by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
During the Watergate scandal, a pithy lesson emerged from the Nixon White House’s attempts to obfuscate its connections to the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.
Decades later, Bill Clinton learned that lesson the hard way when he tried to keep his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky from going public. He wagged his fingers in the camera in an infamous press conference, declaring that “I never had sexual relations with that woman.” Hillary Clinton claimed that allegations against her husband were lies spun by a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” The denials ended in humiliation when Ken Starr’s office found Lewinsky’s blue dress, forcing President Clinton into accepting a plea bargain that suspended his ability to practice law and forever stained his legacy.
For Bill Clinton, the cover-up was far more damaging than the behavior itself. The American electorate was prepared to forgive marital indiscretions in office, but lying to voters’ faces created damage that persists to this day. You might think that the Clintons would have learned from those experiences. But events over the last week proved that some politicians remain impervious to the lessons of history, even when it explicitly involves them. …
… This episode raises even more profound questions than those about Clinton’s physical health, however. Former Obama adviser David Axelrod, at times an ally and an opponent of Clinton, struck close to the heart of the issue Monday morning. “Antibiotics can take care of pneumonia,” Axelrod wrote on Twitter. “What’s the cure for an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems?”
The real danger of this fainting spell and the shifting explanations is that it will remind voters of all the serial misrepresentations and flat-out lies told by the Clintons during their quarter century on the national stage. The issues surrounding those dishonesties held varying significance for voters; Whitewater bored them, and the Lewinsky saga mainly titillated them. The email scandal turned into a much bigger problem for Clinton precisely because she stonewalled, then later got caught telling lies about it — and then got caught lying about the FBI’s conclusions that exposed those claims of innocence as false.
However, the email scandal and its relation to the Federal Records Act, Freedom of Information Act, and 18 USC 793 probably seemed more esoteric than essential to most voters. Lying on these issues might demonstrate an integrity gap, but it doesn’t have real consequences for the lives of most voters.
Presidential health, on the other hand, will hit voters much more directly. They understand the need to minimize the risk of an unforeseen White House transition in times of crisis, and that makes the health of the candidates much more relevant — and much more relatable. The Clintons and her campaign covered up a pneumonia diagnosis while scoffing at perfectly valid questions about her health. This reinforces what NBC News calls Clinton’s “core vulnerability” — her perceived lack of honesty and trustworthiness.