WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton met her Waterloo at Tuzla. She'd been regaling audiences with tales of a dangerous landing under sniper fire in Tuzla 12 years ago and then running for cover. None of this occurred. When CBS provided the tape, she was forced to admit to "a misstatement."
Now, confabulation is a fairly common psychological phenomenon. We all have internalized childhood stories so oft repeated by elders that we come to falsely "remember" the actual experience. Adult memories are less susceptible to such unconscious inventions, but past experiences embellished over time by repeated recounting can reach the point where we actually believe the elaborate trappings of our own retellings.
Clinton's problem, however, is that a corkscrew landing under sniper fire is the kind of thing that is hard to forget and harder still for memory to invent. This is confabulation on a pathological scale.
A Clintonian scale. And that's the problem. Barack Obama has been gaining on Hillary in part because Tuzla reminds Democrats what they had largely succeeded in banishing from consciousness: the Clintons' rather arm's-length relationship with truth. The great New York Times columnist William Safire once called Hillary Clinton "a congenital liar" and made it stick. And that was more than a decade before snipergate.
The revulsion at the Clintons' lack of scruples remained latent as long as the focus was on her relatively unknown opponent, a blank slate being filled in with Tony Rezko's shady dealings and Jeremiah Wright's racist rants. Tuzla not only provided a distraction from Obama's problem with the raving reverend, it created the perfect setting for the press to pronounce the Wright affair closed.
In his swoon-inducing Philadelphia speech, Obama had instructed the nation from on high that America was greatly in need of a national conversation on race -- a need curiously absent before his pastor's words sent his campaign into a tailspin -- and that he, Barack Obama, was ready to lead it. Everything was now on the table, except his association with Wright. Because to "play Rev. Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election" would simply be a "distraction" from the suffering of the American people which, of course, is the work of the usual suspects: corporate outsourcing and "the special interests in Washington."
This invitation to move on, as it were, has been widely accepted. After the speech it became an article of faith that even referencing Wright's comments was somehow illegitimate, the new "Swift-boating."
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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