HONORS 195: Rhetoric of Impeachment; Fall, 1999, John Dewey Honors Program, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Vermont
Alfred C. Snider, Edwin W. Lawrence Professor of Forensics

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Bill Clinton:

Rhetorical Settings, Strategies, and Paradoxical Popularity

Travis Morrison

December, 1999

Everyone knows what he did with Monica Lewinsky. They watched him shake his finger and lie to their face on national television. They heard his promise to be forthcoming with the truth, and head about how he patiently hair-split his way through four hours of grand jury testimony. Why is he still here?

The answer lies in a combination of Clinton’s rhetorical strategy and extrinsic circumstances.

Bill Clinton’s rhetoric is two-fold. His problem is unique in that he must communicate in two different forums–in a public context to the American people and in a legal context to the House and Senate. This presents some unique problems. Although the two arenas are different, they are mixed–what the President says publicly can be held against him legally, and what he says in court is presented to the public through the media. Clinton’s challenge is to develop rhetoric that is optimum for the arena it is delivered in, but compatible with the other arena’s rhetoric as well.

In both situations, Clinton is always in control of what he is saying; neither reporters nor jurors can put him on the run, or catch him in a misunderstanding he cannot adequately explain, refute, or deny. Although the tone of his public and legal rhetoric sometimes conflict, they are effective nonetheless. We will begin by examining his public rhetoric.

The purpose of Clinton’s public rhetoric is to win the support of the American people, relative to the Republicans and the Independent Counsel. The support of the people will ensure the eventual cooperation of the House and Senate–who are directly responsible to the public for their jobs. Because Clinton is speaking to a broad and diverse audience, he is limited in his rhetorical choices. First, he does not have the option of custom-tailored messages–everything he says will be heard by everyone, so he is forced to keep all statements as broad and universally appealing as possible. Second, communication is exclusively through the mass media, so all statements must be clear, short, and easily quotable. This will ensure that the right sound bite gets picked for the evening news and that the length of statement won’t exceed the disinterested individual’s attention span.

Regarding his public statements on the scandal, President Clinton prefers one of two formats: to show up, make a single prepared statement on the matter, and then leave; (Dec 11, Sept 11, Aug 17) or alternatively, end an unrelated press conference with a single statement on the matter and then leave (Jan 26, Jul 31). Clinton does not like to answer specific questions, and will not offer information other than that which he has prepared. This is consistent with his style of making others play by his rules.

Clinton seeks his rhetorical purpose by admitting nothing that cannot be proven, and moving beyond what has already surfaced. Additionally, Clinton frames his rhetoric in a way that places emphasis and importance on the American people, while at the same time ignoring or trivializing his accusers, the Republicans, and the legal process in general.

We see these elements in Clinton’s January 26, 1998 denial. Asterisks have been added where he shook his finger, for extra emphasis:

Now, I have to go back to work on my state of the union speech. And I worked on it till pretty late last night. But I wanna say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me, I'm gonna say this again: I did *not *have *sexual *relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, I *never told anybody to lie, not a single time, never. These allegations are *false, and I need to *go back to work for the American people. Thank you.

This is a very short, quotable statement. Key points are repeated, and the tone is strong. Notice the use of "sexual relations"–a carefully chosen term that Clinton hopes will be interpreted broadly, although he secretly holds a very narrow definition of it. Because his involvement with Monica Lewinsky has not yet been proven, he denies the accusations vehemently. He will later apologize to the public numerous times for misleading the American people, although his apologies are much less forthcoming in court.

Clinton’s post-denial statements continue to be short and simple, although the anger of the denial is replaced by a "sin-redemption" structure: Clinton begins with a remorseful tone, as he admits his wrongdoing, and asks for forgiveness from the American people. Then, before remorse can pass into shame, he turns the statement toward the future, toward rebirth, and learning from experience. These statements usually end with the tone of new beginnings, forward motion, and the strength of redemption. In this way, Clinton can appear remorseful without being pathetic, and acknowledge his failures without looking weak. He turns a negative experience into a positive one, and doesn’t look back.

