The Clinton campaign apparently thought that presenting Hillary Clinton herself, and saying true things about Obama, might not be enough to convince people to vote for her. There are ways of responding to this thought that demonstrate respect for people's right to make up their own mind whom to vote for: trying to become a more compelling candidate, for instance, or accepting the possibility of defeat. But lying is not one of them.
Lying in an election is basically a way of saying: we know how you ought to vote, and if we can't get you to vote that way by presenting you with facts and arguments, or even with truthful but emotionally shaded appeals, then we will get you to vote our way by telling you things that are not true. It's hard to see what could be more profoundly disrespectful of people's right to decide for themselves whom to vote for.
This is simply intolerable, and I'm increasingly hopeful that informed and responsible citizens will not, in fact, tolerate it any longer. Here, for example, is the former president of Chicago NOW, explaining how Clinton's blatant lies drove her to become an Obama supporter:
I don't think it's sufficiently widely appreciated just how important this issue is. I mean, we're constantly complaining about the wretched state of public discourse and the dishonesty of politicians, and yet it is accepted as necessary and inevitable. (Some cynics even consider sleazy viciousness a virtue in politicians. Again, all I have to say to such people is: read Hilzoy.)
But it is not inevitable. In Obama, we finally have a candidate who promises to turn things around, to change the way that politics is done. He offers a clear alternative: we need not join the race to the slimy bottom. And if we embrace this alternative, and state clearly and publicly that our reason for doing so is that we will not tolerate dishonesty in our representatives, then maybe - just maybe - things will begin to change. If we can ensure that dishonesty is a losing strategy, an instant disqualifier the same way that racism is, even the most unprincipled politicians will begin to respond to these incentives. But it's up to us:
It's not the lies; it's people in the Democratic party who realize they're lies being indifferent to them, and Democratic voters rewarding them. Of all the major groups in politics--the press, GOP politicians, Democratic politicians, Democratic voters, GOP voters--the only ones I trust at all are Democratic voters. And the presidential primary is our best shot to try to change things for the better. And we always blow it.
It's not too late. Every voice helps: please do your bit.
* See also Bruce Baugh's comment:
I'm certainly not the first to point this out, but it really reflects badly on her qualifications for office at this particular time. We've got a president who takes all disagreement as attacks to be crushed by any means possible, who rejects diplomacy as a thing losers do, and so on. A big part of the new president's job will be repairing the damage from all that - giving potential allies and partners reasons to think we're trustworthy again. It seems really unlikely to me that someone who campaigns this way can go on to govern effectively in the diametrically opposite style, and I don't want to gamble on it.
Update: Obama's hard-hitting response to the smears is spot-on: "Hillary Clinton. She'll say anything, and change nothing."