more significant than the questions being raised about the Clinton Foundation. “The foundation is a charity. Neither my husband nor I have ever drawn a salary from it,” Clinton said. “You know more about the foundation than you know about anything concerning Donald Trump’s wealth, his business, his tax returns. . . . My work as secretary of state was not influenced by any outside forces. I made policy decisions based on what I thought was right,” Clinton said. “I know there’s a lot of smoke and there’s no fire.”

So, essentially, her defense to the general allegations is a combination of the puerile “But he did it too!” and “Prove it!”

And what is the Clinton Foundation’s response now?

Clinton Foundation officials last month declined to confirm the Qatar donation. In response to additional questions, a foundation spokesman, Brian Cookstra, this week said that it accepted the $1 million gift from Qatar, but this did not amount to a “material increase” in the Gulf country’s support for the charity. Cookstra declined to say whether Qatari officials received their requested meeting with Bill Clinton.

Essentially, they are asserting that notwithstanding their pledge to report any donations that constituted a “material increase” from existing donors, they did not consider $1 million (pause to note that that’s a seven-digit number) a “material increase” and thus chose not to report it. Perhaps (though that sounds like some highly contrived legal ninjutsu) – or maybe they were worried about the improprieties of the Secretary of State accepting donations in a personal capacity while being responsible for foreign policy decisions regarding a country that is known for its codified misogyny and its laws permitting the death penalty for LGBT individuals.

It’s pretty bad when even the very left-of-center New York Daily News doesn’t buy the defense:

[S]he’s got it all wrong. The smoke IS the fire. And the fire this time is the increasing perception that the Clintons use government as their personal piggybank, pulling its levers to help friends, build a global foundation, and fill their own bank accounts. By the way, that’s not even a metaphor. It’s the truth.


But perhaps none of this matters to you. Perhaps this is all just more kvetching over stuff that belongs in the “every politician is guilty of x” category, just demonstrating that Clinton is held to a higher standard (the “Hillary Standard,” if you will) than everybody else (especially men!). Of course, even those politicians usually get held accountable and taken down for their petty corruption (see, e.g., Chris Christie) – but I digress.

Well, even on key issues that you’d expect Clinton to have nailed down and to be forthright and consistent on, she is duplicitous. Perhaps most palpably vicious, hypocritical, and disqualifying has been Clinton’s publicly declared views on sexual assault compared to her private views on, and personal conduct towards, women whose sexual assault accusations threatened her own aims (though it’s good to have a public and a private standard, amirite?).


Clinton asserted towards the start of her campaign that:


Suffice it to say, this was a bit much given what numerous data points suggest, namely, that Clinton has sought to marginalize and discredit any woman whose accusations proved politically inconvenient to her. Take, for instance, Juanita Broaddrick, who in 1999 accused Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting her when he was running for Governor back in 1978. As Broaddrick detailed elsewhere:


Even left-of-center outlets have covered Clinton’s hypocrisy on this issue – which, to be sure, wasn’t limited to Bill’s accusers, suggesting that such attitudes were not limited to those who were causing her public embarrassment or domestic angst. Renowned feminist and Coates-ordained “America’s foremost public intellectual” Melissa Harris-Perry stated her thoughts back in 2008, namely, that Clinton made

an appalling choice as a feminist – not that she stayed with her husband, but that she did not speak out in defense of a barely-older-than-teenage girl who was harassed by her husband. . . . And then she used that experience to create sympathy for herself.

Back in February 2014, a politics contributor over at Slate (and now with the Washington Post) discussed Clinton’s response to Senator Bob Packwood’s accusers, which we learned about via the Blair Papers:

In 1993, Hillary Clinton derided a group of women who made claims of sexual harassment against Republican senator Bob Packwood, according to Blair. “HC tired of all those whiney women, and she needs him on health care,” wrote Blair of her conversation with Hillary Clinton, who was heading up her husband’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to reshape the U.S. health care system. . . . Clinton wanted to forgive the dalliances of a moderate Republican because he was politically useful. . . . We’ve known for quite a while that Clinton worked to silence or discredit the women who accused her husband in sex scandals. But if she felt the same about the accusers of all of her allies? Well, that elevates this to a sort of moral standard.

Elsewhere, another Slate author noted that while Bill’s

behavior has humiliated her . . . she has also helped him humiliate the women he’s been involved with. . . . she consistently relates to and protects and stands with the oppressors in the gender wars, not the victims. . . . She . . . led efforts to undermine Gennifer Flowers, whom she referred to as “trailer trash.” . . . . One of the most troubling things about Hillary Clinton is that she is never above cashing in on [the politics of victimization].”

