Rewriting history in real time

Memories are always selective in politics. Candidates concentrate on what makes them look best and forget those embarrassing little moments that put them in a bad light.

Call it rewriting history in real time. Call it selective omission. Call it outright lying. They all do it.

Writes Mark Leibovich in The New York Times:

Stealing a page from the Soviet playbook, the current crop of presidential candidates has taken to eliminating whole chapters of their histories.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s turbulent final years as first lady? While Mrs. Clinton, a New York Democrat, frequently invokes husband Bill on the stump, she has managed to avoid any mention of his impeachment and the unpleasantness leading to it.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, almost never brings up campaign finance overhaul, perhaps his signature achievement in the Senate. The McCain-Feingold finance law is loathed by many of the conservatives Mr. McCain is courting, and he typically only discusses the measure when opponents hurl it at him — as Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, did in a debate on Tuesday.

For his part, Mr. Romney likes to promote his experience as a governor, but is often coy about the state he governed. (Hint: It is viewed by many Republicans as an outpost of run-amok liberalism.) In campaign advertisements in early primary states, Mr. Romney boasts that he was “the Republican governor who turned around a Democratic state” and “vetoed hundreds of spending appropriations.” But you would never know where.

Didn’t John Edwards once run for vice president? Mr. Edwards, a Democrat and former senator from North Carolina, tends to erase his stint as What’s His Name’s running mate in 2004.

It is no revelation that campaigns conspicuously omit things. There are always unpleasant facts, episodes or viewpoints that run counter to the public self a candidate is marketing. But one of the striking features of the 2008 campaigns is the pungency of the various elephants in the various rooms. Candidates are strenuously de-emphasizing or ignoring completely experiences that are defining and, in many cases, extremely well known.

“There’s always a tension between what can be said, what should be said and what must be said,” said Edward Widmer, a historian at Brown University who was speechwriter for Mr. Clinton. “The first candidate to calibrate this tension may move to the head of the pack.”