As lies go, they are tiny. But because they are so blatantly false and unnecessary, they stand out as a defining moment.
"This was Patti's decision," Hillary Clinton insisted about why she booted campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle. Piling on the whoppers, Clinton later added that, contrary to clear evidence her campaign is in trouble, "I feel good about where we are."
Clinton was recorded making those ridiculous statements by news organizations around the nation, mostly without comment. None was necessary. It was just another unremarkable moment in the downhill slide of American politics. Lies, big ones and little ones, are so much a part of the landscape that we don't even take note of them anymore.
It is the sort of event that recalls the late Sen. Pat Moynihan's line about "deviancy defined down" when the outrageous becomes routine. Moynihan was talking about how New York got used to rampant street crime and inept government, but Washington has developed its own version of the soul-sapping disease.
Then along comes Barack Obama to shatter our habit of low expectations. Win or lose, he has made a genuine contribution by redefining our political discourse. In his hands, the contest is about hope and inspiration instead of demonizing and distortion. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it will be almost impossible to put it back in.
And not just among the throngs of young voters he has inspired. Even us graybeards, reared on the idealism of the '60s, have longed for a reason to trust our own generation with power. Instead, we got Bushes and Clintons. One gave us faith-based facts, the others gave us parsing and the definition of "is."
There are many reasons for Obama's phenomenal rise, not the least being he is a racial Rorschach test as well as a gem of a speaker. But it is the zinging content of his speeches that have shaken the country and mark him as a threat to the old order, starting with Clinton herself.
When Obama talks, as he did Tuesday in Maryland, of voters being "tricked, bamboozled, fooled and hoodwinked," he is condemning her generation. When he says voters "are tired of the politics of the past, tired of spin, tired of PR," he doesn't have to name names.
We've all known this side of the Clintons, and yet, because we accepted it, they succeeded. And because they succeeded, others copied them. The result is a disaster, with apathy and cynicism toward government our secular religion.
Hillary's little lies about her campaign remind me of the way Bill started his presidential race in 1992. In March of that year, a Daily News reporter asked him whether he had ever used drugs. Clinton answered firmly, "I have never broken the laws of my country."
Technically true, but in plain English, a lie. The desired implication that his answer was no was misleading because he later admitted he had smoked marijuana in London. Even then, Clinton had to suggest he was innocent, saying he never inhaled.
Fast forward 16 years to Obama. After admitting in his first book he used drugs, including marijuana, Obama was asked by a playful reporter whether he had inhaled. Obama smiled and said, "that was the point."
The topic is narrow, but the contrast is striking. And that's the point. If we can't trust pols to tell us the truth on small things, why should we trust them on big things?
We will know soon enough whether Obama's time has come and whether he can meet his own standards. But we don't have to wait for a verdict on something that transcends him. The enthusiasm he has generated already proves that politics doesn't have to be just another lie.