Clinton’s strategy of admitting what has been proved, denying what cannot be proved, and moving on is well-demonstrated by how he treats his accusers. While he originally distanced himself from "that woman," (January 26) Monica Lewinsky, he changed his strategy once evidence of their affair surfaced. After that, he found it necessary to treat her with civility. He apologized to her and her family, and generally treated her with a semblance of respect. (Prayer Breakfast) This was important for Clinton, because if he had treated her badly when everyone knew they’d had a relationship, he would have looked like a womanizing jerk. Additionally, by pulling Lewinsky closer but keeping other accusers (Willey, Jones, Flowers) at a distance, he further trivialized these other womens’ allegations. Lewinsky got the spotlight, and although the other accusers had older claims, they were seen as secondary in the eyes of the media and the public. The focus on the relatively uncontroversial Lewinsky affair (unlike the other women, she had no problem with the President) was undoubtedly beneficial for Clinton.

When speaking to the public, Clinton’s purpose is to secure the support of the American people. His apologies, requests for forgiveness, and stated desire to get back to work for the American people are a constant theme (July 31, Aug 17, Sept 11, Dec 11, statement after Impeachment). He never says anything negative about the American people; instead, he praises them for their support, and always assumes that they are on his side. By doing this, he wins the support of the people, who feel that his apology for an act concerning his private life is sufficient. And having given their forgiveness, the people would like to see the President get back to work, as he constantly expresses his desire to do.

Clinton’s point in repeating that he’d like to get back to work for the American people is to alienate the people from the media, the Republicans, and the independent counsel. The people will see that the President wants to get back to work; but they know he can’t because of the impeachment process. The people learn to hate the President’s enemies, because the President wants to move on, the people want to move on, and only a few want to proceed with a trial. The harder Clinton’s enemies fight, the stronger his support gets. Clinton’s apparent purpose is to seek forgiveness from the American people; the implicit purpose is to turn them against his opponents. It is important that Clinton have the people on his side because it is the people who elect the Congress, and it is the Congress that is in control of the impeachment issues.

Clinton’s language, even in a public context, is always chosen with caution. He is careful to avoid imagery or graphic language, preferring to use terms such as "inappropriate intimate contact," and "inappropriate sexual banter," and to bring the subject up as infrequently as possible. (statement following grand jury testimony) This choice of language is extremely important. By avoiding graphic language, Clinton is keeping the issue impersonal and sterile. The audience does not link the subject matter and the speaker as closely when bland, indescriptive terminology is used.

The benefits of avoiding this language can be seen when we compare Clinton to Kenneth Starr and the media. Starr is the one that brought us the details of the dress, the cigar, and the nature of the acts; the media is the outlet that made them popularly known. As a result, Starr and the media have been criticized for going too far, for using irrelevant details, and for exhibiting all-around poor tact. In this case, we didn’t take our anger out on the cause of the bad news--we killed the messenger.

However, that is not to say that Clinton’s rhetoric is always positive. For instance, after his grand jury testimony, he gives a statement in which he attacks the independent counsel; and in his January 26 1998 denial, he admonishes the press and shakes his finger at them. On the whole, however, if these attacks are made they are subtle, and he makes it clear that he is annoyed because they are interfering with his work for the American people. By doing this, Clinton gains the support of the public by recognizing their importance, while turning the public against the 'interfering' press. The same strategy is used against the Republicans, Ken Starr, and other legal enemies. (See statements made on January 22 and July 31 1998)

A good case study in public Clinton rhetoric is found in the White House Prayer Breakfast. The President opens the Prayer Breakfast by showing us how much his indiscretions have troubled him–he says that he was up late the night before, thinking and praying. He was so troubled that he wrote something down, which he tells us is something he doesn’t ordinarily do. Then he makes sure he tells us that he has to get his glasses out to read his own handwriting–now we know that he must be serious, because it is handwritten. These few sentences show that a lot of effort goes into subtly telling us how sorry he is, and how much this has affected him. He continues with his humble sinner’s tone, telling us "there is no fancy way to say that I have sinned." He asks for forgiveness from everyone–Lewinsky and family included–a move to win over those who feel bad for the woman. Continuing with the religious language, he tells us he has repented, that he has a "broken spirit," and that he needs God’s help. Although the President has mentioned God in the past (Aug 17), he never expresses his need for God to this extent. He tells us that legal language must not obscure the fact that he has done wrong (easy to say since the Grand jury testimony is behind him), and that he will continue on the path of repentance. Then, the tone picks up again, as he tells us that with a "broken spirit" and "strong heart," "I can be used for a greater good." He asks us to pray for the nation, to help it move forward, and he thanks the clergy and the common Americans who have helped him through this. He makes no excuses this time about invasion of his privacy–at the Prayer Breakfast, he considers it a blessing that his sins were discovered, for it gives him a way in which to learn and repent and show others that selfishness is wrong. Then he reads a Jewish passage on sin and redemption (showing us that he is aware of more than one denomination in the audience). Finally, a clergyman delivers a very short prayer for the President, his family, and the nation, and then they go have breakfast. The Prayer Breakfast nicely diagrams Clinton’s U-shaped cycle, as he plunges himself down with humility, into the depths of sin and a "broken spirit," then is lifted back up again by forgiveness and support, stronger than before, repentant, ready to do good deeds and make the most out of his experience.

