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Hillary Clinton Is Not a Liar

May 20, 2016, 7:41 PM UTC
Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Campaigns In New Hampshire
Darren McCollester—Getty Images

Birds fly. Fish swim. And politicians tell people what they want to hear. But that doesn’t make them liars.

More than 7 million people have watched a YouTube video entitled, “Hillary Clinton lying for 13 minutes straight.”

As the video begins, a popup appears, promising that the video is not intended to be in support of Donald Trump’s candidacy and that a similar video for the presumptive Republican nominee would be coming soon:

There’s just one problem with the video: much of what it shows isn’t actually Hillary Clinton lying; it’s just typical political pandering. You can dislike the fact that politicians base their positions on what is popular at the time, but it is a simple fact of life in a a diverse, heterogenous democratic society.

So, let’s look at a few of the supposed lies Clinton has told.

The video includes a series of clips from Clinton’s time as a senator and while she Secretary of State where she opposes same-sex marriage, reiterating several times that marriage is something between a man and a woman. Then there’s a clip from 2013 where she supports same-sex marriage. The video also shows a an interview with radio host Terry Gross where Clinton denies having changed her opinion for political gain.

Okay, so the very last bit may be a lie. The rest of it, though, is classic politics. In the 1990s and early 2000s, being publicly supportive of gay marriage wasn’t politically advantageous, so Clinton was against it. By 2013, public opinion had swung and so she came out in favor. Is this a good way to base your policies? Maybe not. But it isn’t lying.

The video also includes Clinton giving different answers as to whether she is a “progressive,” a “moderate,” or somewhere in between. The truth is that Clinton falls in different places on different issues. On healthcare, for example, she campaigned to the left of Barack Obama in 2008. On foreign policy, meanwhile, she is more hawkish than most Democrats (and some Republicans).

Again, it makes sense that Clinton would tell a crowd in a state like Ohio that she is a moderate, given that the state is generally more centrist. And it makes sense that she’d play up her progressive credentials in a Democratic debate, where hardcore Democrats, who tend to be further to the left, are most likely to be watching. If there was ever a case outside of 1990s-era comedies where the phrase “don’t hate the player, hate the game” were appropriate, this would be it.

Finally, there is the question of Clinton’s position on Wall Street and big banks. When accused by Bernie Sanders of being too close to the Wall Street financial firms, she claims that there is nothing wrong with it and that she was merely acting as their representative, which she was as Senator from New York. But she’ll also tell a group of progressive activists that she is willing to break up the banks if needed.

Again, she’s telling people what they want to hear. That may not be a virtue, but it isn’t a lie, and it doesn’t make Clinton an untrustworthy or unsavory individual — at least no more so than every other politician operating within a democratic system.

At the same time, some research suggests that politicians aren’t the excessive panderers we think they are. A study from political scientists Robert Y. Shapiro and Lawrence R. Jacobs published in 1997 argues that politicians’ opinions don’t move with the opinion polls as much as some might think. Still, it is hard to look at the positions Hillary Clinton has expressed over the years—or those that Donald Trump offers over the course of a few hours—and not draw the conclusion that those running for office “evolve” quite rapidly.

There are various schools of thought on this: some would say Clinton is merely reflecting the views of her constituents, while others would say she is leading from behind and avoiding risk at the expense of her morals.

The video contains a few segments that can’t be explained away by pandering, namely the sequence about the State Department e-mail scandal and the question of Clinton’s statements about landing in wartorn Bosnia from the 2008 cycle. Without the ability to read Clinton’s mind, it is difficult to make a firm judgment on these situations.

Every politician is likely telling you what you want to hear. It isn’t just Hillary Clinton.