Paul Greenberg

"That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all."

--T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Remember when the question of the day was what the meaning of is, is? That seems so long ago -- A.D. 1998. Back then the president doing the explaining was The Hon. William J. Clinton, Esq. Testifying before a grand jury at one point, he explained that he wasn't lying, not at all, when he'd assured his top aides, the kind of loyal supporters who might actually have believed him, that, no, there was nothing going on between him and this Monica Lewinsky.

How could that not have been a lie? Bill Clinton's response, made under oath if that means anything in his case:

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the -- if he -- if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not -- that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement. ... Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."

Got all that? I never did, either.

But it was an impressive response nevertheless. One for the books. Indeed, one worthy of the voluminous annals of American misrepresentation. It may have lacked the brevity of a Zen koan, but there was something just as mysterious about it.

Now the question is no longer the meaning of is, but the meaning of that. For now there's another linguistician in the White House, or at least another slick customer. And for weeks we've been assured this president didn't say what he said, not at all. It's just that his words have been twsted, distorted, quoted out of context....

Take your choice of the editing tricks unprincipled critics have been using to make it seem the president said something he didn't, namely that American businessmen didn't build their companies. Never mind what the rest of us heard him say. He didn't. Who you gonna believe, the president of the United States or your own lyin' ears?

Here's what Mr. Obama actually said in a campaign appearance at Roanoke, Va., on Friday, July 13, 2012--word for word, the whole paragraph. Judge for yourself, as you should and would anyway:

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.