Another strategic element of the sin-redemption structure is that by focusing on the morality of the issue, he is distracting public attention from the legal trouble he has gotten himself into. According to the way Clinton portrays it, the problem is between himself, his family, and his God–and no one else need be involved (Aug 17). In fact, even those who are not religious can see the secular value of a private life staying private. Either way, people like to see the law stay out of their lives–especially since many individuals may be guilty of indiscretions similar to Clinton’s. Clinton marginalizes the legal implications of this scandal in the same way that he marginalizes the Republicans, the press, and the Independent Counsel: he fails to recognize them with the importance they assume.

Like his public rhetoric, Clinton’s legal rhetoric is concerned with admitting what can be proven and denying what is unproven; however, in a legal context, Clinton admits virtually nothing, and resorts to legal hairsplitting to prevent anything from being technically proven. And like his public rhetoric, Clinton develops his strategy based on the audience. In the case of the House and Senate, there is a Republican majority in both houses, but not a 2/3 majority. This means that as long as near-party line voting is assured, impeachment is possible but removal from office is not. Therefore, Clinton’s purpose will be to remain "legally correct" at all costs, even if it requires an unpopular exploitation of legal technicalities. Without legal grounds for removal from office, it is unlikely that he will be convicted simply on the opinion of the senate. (house.gov)

In an effort to maintain this legal safety, Clinton is a paradigm of caution. His tone is legalistic, strong, and confident as he carefully proceeds through the questions, largely defining his own terms. His answers are never simple, as demonstrated by the excerpt below, which deals with some very simple questions at the beginning of his grand jury trial:

QUESTION: You understand it requires you to give the whole truth, that is a complete answer to each question, sir?

CLINTON: I will answer each question as accurately and fully as I can.

QUESTION: Now, you took the same oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on January 17, 1998 in a deposition in the Paul Jones litigation, is that correct, sir?

CLINTON: I did take an oath there.

QUESTION: Did the oath you took on that occasion mean the same to you then as it does today?

CLINTON: I believed then that I had to answer the questions truthfully, that's correct.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I didn't hear you, sir.

CLINTON: I believe that I had to answer the questions truthfully, that's correct.

QUESTION: And it meant the same to you then as it does today?

CLINTON: Well, no one read me a definition then and we didn't go through this exercise then. I swore an oath to tell the truth and I believed I was bound to be truthful and I tried to be.

Although Clinton eventually becomes agitated, accusing his questioners of trying to trick him, he does not let them get the best of him; he controls his anger enough to maintain control of what he is saying, and rather than agreeing to someone else’s terms, always tries to force his own.

In his grand jury testimony, Clinton employs what might be called a "statement-defense" legal structure. For instance, at the beginning of Clinton’s Grand jury testimony, he reads a statement that encompasses most of what he is willing to say. When questioned further throughout the four hours of testimony, Clinton’s favored forms or reply are a) try to answer the question by showing that it has already been answered in the statement or some other document, or b) attempting to not answer the question at all.

Although he says on more than one occasion that he will be forthcoming and cooperate with the investigation (Aug 17, Jan 22), he repeatedly attempts to dodge questions, especially those involving "details" he does not wish to discuss, by claiming that they are not necessary to the trial. He is extremely difficult when it comes to defining anything to do with sexual relations. When asked whether placing an object inside a person’s genitalia constitutes sexual relations, the President replied that he’d never thought about it and that he didn’t know. Clearly, the President was more concerned with answering carefully than with being honest in his replies.

