‘Let’s hope Hillary doesn’t get lipstick on her teeth between now and November or it’s all over,” joked Samantha Bee, on her comedy show “Full Frontal.”
True enough to be funny — to women, anyway. To make it to the White House, Hillary Clinton must overcome judgments about the tone of her voice and the color of her pantsuit. Less funny but also true: She must also overcome judgments about the less-than-honest answer she gave to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday'' about her private e-mail server. Donald Trump's ongoing implosion gives her breathing room, but it's not the end of this story.
If the battle for the White House comes down to knowledge, experience, and temperament, Clinton wins. If it's liar versus liar — Trump has a chance. Why give it to him?
In the interview with Wallace, Clinton said FBI director James Comey backed up her claim that she told the public the whole truth about the private server she kept during her time as secretary of state. "Director Comey said my answers were truthful and what I've said is consistent with what I told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the e-mails," she told Wallace.
PolitiFact.com — a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website run by the Tampa Bay Times — concluded her answer was so not true that it deserved a "Pants on Fire" rating. And Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave Clinton four "Pinocchios" for her response to Wallace.
This is what Comey said during a July 7 congressional hearing concerning Clinton's interview with the FBI: "We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI."
When Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, asked Comey, "Did she lie to the public?," Comey replied, "That's a question I'm not qualified to answer."
As PolitFact.com also pointed out, "When Comey announced the FBI's findings July 5, it was clear that there are obvious inconsistencies between what Clinton said publicly about classified information on her private e-mail server before her FBI interview and what the FBI found."
Up against Trump's lies, distortions, and despicable attacks on the parents of a war hero who died in Iraq, does this matter? Yes — politically, it does.
As Ron Fournier, National Journal's senior political columnist, wrote for The Atlantic regarding Clinton's answer to Wallace: "Her dishonesty could push an unknown number of independent and undecided voters into Trump's camp or toward a nonmajor-party candidate. If too many swing voters walk away from Clinton because she destroyed her credibility, or because they don't want to condone her behavior, the nuclear codes go to Trump."
Fearing the consequences of a Trump victory, Fournier begged Clinton to "stop lying." Media critic Dan Kennedy is begging the press to avoid "the pull of artificial balance and false equivalence" and to make sure voters understand that "Trump's deficits are massively more significant than Clinton's."
The press can and should point out Trump's grave deficiencies. But voters can't forget the truth they already know. In this election, they are also weighing one candidate's untruthfulness against the other candidate's untruthfulness. Clinton's dishonesty about the e-mail server will be measured against Trump's dishonesty about dodging the draft and other lies. Clinton can't change the past, but she can make a case for truthfulness going forward. That's her job, not the media's.
Sure, the need to keep lipstick off her teeth between now and November is so superficial it's laughable. The answer she gave to Wallace is not.
If you want her to win, that's no joke.