A lot of people in Washington apparently forgot how good Hillary Rodham Clinton is at not telling the truth.
On Wednesday, in her testimony before the Senate and, later, the House, Clinton brilliantly fudged, dodged and filibustered. Of course, she's a pro. Clinton was slow-walking depositions, lawyering up and shifting blame when many of her questioners were still civilians down on the farm.
Aided by a ridiculous format, she outfoxed most of the Republicans with ease.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, almost uniformly, seemed singularly interested in celebrating Clinton as a global diva who somehow manages to carry the burden of her awesomeness with humility and grace. If smoking were still allowed in the Capitol, one could easily imagine her removing a cigarette from a gold case, tapping it nonchalantly on the witness table and the entire Democratic caucus leaping over their desks for the chance to light it for her.
The most dramatic moment came early, when Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson tried to get Clinton to explain why the State Department blamed the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, on an impromptu protest over an anti-Muslim video. In a moment of spontaneous outrage, Clinton yelled back, "With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?"
It is a measure of Clinton's cultlike status on the left and among much of the press that this passed for a satisfactory, never mind impressive, response. But it's also a tribute to Clinton's gift for mendacity that it worked so well.
Even among the administration's harshest critics, people seemed at a loss to fully explain what difference it makes whether the administration's spin was true or not. For many, the answer is simply that government officials shouldn't lie. That's a necessary criticism, but hardly sufficient.
But just to be clear, Clinton lied and is still lying. When asked about the claim that the attack was sparked by a protest over a video, she responded, "I did not say ... that it was about the video for Libya."
That's simply untrue. When she stood by the caskets of the four Americans killed in Libya, she directly blamed an "awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with." Afterward, she reportedly told the father of Tyrone Woods, the former Navy SEAL who was killed in the attack, "We will make sure the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted." Why tell that to the man if the video had nothing to do with it?
Moreover, Clinton was part of an administration that crafted an entire PR strategy to blame these attacks on "an awful Internet video." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was unequivocal: This was a "response to a video, a film we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting." In his address to the United Nations, President Barack Obama mentioned the video six times but al-Qaida once. When he appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman," he blamed the video directly. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on five Sunday political shows blaming the video. All of this happened when they already knew it was not true on the day of the attack, and even the president of Libya publicly called the protest explanation ridiculous.
But again, the lying, while outrageous, is incidental to the real offense, which is twofold. First, why did the administration lie? Well, it wanted to conceal its utter failure to prepare for last year's terrorist attack on Sept. 11 — which is like being surprised by Christmas falling on Dec. 25. Also, the Obama administration, by which I mean the Obama campaign, was desperate to protect its hyped record of fighting terrorism. A "spontaneous" attack invited not by the administration's shortcomings but by some nutty video was just the ticket.
Indeed, on this score, Clinton was true to her word. While none of the murderers has been apprehended, the filmmaker is in jail, the picture of his arrest splashed across the globe.
Which brings us to the second part: the nature of the lie. Remember, not all lies are equally harmful. In this case, the U.S. government responded to the murder of four Americans by treating our constitutional rights as part of the problem. A former teacher of constitutional law, Obama was happy to watch the country argue new limits on free expression and the necessity of giving bloodthirsty savages and terrorists a heckler's veto on what Americans can do or say.
Clinton was in on that lie, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Tribune Media Services
Jonah Goldberg is an editor at large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.