To further illustrate the President’s strategic caution, consider the following excerpt from the 81 questions asked of him:

72. Do you admit or deny the past or present existence of or the past or present direct or indirect employment of individuals, other than counsel representing you, whose duties include making contact with or gathering information about witnesses or potential witnesses in any judicial proceeding related to any matter in which you are or could be involved?

Response to Request No. 72:

I cannot respond to this inquiry because of the vagueness of its terms"indirect,""potential,""could be involved"). To the extent it may be interpreted to apply to individuals assisting counsel, please see my responses to Request Nos. 73-75, infra. To the extent the inquiry addresses specific individuals, as in Request Nos. 73-75, I have responded and stand ready to respond to any other specific inquiries.

Granted, this is a poorly worded question, but the President has no argument with the clarity of the question as it is asked; his only problem is with the specificity. Clinton is being very careful not to volunteer any information of any sort, and will use whatever means necessary to withhold as much information as possible.

Another important element of Clinton’s strategy is that he knows just what can and cannot be proved. Take, for example, this selection from the 81 questions:

60. Do you admit or deny that on Monday, January 19, 1998, at or about 2:44 p.m., at any meeting with Vernon Jordan, Erskine Bowles, Bruce Lindsey, Cheryl Mills, Charles Ruff, Rahm Emanuel, and others, you discussed the existence of tapes of conversations between Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp recorded by Linda Tripp, or any other matter related to Monica Lewinsky?

Response to Request Nos. 59 and 60:

I do not believe such a meeting occurred. White House records included in the OIC Referral indicate that Mr. Jordan entered the White House complex that day at 2:44 p.m. Supp. at 1995. According to Mr. Jordan's testimony, he and I met alone in the Oval Office for about 15 minutes. Supp. at 1763 (grand jury testimony of Vernon Jordan).

I understand that Mr. Jordan testified that we discussed Ms. Lewinsky at that meeting and also the Drudge Report, in addition to other matters. Supp. at 1763. Please also see my Response to Request No. 48, supra.

Clinton knows exactly what can and cannot be proven, because he knows what other witnesses have said, and he knows what the records say. He constructs his defense accordingly, speaking in terms of what is already known, and volunteering little else (or as the President likes to put it, not doing the Prosecution’s work for them). Whenever possible he responds to a question not with an answer, but a reference to where an answer can be found in the records. Clinton is very familiar with what he and others have said in the past, and is careful not to contradict himself or tell a conflicting story. Where proof is vague, his answers can be left vague, allowing him the opportunity for extra flexibility.

Using the strategies shown above, President Clinton constructs a legal shelter for himself, based on what is known and what cannot be proved. This shelter allows him greater control over the proceedings, as he forces his own structure onto the game and refuses to give an inch. Playing this way gives the President the legal safety he needs to prevent conviction, as he maintains his advantage and waits for the "not guilty" vote–eventually delivered down a straight party line from the democrats, plus 10 votes from moderate or electorate-conscious Republicans who have their jobs to worry about in the next election cycle. (Cnn/Allpolitics)

Upon examining the demographics of the Senate, it is easy to see why Clinton was acquitted. However, when we look at the statistics regarding public perception, we see some puzzling contradictions.

For example, it seems that Starr and the House Managers won the legal battle in public, if not in the courtroom. According to Gallup polls (dated Dec 10, 1998), 71% of Americans thought Clinton was guilty on the charges brought in impeachment Article 1; 64% said he was guilty of the charges in Article 2; 50% guilty for Article 3; and 63% guilty for Article 4. However, on each of these articles, less than 50% of Americans felt that the charges were serious enough to justify impeachment. (Gallup Polls) This is an interesting scenario, because if the Congress voted according to the percentage of people who thought he was guilty, Clinton could be impeached on every charge, and even removed from office on Article 1!

Strangely, despite the above information, a poll taken the next day (Gallup, Dec 11, 1998) asking "Overall, would you say Bill Clinton is fit or unfit to be President of the United States?" 62% replied that Bill Clinton was fit. On December 15-16, an equal percentage of people replied that "All things considered," they were "glad Bill Clinton is President."

Oddly enough, despite Clinton’s high approval ratings, other evidence shows that

he should, technically, be unpopular:


How important do you think it is for the president to provide moral leadership for the country -- very important, somewhat important, only slightly important, or not at all important?




