- - Wednesday, September 7, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

T.S. Eliot only thought April is the cruelest month. He didn’t live long enough to sample the 2016 presidential campaign. Besides, he skipped the country to take up citizenship in England.

September and October are the cruelest months this year, leading out of a long, hot summer to an autumn road to the momentous decision: Who will preside over the Oval Office for the next four years? In Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland,” there’s the reprise of familiar words he heard at the end of the evening at his pub: “Hurry up, please, it’s time.” They’re words that come to mind now as summer gives way to the sprint toward November.

The conventional wisdom (which is not always wrong) says most voters have made up their minds, that it’s all over but the counting. But the polls are rocking with different numbers, suggesting that a lot of people still aren’t sure. Donald Trump’s negatives haven’t changed much, but Hillary’s now outpace his. His missteps and mistakes congealed after he won the nomination and set a tone through insults and personal attacks, drawing a caricature of a bully leaving deep footprints in the landscape.

Hillary’s missteps, by contrast, have a softer, insidious consistency as she continues to tiptoe around the truth as if it were something that might stick to her shoe. She has told so many lies that it’s hard to keep up with the minutiae of her manipulation. Eyes glaze over. Two decades ago William Safire, the columnist for The New York Times, said Americans would eventually see Hillary Clinton, who was then first lady, as a “congenital liar,” someone born to lie. He cataloged chapter and verse of her mendacity, and though the specifics have changed, the pattern she set has remained with an eerie persistence.

Hillary’s lies, he wrote, were not irrational, because they enabled her to buy delay and distract. In one particular example, when the FBI found copies of her “lost” records, she “found” them, too, and lucky for her they miraculously appeared two days after the statute of limitations expired, which enabled her to evade a civil lawsuit. Friends and aides could be counted on to help her cover her tracks and she would “advance” their careers.

Bill Safire thought she would inevitably trap herself in the web of her mendacity, but until now she has run out the clock when she had to. Timing, in love, war and politics, as we all know, is everything. The clock continues to move in her favor, but the tick and the tock have taken on a baleful note. A new CNN poll shows Donald Trump not only closing the gap, but inching ahead by 2 points in a four-way race with Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party. The third and fourth candidates might do for Donald Trump what Ross Perot did for Bubba against George H.W. Bush in 1992, draining just enough attention and votes to enable the Donald to squeak through to win.

No doubt Hillary thought her emails and reckless abuse of national security would be long gone from the public mind by now, and the Clinton Foundation, so adept at scooping up millions from rich foreigners anticipating business with a new president, would be seen as a clutch of do-gooders on missions of mercy. Instead, she’s suffering the wounds of a thousand cuts. She has counted on his low numbers on honesty being worse than hers, and she can’t count on that any longer.

In that latest CNN poll, the Republican nominee trumps Hillary for honesty and trustworthiness by 15 points among likely voters. His brash reality-show style may be better suited to the times than her calculated lying. He explains his donations to varied causes: “I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.” He adds: “And that’s a broken system.”

The Clinton style is to take advantage of the broken system in another way. When she was secretary of State she invited Douglas Becker, who founded Laureate International Universities, a for-profit college company, and “a man Bill likes a lot,” to an intimate dinner at the State Department on global diplomacy in higher-education policy. Nine months later, Bill became a consultant and “honorary chancellor” of Laureate, earning $17.6 million. Mr. Becker has since given millions to the Clinton Foundation.

Images and impressions begin to stick now, as character will out. The conventional wisdom, carefully nurtured by the media, has been saying that Hillary would win in a landslide. Now the odds are changing. In the race to the bottom it’s hard to discern a winner. “Hurry up, please, it’s time.”

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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