Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bill Clinton, Master of the Verb "to Be"

Yesterday we talked about the “What it is is” construction that seems to be making the rounds, and I was reminded of the most famous “is is” construction of them all: Bill Clinton’s explanation to Solomon Wisenburg during the Ken Starr impeachment hearings as to how Monica Lewinsky’s affidavit that was referenced by his attorney at the Paula Jones deposition was not a lie.

By leading with someone else’s (Lewinsky’s) denial of an affair that was entered into evidence at a deposition of yet a third person, Paula Jones, Wisenburg introduced two degrees of separation that, while not to such a degree as to allow the denial to fairly be called hearsay, still muddied the connection enough to give the president a little wiggle room, which is all Slick Willie ever needs.

In addition, Lewinsky’s statement, introduced at the Paula Jones deposition, was very precise in its tense management of the verb to be: “…there is absolutely no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form, with President Clinton.”

Wisenburg’s failure to parse the simple present from the simple past from the past participle proved to be his undoing. Clinton knows this stuff inside out and made a meal of him.

“It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is. If "is" means is and never has been … that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement.”

He went on to perform a game of rhetorical button-button-who’s-got-the-button, thanks to Wisenburg having approached him from a second person’s testimony at a third person’s deposition:

“it is somewhat unusual for a client to be asked about his lawyer's statements, instead of the other way around. I was not paying a great deal of attention to this exchange. I was focusing on my own testimony.  And if you go back and look at the sequence of this, you will see that the Jones lawyers decided that this was going to be the Lewinsky deposition, not the Jones deposition. And, given the facts of their case, I can understand why they made that decision. But that is not how I prepared for it. That is not how I was thinking about it.  And I am not sure, Mr. Wisenberg, as I sit here today, that I sat there and followed all these interchanges between the lawyers. I'm quite sure that I didn't follow all the interchanges between the lawyers all that carefully. And I don't really believe, therefore, that I can say Mr. Bennett's testimony or statement is testimony and is imputable to me. I didn't -- I don't know that I was even paying that much attention to it.”

He earned no points on that witness stand with the American people for his disingenuous gamesmanship, but when you're a goalie in a game of turd hockey, I guess you do what you have to do. Love him or hate him, one must objectively assess that Bill Clinton walked up to Solomon Wisenburg on that day, turned his hat sideways, flicked his ear, took his lunch money, turned him around and kicked him in the pants, and then sent him home over the verb to be.