Only slightly

Not at all

No opinion

98 Sep 14-15






***According to this poll, it is very important for the President to provide moral leadership,…


Do you feel a person must have strong moral values in order to be an effective president, or can someone be an effective president regardless of their moral values?


98 Jan 30-Feb 1

Yes, must have strong moral values


No, can be effective regardless


No opinion


***…and a President cannot be effective without moral leadership.***


Overall, what kind of moral leadership do you think Bill Clinton provides as President - [ROTATE] very strong, somewhat strong, somewhat weak, or very weak?


Very strong

Somewhat strong

Somewhat weak

Very weak

No opinion

98 Sep 14-15 (National adults)






***Clinton provides weak moral leadership…


As of now, do you think Bill Clinton can be an effective president during his remaining two years in office, or not?


Yes, can be effective

No, cannot be effective

No opinion

98 Sep




…yet can continue to be an effective President?***

To briefly recap: The people have told us that they believe Clinton is guilty on all charges, but they are glad he is President and feel he is fit for the job; additionally, it is very important for a President to provide moral leadership, as moral leadership is necessary to be effective, but Clinton provides weak moral leadership, and can continue to be an effective President.

How do we explain this? As the opinion polls go, Clinton is golden. Despite the evidence that people should oppose him (according to their own preferences), they don’t.

Part of this is a testament to the success of Clinton’s rhetorical strategies.

Through his public rhetoric campaign, Clinton has convinced the public that they are better off with him than without him. He has convinced them, against their usual judgement, that he can be an effective President despite the fact that he has proven to be ethically unsuitable. I believe the secret to Clinton’s success, as was mentioned repeatedly earlier, is his polarization of the public in his favor and against his enemies. The President praises the public for their support, and emphasizes his desire to go back to work for the American people. He can’t do that, of course, because he is being held up by the impeachment. The people learn to hate Starr and the Republicans, who are holding up progress rather than helping it along. Because Clinton is working for the people, he is the good guy; because Starr and the Republicans are trying to stop him, they become the enemy. Clinton’s apology to the public and his family is enough for most people in what they consider a personal matter; further efforts to punish the President are seen as overzealous and self-serving measures by a vengeful GOP. In the court, even Clinton’s legalistic hairsplitting does not seem distasteful when compared to Starr’s disgusting details and ruthless prosecution of anyone involved. Clinton portrays himself as a populist who cares about the American people; the Republicans are portrayed as single-minded elitists who care more about their party than their constituents; by comparison, Clinton looks much more ethical in more important ways.

Some of the people’s good will toward Clinton can also be explained by the historical relationship between media and the government, and the desensitization of the public to political scandal. Clinton’s scandal is only the latest installment in a history of events that has changed how we think of, and how the media reports on, personal and political scandal. Starting with the Vietnam war, distrust of the government and questioning of authority became more common. Nixon and Watergate further eroded our trust in government, and the Presidency in particular. Watergate was also significant because it was a political scandal that was thoroughly covered by the media, foreshadowing future reports and investigations. Later we saw Gary Hart get knocked out of a political race because of personal scandal, and we associate Clarence Thomas more closely with sexual harassment than with the Supreme Court. Politicians have learned to use the media to their advantage, like Newt Gingrich and his shouting-at-an-empty-house-chamber trick. The media sensationalized, editorialized, and profited from more scandals, most recently the OJ Simpson trial and the Jon Benet Ramsey case. By the time we get to Clinton and Lewinsky, the media has become well-adapted to following and developing scandal, and the public has become used to hearing it. To a certain extent it is hard to surprise the public with a political scandal. Clinton’s scandal, which was more of a family matter than a legal or political matter, was hardly anything to worry about. So despite the people’s belief that he was guilty on all charges, they didn’t care because scandal is expected, and this was a particularly benign one to the average American.

