Paul Ryan is a pretty fit dude, but his best marathon time is just over 4 hours, not just under 3 hours, as he claimed on a radio show, only to correct his misstatement later. A number of my Facebook friends have linked to the New Yorker article that I've linked to, with comments ranging from "What a SCUMBAG" to "Paul Ryan even lies about his marathon times. At least he's consistent."
First of all, speaking as a hardcore runner, I find it pretty hard to believe that Ryan just misremembered his finishing time, especially when he ran only one marathon. Misremembering your time as 2:50ish instead of 4:00ish is sort of like if I told people my 5K PR time is 16:00 instead of 21:27 (shaving ~25% off the time). 21:27 is pretty decent for local races, but it's nothing special. 16:00 isn't Olympic caliber, but it's damn fast.
Okay, so assuming he lied, is he a scumbag? Does the fact that he lied about his marathon time predict or demonstrate anything about his performance as a politician?
I don't know, but it seems to me that for those who believe that he is a scumbag, or that he's inherently untrustworthy as a politician, I'm curious whether they held the same view of President Clinton as a result of his lies about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
After all, both could be said to have lied about "personal matters" -- that being Clinton's primary defense. But now consider the differences:
(1) Clinton's lie hurt someone else's reputation: Lewinsky. She may have been the aggressor in pursuing the relationship, but she was not lying about it, and she was not a deluded stalker. (I mean, she may have stalked him as prey initially, but she caught her prey.) Ryan's lie, on the other hand, did not harm anyone else.
(2) Clinton's lie was not solely a private matter, as it ultimately came about in a civil lawsuit. One can argue that the lawsuit was politically motivated (whatever that means), but there is no "my litigation adversary has bad motives" exception to allow you to give false evidence. If there were, defendants in employment lawsuits would always claim the right to lie because their opponents were financially motivated. One can also argue that the Lewinsky affair was consensual and thus not relevant to a sexual harassment lawsuit (a fairly persuasive argument, to me) -- but the district judge overruled this objection. There is no "I disagree with the judge's ruling" right to lie in civil litigation. Ryan's lie has nothing to do with any lawsuit or any other matter, legal or otherwise.
(3) Clinton's lie was, at times, under oath.
Now, I should say that I don't think politicians -- particularly Presidents -- should always feel obligated to tell the truth. President Carter dissembled when, on the eve of Operation Eagle Claw (the Iran hostage rescue mission), he was asked by Senator Byrd whether the U.S. was going to take any military action against Iran. Carter said that before mining the harbor or bombing Tehran, he would consult Congress. Technically true (he didn't lay mines or drop bombs) but very misleading. Yet, given the overriding need for mission secrecy, this lie seems to me not only acceptable but most likely called for.
But those are lies made for the perceived benefit of the nation, not for the individual politician's reputation or image. Both Clinton's and Ryan's lies were made with the apparent intent to benefit themselves, not the country. They are a similar species in that sense. But on the three key dimensions I identified above, Clinton's were worse.
To be clear, I don't mean to suggest that "OMG Clinton lied, impeach him, remove him from office!!!" is called for. Not do I mean that Ryan's lie is aboslutely irrelevant. As a runner, I certainly view it as a negative. And one could acknowledge that Clinton's lie was bad without seeing it as overriding everything else that one might admire about his accomplishments. My point is just that people who are out to denounce Paul Ryan as a liar, but who attempted to excuse Clinton's lie (as opposed to placing it in some kind of balance against his positives), should perhaps reevaluate their previous lack of outrage.