Yesterday, once again, the Internet was aflutter with the slippery words of Bill Clinton. “A great democracy,” the former president claimed, “does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” This is vintage stuff from Slick Willy: It contains just about enough truth to seem credible while leaving a distinct and outsized — and thoroughly misleading — impression upon the listeners, most of whom will never bother to check the facts.
In Salon today, Alex Seitz-Wald seizes on Clinton’s phrase with unalloyed joy. Clinton, he claims, not only delivered “one of the best lines of the day, but one of the best lines of the debate over voting rights.” I suppose if one is interested only in the political efficacy of what were extremely carefully chosen words, then this is a fair reaction. But, contra Seitz-Wald’s conclusion, what Clinton said is not “absolutely true.” In fact, one needs to add an awful lot of caveats to get even to the dizzy heights of “partially true.”
Seitz-Wald’s defense rests heavily on a familiar line of argument. “Under federal law,” he writes: