Last week in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton resurrected one of her favorite tales—the story of her unsuccessful effort to join the Marine Corps in the mid-1970s. The account has drawn skepticism over the years, and for good reason. She has offered little to back it up. But it’s the perfect anecdote to illustrate what she’d like people to see as the challenges to her candidacy—sexism and ageism—and so it’s proven irresistible.
The original version of the story came two decades ago, shortly after she moved into the White House with her husband. She described meeting a recruiter for the Marines, telling him of her desire to serve her country, and recalled his response.
“You’re too old, you can’t see, and you’re a woman,” she says he told her. “It was not a very encouraging conversation,” she told her audience, adding: “I decided maybe I’ll look for another way to serve my country.”
What compelled Clinton to seek to join the Marines? That’s not clear. But it certainly would have been an odd fit, though not because of her age or sex. Clinton was a promising young lawyer about to marry a rising political star. She had been an active opponent of the Vietnam war and, as Maureen Dowd noted at the time, had worked on the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, strongly antiwar candidates.
Nonetheless, she deployed the anecdote again last week, once more describing the exchange with the recruiter in the 1970s.
He looks at me and goes, “Um, how old are you?” And I said, “Well, I am 26, I will be 27.” And he goes, “Well, that is kind of old for us.” And then he says to me, and this is what gets me, “Maybe the dogs will take you,” meaning the Army.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported after the campaign stop that the Clinton campaign refused to provide anything more to back up the account. And he made clear that he was skeptical of her tale. “It seems so unusual that a Yale-educated lawyer who worked on the antiwar campaigns of McCarthy and McGovern, who had just moved to Arkansas, whose husband was about to become the attorney general of the state would decide to want to join the Marines.”
The episode was notable not only because Clinton retold her questionable story, but also because a reporter from a mainstream outlet expressed healthy skepticism about her account. Zeleny is an outstanding reporter with a highly calibrated B.S. detector. But he’s the exception. Clinton is often allowed to make dubious claims without generating any scrutiny at all.
Take Sidney Blumenthal. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Blumenthal, the longtime Clinton family apparatchik, is relevant to the Benghazi inquiry or whether the congressional committee’s investigators should devote much time to his role as an adviser to Clinton. But what’s beyond dispute is that he was an adviser to Clinton.
And yet Clinton disputed just that during her appearance before the Benghazi Select Committee. “He was not at all my adviser on Libya,” she testified.
Not at all her adviser? Yes, he was. Blumenthal sent Clinton dozens of emails on Libya policy. She read his advice, shared his advice, asked for more of his advice, made decisions based on his advice, and even tasked senior State Department officials with acting on his advice. Jake Sullivan, a top policy aide, reported in an email to Clinton that the speechmaking shop had turned a Blumenthal email into prepared remarks for her. Another email indicates that Clinton directed Ambassador Chris Stevens to follow up on a memo from Blumenthal. And in yet another email, Clinton suggests passing to the Israelis an intelligence report on Libya that she’d gotten from Blumenthal.
At the time Blumenthal provided this steady stream of advice, he was being paid by both the Clinton Foundation and political entities that would later support Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Maybe it depends on what the meaning of “adviser” is? Perhaps when Clinton said he was “not at all my adviser” she really meant he was not an official adviser?
She did not. “Sid Blumenthal was not my adviser—official or unofficial—about Libya,” she said later.
This claim is categorically untrue. It’s demonstrably, provably false. It’s not a matter of interpretation. It’s not a gray area. It’s a lie. There is literally not another word in the English language that better describes Blumenthal’s relationship to Clinton than “adviser.”
And yet reporters covering the hearing not only let her lie pass unchallenged, many of them praised her for her performance.