WASHINGTON, DC, January 29, 2013 — Some of my Communities colleagues have accused Hillary Clinton of being untruthful, either due to natural talent or by long and serious practice. Perhaps in the spirit of reaching out across the aisle we ought to be more generous, just a little more fair.
Do you ever think about the way you breathe? Do you exhale or inhale on your golf swing? Do you inhale when you make your tennis serve, or do you exhale?
In my younger days, some of my work required security clearances. On two or three occasions I had to submit to a polygraph exam in order to be entrusted with such secrets as where the Kyrgyz Minister of Finance kept the key to the executive washroom (he told me with some pride that he had the best lavatory in Central Asia). The first time was a fiasco.
“Breathe normally,” said the agent conducting the interview. As soon as he said that, I forgot how to breathe altogether. The more he accused me of deliberately trying to interfere with the results, the harder it was for me to remember how to breathe, much to his disgust. A few times I forgot to breathe at all. And then my galvanic skin response went berserk and I couldn’t tell him my own name without the polygraph telling him that it was a lie. “You’re not breathing right!” he shouted. “Just breathe!”
After nine hours I’d gone through three interrogators and was dizzy from lack of oxygen.
“Not surprising,” said my organ professor a week later. “You just played that entire fugue without taking a breath. Try that with the partita and you’ll be flat on the floor. Now breathe!”
Try not to think of an elephant. It’s hard to breathe when you’re made aware of your breathing. By the same token, while most of us take telling the truth more-or-less for granted, perhaps it’s difficult for some people to do when they’re reminded that they must.
It’s unfair to either Clinton to put him or her under oath. “Tell the truth.” Tell the truth? That’s like demanding, “breathe normally.” Can you imagine the desperation Hillary must feel when she has to focus on telling the truth as if it really mattered? How can she remember what the truth is when she has to think about it?
Last night I read an article about identifying people through their gait. It seems we all walk differently, and clever computer programs can now identify us with 90 percent accuracy from a distance just by the way we walk. Intrigued, I stood up from my desk to check my natural gait.
And then I stood there paralyzed. Thinking about it, I couldn’t walk. “This is silly,” I told myself. “Just go in the kitchen and get yourself a cookie.” If a cookie can’t motivate me, nothing can. And so I goose-stepped to the kitchen, got a cookie, and briefly pondered invading Poland.
Lying is the Clinton goose-step. On one hand it’s a way to deal with the pressure of having to tell the truth and not remembering how. You still need to get from here to there, you still have to say something, and so you improvise.
On the other hand, the goose-step instills discipline and demonstrates the power of the leader to turn men into machines. It’s been said that the goose-step is used by people who are just daring you to laugh at them, knowing that if you do, they’ll destroy you. As George Orwell said of it, “Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me.’”
And so it is. The press dare not laugh at a Clinton.
Nor, it seems, dare much of anyone else. The Clintons would undoubtedly prefer to saunter and slouch their way to Gomorrah with graceful insouciance, but confronted with any resistance, they’ll break into a goose-step and dare us to laugh or resist. The GOP may as well lie down and be Poland. The machine is humming along, and we’ll either march meekly behind or be ground finely in its gears.
Or as Bill used to tell interns with that charming glint in his eye, “don’t worry. Just relax, put on your knee pads, and remember to breathe.”
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