Yes, she called Gennifer Flowers, an individual who alleged that she had an affair with Bill, “trailer trash.” She also said that Flowers was “some failed cabaret singer who doesn’t even have much of a résumé to fall back on.” As Slate reported:

After the Gennifer Flowers story came out during her husband’s ’92 presidential run, her response, according to Carl Bernstein, was to throw herself into efforts to discredit Flowers and to try to persuade horrified campaign aides to bring out rumors that Poppy Bush had not always been faithful to Barbara. . . . Strangely, what Hillary seems to have exaggerated about her marriage is not how well they mended it after Monica—but how serious a breach there ever was. . . . At the time, the word put out by Hillaryland was that the president was in the doghouse and had to win her back. But if that was true, his probationary period was over almost before it began.

Clinton called Monica Lewinsky – a woman who, given the power disparities between her and the President, would be presumed to have been preyed upon, at least by feminists – a “narcissistic loony toon” despite knowing the allegations were true. And, of course, Clinton went on to aid and abet the demonization campaign against Lewinsky while the President brazenly lied about the accusations. Clinton went so far as to blame the accusations on – I kid you not – a “Vast Right Wing Conspiracy” to take out the Clintons. Fair enough, then, that Lewinsky found Clinton’s “impulse to blame the Woman” – or really anybody else – “troubling.”

Kathleen Willey, who reported that she was sexually assaulted by Bill during a visit to the Oval Office in 1993, had this to say about Clinton:

[S]he enabled it to happen again and again and again and again. And then she chooses to go after the women that he hooks up with, to ruin them again and again and again and again. And that’s how it works.

There’s also the less substantiated story of the rock groupie who allegedly was approached by Bill’s lackies for an opportunity for an intimate encounter with the man himself. Clinton’s response: “we have to destroy her story.” And, to be sure, there are more accusers than I have discussed here – presumably all “whiney women” who don’t deserve to be “heard, believed, and supported.”


In all these instances, the defense strategy, of which Clinton herself was a part, “centered on blatantly misogynistic practices.” Bill’s team decided to parry all the (true) allegations by labeling them “bimbo eruptions,” and Clinton proactively joined in the attacks.

Apart from the troubling nature of each of these instances, it is particularly dissonant in light of the fact that, nowadays, anyone who dares to raise questions or doubts about someone who makes accusations of sexual assault – no matter how obviously and patently false they are – is accused of “rape denialism“:

[T]he charge is hurled at anyone who questions a story, statistic (one in five women students sexually assaulted), or policy (yes-means-yes). And if men are slapped down when they question these orthodoxies, special punishment attends female critics.

Apparently it is perfectly fine to demonize and railroad those who get in the way of the modern feminist-progressive agenda. All the while, Clinton seems to get a free pass for doing much the same and never once apologizing for it, as evidenced by the fact that many of her most ardent defenders are also the same peddlers of this agenda. You’ll have to pardon those onlookers who are stupefied by this cognitive dissonance.


In conclusion, indulge me a personal riff on all of this. I just finished studying for and taking the MPRE, an exam required by most states for bar admission that tests your knowledge of the ethical standards required of lawyers. I am also beginning the process of preparing an application for the Character & Fitness portion of the bar exam itself, where I am required to divulge significant amounts of personal information so that the bar of the state I am hoping to be admitted into can determine whether or not I have the requisite moral qualifications to be an attorney (I know, I know – cue obvious lawyer joke). What is unfathomable to me, as I go through this process, is to think that if I had engaged in conduct analogous to just one or two of these examples, I could be denied admission to the bar; but someone who has done the same and engaged in such chronic duplicity and transparent deception for decades is on the verge of becoming President of the United States. People’s lives have been upended for doing far less than what the Clintons have pulled off; and yet here we are in 2016, on the verge of electing another one of them to the highest office in the land. I really hope all those progressives concerned about a two-track justice system – one for the rich and one for the poor – pipe up in due time about the inconsistencies and double standards that have let the Clintons skate for almost four decades.



Addendum: I realize that we have had many presidents in the past suffer from similar moral failings as Hillary Clinton (see, e.g., Bill Clinton) – but that is a moral indictment of those individuals’ supporters (e.g., Hillary Clinton) and those candidates, not a reason to support yet another candidate in that vein.

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