While the aforementioned cultural context sets the stage for a forgiving public, I believe that Clinton’s good favor lies primarily in the following statistics:


How would you rate economic conditions in this country today, excellent, good, only fair, or poor? (Gallup Poll)




Only fair


No opinion

98 Dec 4-6






97 Dec 18-21






96 Oct 26-29






95 Nov 6-8






94 Dec 16-18






93 Dec 4-6






92 Dec 4-6






***Perceptions that economic conditions are favorable and steadily improving***


And now thinking more in the long run--which comes closer to your point of view: (Gallup Poll)


The country will be harmed in the long run if Clinton is not impeached

The country will be harmed in the long run if Clinton is impeached

The country will not be harmed in the long run whether or not Clinton is impeached

No opinion

98 Dec





***People believe the country will be harmed if Clinton is impeached***


If the House of Representatives votes to impeach Bill Clinton, would the country face: (Gallup Poll)


A serious crisis

A major problem, but not a crisis

A minor problem

Not a problem at all

No opinion

98 Dec






***If Clinton were impeached, the country would face a major problem/crisis***


Do you think that while the Senate is conducting the trial, the [insert item] would--or would not–be seriously harmed? (Gallup Poll)


Would be seriously harmed

Would not be seriously harmed

No opinion

Dec 12-13

Ability of the federal government to operate effectively




Nation's economy




Ability of the country to respond to foreign events and

foreign policy matters




***Half the people think that simply holding the senate trial will seriously harm national priorities***


With a strong and improving economy, people are happy; they want things to keep going the way they’re going. The people believe that the country will be harmed in the long run if Clinton is impeached, and they believe that impeachment would cause a major problem or crisis. Additionally, about half those polled felt that simply holding a senate trial would seriously harm the economy, the nation’s ability to operate the federal government, and the ability to respond to foreign policy matters.

Clearly, the public was convinced about Clinton’s guilt; they were not, however, convinced that his removal from office was worth the perceived damage to national and personal interests. Our Presidency has been stable thus far, and it has rested on a history of sexual affairs, not impeachments.

Clinton’s high approval ratings prove that his public rhetoric campaign was successful, and the proof of his legal victory lies in the fact that he still holds office. But what are the repercussions of Clinton’s rhetorical strategies?

Before we examine whether the effects of Clinton’s strategy are ultimately good or bad, we must first realize that effects can be simultaneously good and bad in at least one way. Each time something becomes worse, and worse, and more outrageous in the public opinion, the closer it comes to revolution; eventually, we will experience the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and whatever negative change brought it on will also bring on the new counter-order.

A good example of this is the effect of the Clinton scandal on future scandal coverage by the media. The Clinton scandal seems to have brought invasion of personal/private life to a new high and the standards of journalism to a new low. I am tempted to say that this is a bad thing, but it all depends on how close we are to reaching the limit, when we finally realize that this isn’t what we want, and news and news coverage is changed for the better. I am not sure how close we are; the public has voiced its weariness and disgust with the Clinton scandal; however, ratings and sales have testified to the contrary. To the degree that the scandal makes us think about what we want in our news it is a good thing. To the degree that it had to happen at all, and to the degree to which we’re not watching more relevant news right now, it is a bad thing. I think we will probably have to sit through a few more scandals before we notice a change. However, I think the next one that really pushes the envelope will be the last, as I’m not sure how much stranger it can get–the President, oral sex, cigars–before they decide it’s a ridiculous excuse for news. I’m not sure if network news, in good conscience, could carry stories that are any more colorful or graphic.

So for the near future at least, the private will be the political. I would like to think that this would make politicians more honest and moral in everyday life, but Clinton’s example tells us that this will not be the case. Clinton shook his finger at tens of millions of adults and lied. And according to the polls we loved him for it. He did come around and apologize, after he was caught in a lie, but in the courtroom he was unwilling to make good on his promise of cooperation. If the lesson to be learned is that liars are rewarded, we are in for more trouble and scandal in the future.

For the nation in general, I think Clinton’s rhetoric was an example of evil means used to pursue good ends. Like those polled, I believe the nation is more stable and better off for not impeaching him. Ideally I’d like to think that he could have come totally clean at some point, we would have forgiven him, and the whole thing would have blown over relatively easily. This was probably not going to happen, if for no other reason than Republicans wouldn’t let a wounded Democrat get away (and vice versa, to be fair). So realistically, I think it’s beneficial for the country that things worked out the way they did. Ideally, however, I envision the possibility of a much cleaner, more honest resolution, one that doesn’t involve lying, apologizing, and lying some more. Maybe after more scandals like this one a change will come, but it will have to come as the result of one individual’s efforts–the system certainly doesn’t reward honesty or cross-party forgiveness as it stands now.

