“A liar needs a good memory”

Mark Penn says Billy Shaheen voluntarily resigned from the Clinton campaign. Billy Shaheen says that Billy Shaheen voluntarily resigned from the Clinton campaign. Hillary Rodham Clinton says that Billy Shaheen was fired from the Clinton campaign.

Or, in this case, a whole collection of liars. Mark Penn insisted that Billy Shaheen had stepped down voluntarily as co-chair of Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign after Shaheen suggested that Barack Obama might have been a drug dealer. (That was just before Penn himself used the word “cocaine” with respect to Obama, just in case the smear hadn’t gotten out all the way.) And the statement released in Shaheen’s name said the same thing.

OK, that was pretty obviously a routine campaign falsehood. Presumably the “resignation” was part of the deal with Shaheen. In return for his stepping down “voluntarily,” the campaign agreed not to fire him, thus sparing his wife, the likely Democratic Senate candidate in New Hampshire, embarrassment. I didn’t complain about it at the time; there’s nothing really wrong with trying to help an ally maintain some shreds of his dignity.

Only someone forgot to tell the candidate.

“We asked him to step down,” Clinton said during a media blitz that saw her go on six morning news shows. “Every time somebody in my campaign says something that we don’t believe is right, appropriate, we take care of it… We move quickly. And we will keep doing it.”

Of course, the campaign didn’t “move quickly” in the first place; it wasn’t until the next day that Shaheen’s “resignation” was announced. But putting that aside, what’s happening here?

The less disgraceful explanation would be that HRC actually ordered Shaheen dumped, or was told my someone in the campaign that the decision to dump him had been made, that he agreed to be dumped quietly in return for making it look voluntary or some campaign honcho decided that the alternative would be too costly in New Hampshire, and that they never go their stories straight. Penn told the agreed lie, and Hillary told the simple truth without knowing that she was contradicting both Shaheen and Penn. But how plausible is it that the candidate was never told about the arrangement and never saw a reference to in in a newspaper or on TV?

The more disgraceful explanation would be that the Senator simply decided to double-cross Shaheen, or. to put the matter more kindly, simply decided to tell the interviewer the thing that sounded best at that particular moment. No one in Iowa cares about the Shaheen-for-Senate campaign, and firing someone for making a dingbat comment suggests leadership and action-on-principle as simply accepting a resignation does not.

Either way, it’s pretty bad. One of the worst things about the Bush Administration is that it has made us tin-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists of us all; no matter how absurd the conspiracy theory &#8212 the White House staff deliberately burning a CIA officer engaged in preventing the acquisition of WMD by Iran, of all the ridiculous notions! &#8212 it has turned out to be true. By the same token, the HRC campaign seems to be doing its best to spread Clinton Derangement Syndrome. I’ll never forgive Hillary for making me into a Hillary-hater.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com