Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Clinton "mistake" is like a Monty Python skit

As each new day arrives on the election campaign, and as I hear the different politicians swap "I had it worse, more dangerous, more death-defying, more miserable than you" conditions, I am reminded of Monty Python, with Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, and Terry Gilliam in the "We were poor" skit.

They keep comparing how bad each of them had it when they were growing up, and it degenerates into the following...


GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!

TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! We used to have to live in a corridor!

MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin' in a corridor! Woulda' been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.

EI: Well when I say "house" it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpaulin, but it was a house to US.

GC: We were evicted from our hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!

TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.

MP: Cardboard box?

TG: Aye.

MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for 14 hours a day week in, week out. When we got home, out Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!


You get the general idea of where the skit goes from there.

Today I was reminded of this as I read an AP story about Hillary Rodham Clinton admitting she misspoke, or perhaps made a mistake, about a claim of being under hostile fire while visiting Bosnia in 1996. Guess this is her way of comparing herself to John McCain's prisoner-of-war experiences, or Barack Obama's stories about his family and life.

According to AP, "In a recent speech and interviews, the New York senator described a harrowing scene in Tuzla, Bosnia, in which she and her daughter, Chelsea, had to run for cover as soon as they landed for a visit in 1996. But video footage of the day showed a peaceful reception in which a young girl greeted the first lady on the tarmac.

"Clinton told reporters in Pennsylvania on Tuesday that she erred in describing the scene, which she now realizes after talking with aides and others."

She then explained she was tired, it's been a long campaign, and ... well, what's a little mistake like that?

Hmmm. Is this how it begins? Today ... it's mixing up a greeting by a friendly young girl on the tarmac with being fired at by enemies ... Tomorrow ... you think you saw weapons of mass destruction hiding under somene's dining room table at some state function in a foreign country?

This is more than just a mistake, and this isn't that funny. Clinton is running for the top job in the country, the top decision maker in time of crisis, and the country is relying on her word regarding what is fact and fiction in time of national crisis.

What's a little exaggeration on the campaign trail? The question is, when would the exaggeration stop and what should we believe?

And while yes, 1996 was a few years ago, and perhaps she had travelled a lot and maybe she was in more dangerous circumstances at other points in her life, these things do stick in the memory. One remembers if there was real danger or not.

For example, in 1996 I remember doing an interview at a university in Chile when water cannons and tear gas were used to break up a student demonstration on that campus. I recall the university personnel attempting to rush my colleagues and me away from the danger, asking us to run away as fast as we could up a hill from the campus — and I recall the burning sensation of tear gas affecting my eyes and throat.

Was I in real danger? No. But there definitely was an adrenaline rush and fear of what happens next.

A person tends to remember what's real and not real, even if it was more than 10 years ago.

While Clinton might have been caught this time on her "mistake," it will be interesting to see what she and other political candidates learn from this.

Hopefully we won't hear next about them living in shoebox houses.

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