Perhaps the greatest damage done by Clinton’s unfailing rhetoric has been to party cooperation. The Democrats and Republicans need no excuses to not get along with each other, but they have another reason anyway. In my short time as a political spectator I haven’t seen a more shallowly based divide between the two parties–it was party politics for the sake of party politics. Although the Republicans looked worse, the Democrats are equally responsible. I believe that the people are close the breaking point for toleration of such meaningless politics, and I think good will come out of this in the form of increased public reception to third parties and independents. Breaking up the dual-party monopoly will hopefully make things a little more interesting, and force the two dominant parties to wake up and abandon their partisan tunnel-vision before they’re replaced.

On an individual level, Bill Clinton has profited in some ways and failed in others. He obviously came out where he wanted to–still President, still favorably rated. As for his legacy, it’s hard to say at this moment. Without the scandal, I think he would have been remembered as a good President; with the scandal, I believe he will be remembered as an OK President who beat the system. The country is doing well right now, and that will help him. I have no idea how his personal life has been during or since the scandal, but I imagine it’s not enviable. His debts can’t be that bad because he just bought an expensive house in New York. Overall, considering what could have happened, I’d say Clinton was a winner. If he had just admitted to the whole Lewinsky ordeal initially, he would have been much better off–except for the fact that he had a number of other scandals backed up that would have demanded similar attention. When you are in as deep as Bill Clinton, your best bet is to do just what he did: Admit what they can prove, deny what they can’t, and move on.

For the reasons given above, I think Hillary and Chelsea were best protected by Clinton’s elusive rhetorical strategy. They had to know that some of it was true, but they’re better off for the fact that the other scandals were not widely reported on. Even if Bill Clinton admitted to them at home, at least the family would not have to deal with the pain publicly.

Ken Starr, and all of Starr’s victims are worse off for Clinton’s dragged-out rhetoric. It cost Starr his job, and it cost his victims a lot of money and aggravation that they didn’t deserve.

Monica Lewinsky is probably worse off for having known the President. I won’t join her critics (what is there to criticize?) in saying that she profits from the attention, because I see no compelling reason to believe that she isn’t a normal person, just like the rest of us, who would not enjoy being caught up in such an embarrassing scandal. The fact that Clinton’s elusive rhetoric prolonged the ordeal could only cause Lewinsky more pain.

Finally, I wonder how Clinton’s misleading, technical legal rhetoric, combined with the fact that he is so popular, affects children today. A lot of anti-Clinton rhetoric has been thrown around about how America’s children are all going to look at the Presidency with shame, how we need a President who sets a moral example, etc., and for the most part I have seen it as just that, anti-Clinton rhetoric. But I wonder what it is like to be in elementary school and hear that the President has lied on TV, and to hear rumors about cigars and a dress and what the President did in his office. I imagine a few kids must have learned some facts of life simply by keeping up with the news. To the extent that these situations are true, I think Clinton’s rhetoric and behavior have been negative for American society, and I’m inclined to wonder if kids today see things differently than I did. If these kids do have a different experience, I hope some good comes out of it; I hope it will bring us closer to the "media revolution," when we decide that this garbage isn’t worth our time and money, rather than simply developing a new, stronger taste and tolerance in younger viewers for the scandalous "news" that is yet to come.


ABC News Website


CIA–The World Factbook 1999–United States


C-SPAN: Investigation of the President

Feb 12 1999: Remarks following Senate vote

Dec 11 1998: Remarks following Impeachment

Sept 11 1998: The White House Prayer Breakfast

Aug 17 1998: Statement following Grand Jury testimony

July 31 1998: Regarding cooperation w/ Independent Counsel

April 2 1998: Regarding Judge Wright’s decision against the Jones case.

March 16 1998: Regarding Kathleen Willey allegations

January 26 1998: Denial

January 22 1998: Press Conference w/ Yassir Arafat


CNN: President Clinton’s Grand Jury Testimony: Video



Chronology of Events (no specific address)

Starr Report (no specific address)




C-SPAN Website


C-SPAN: President Clinton’s Testimony: Text


C-SPAN: Presidential Testimony


C-SPAN: 81 Questions to the President


C-SPAN: White House Trial Memorandum to the Senate


Gallup Poll Website




House of Representatives Directory