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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Several weeks back in class we discussed womens roles in politics today. Linda Tripp has become a political figure whether she likes to think of herself in that manner or not. When you work for the pentagon or in any governmental venue whatsoever you are marked by the lines of politics for the rest of your life. My studies have shown that Tripp has tired to downplay her political role. That was a difficult task when she was posing as the friend of the Presidents mistress at the same time as she was recording their personal telephone conversations for Prosecutor Ken Starrs use.
Linda Tripp therefore plays an important role in the political environment of todays society. Tripp plays a dual role as a woman and a political figure. She is a person of great name recognition and thus she is a representative of women in our society. I think this is where the problems with Linda Tripp begin. Tripp has changed the political and societal construction of womens role's, as we know them today. Her attempts to identify with other women have only perpetuated the difficulties that women have had with in the political system.
As a young woman in our society, I find it difficult to ignore the impact that Tripp has had on women in our society. I am becoming ever more involved in the political realm and find it very challenging. The class in which we discussed womens roles in politics in the nineties represented how important and relevant gender issues continue to be within social and political movements. From that class, I remember hearing several persuasive arguments and examples from the women in the class in regards to how difficult it can be to be involved in political issues today. The pressures of being a woman are sometimes subtle and often not felt instantaneously. The need to work harder and do better in order to prove ourselves competent to our fellow male counterparts is sometimes not realized by women until we have reached a personal limit. In reaching that limit we can look around and sometimes I feel we may have lost a lot in trying to achieve some of the same things that men in our society are raised to do.
I think Linda Tripp has reached that limit and has lost personal values. Her fame has not been of positive persuasion to the feminist movement. Many people have seen her in the public eye and unfortunately, some people only see her as a "gossipy" woman. It is sad to admit but I think many times women are still viewed in this manner and not for their hard work and humanity. Forms of feminist criticism and evaluating Linda Tripp along the lines of feminists principles is key to making critical judgements about her rhetorical discourse. In this assessment of women supporting feminist principles it must be acknowledged that there are many sets of feminist principles and therefore the feminist principles used in this criticism will be influenced by my personal adopted values as a young women in our society. The feminist definition that I will use to guide me in my feminist critical approach is as follows. This definition had been clearly written in the book titled Feminist Rhetorical Theories. Karen Foss, Cindy Griffin and Sonja Foss wrote this book.
"definitions of feminism focus on the concept of equity, with the goal of reorganizing society on the basis of equality for the sexes in all areas of social relations. Definitions rooted in equity focus on the achievement of equality for women with men and the development of opportunities for womens expression and self-fulfillment in all realms of life, without the constraints of gender expectations. Feminists who embrace this definition of feminism seek an equal share of the opportunities to which men have access (2)."
In addition, the definition of feminism extends to a humanistic principle outlined by these authors again. "Such definitions of feminism suggest the treatment of all humans in accordance with such feminist values as respect, caring, reciprocity, self-determination and inter connection. (Foss et al 2)" I think this aspect of the feminist principles that I have accepted describe those inherent amongst people who are friends. Linda Tripp ignored many of these principles in her friendship with Monica and thus she disregarded feminist principles in her relationship with Monica.
A brief summary of Linda Tripps role in the Clinton scandal is important to display how important a role she actually played in the impeachment. It must be noted now though that Tripps discourse does not classify her as a horrible person. Rather it is important to understand that Tripp like all women or all people for that matter are socialized in the environment in which they are born and raised. Tripp may have succumbed to the difficulties of being a woman in politics and therefore her humanity and ability to interconnect may have been effected.
Tripp was labeled as the friend of Monica Lewinsky first and foremost. Later this label was challenged when Tripp was asked by prosecutor Ken Starr to produce audiocassette tapes of the conversations she had with Lewinsky about a relationship between Lewinsky and the president. Tripp has been viewed as a horrible friend who can not be trusted. How can taping a social call to a friend ever are justified. Friendships are supposed to be based in trust and Tripp directly defied one of her friend's trusts, in a very harsh manner. In addition, Tripp obviously did not have respect for Lewinsky. The environment of the Clinton impeachment was one, which redefined the level of discourse that is possible in regards to intimate relationships. As US News stated in regards to Tripp, " In a drama filled with unsympathetic characters Tripp fared worse in the public eye than most. At first described as Monica Lewinskys friend, she has for weeks been criticized for secretively taping the anguished telephone calls she received from Lewinsky describing her relationship with Clinton (Ackermann and Brownlee 1)
I think Lindas primary strategy to help herself get ahead in the political world was to cultivate a friendship with Monica Lewinsky and use that friendship in order to get information about the president. I think feminist critics would analyze this methodology as lowly and dehumanizing of Tripp as a woman. Friendship is usually held as a scared thing, which reflects the definitive principals of caring, reflected in the definition of a feminist. In the relationship between Monica it is even more than friendship that matters rather it is also the support system of feminists that Tripp violated. I think by definition feminists are people who are supportive of other women Tripp was clearly not. Feminist criticism would suggest that fragmentation among women, leads to the perpetuation of our patriarchal society (Foss et al 167).
Tripp seems to be overcompensating for the fact that she is a woman. In her discourse she associates Monicas relationship with the president as something she must tell the authorities about, otherwise she would not be doing her duty as an employee of the US government. This again demonstrates the loss of humanity that Tripp experiences.
Tripp's defense of her actions in regards to taping the conversations between herself and Lewinsky was that she was telling the truth. In addition, in order to increase the understanding and support of herself she tried ferociously to compare herself with American women. The feminist perspective on this would show that in reality Tripp is very different from many women in this country. It seems as Tripps self righteousness about the fact that she was uncovering the truth for the American public is a indicative of trip trying to live up to a system that has been named the Goddess System by rhetorical feminist critics. The "Goddess system" is one in which individuals gather power from with in them and use their energy and power to create change. Linda Tripp does not seem to have met all the criteria for the "Goddess system" and I have never heard of a partial goddess. As Starhawk one of the creators of this ideology says, "There are no things separate from context. Starhawk says the goddess "must bear the consequences of their actions (qt. In Foss et al 172)," I think Linda Tripp fails to take responsibility for the actions, which she took.
After Linda Tripp testified in front of the grand jury, she spoke at a press conference on July 29th 1998 about her role in the entire Clinton scandal. The tone of her speech was solemn and angry. The anger was the type of anger a person has when they feel they have been victimized. She asks many questions of the audience such as,"how would you feel (qt. From Tripp 1998)?"That line is repeated several times in her speech. She is obviously trying to identify with her audience. Her construction of the audience she wants to address seems to be focused on women but not up to the standards of how most feminist women would be liked to be identified. Tripp stresses the fact that she is a mother several times and makes her case as a family oriented mother. She even said during her public statement,"I am just like you"and "put yourself in my shoes". She also labeled herself as a"Suburban mom (Tripp, July 1998). In addition, her children were present this press conference perhaps to show support for their mother and to show that she is a good mother. Tripp was probably seeking a good character image by having her children present. To Linda having her children there beside her probably symbolized that she really is a good person with a good personality.
I think the rhetorical criticism of "being" by Johnson, which is described in Feminist Rhetorical Theories, is important to consider in analyzing Linda Tripp. Tripp acts in contradiction with feminist principles. Johnson suggests that women "Live today as you want the world to be (qt. Foss et al 316)" Johnson goes on to say, "If we want a world in which women have integrity and are independent, self-governing, and untamedand patriarchy can not survive womens being any of thesewe have to have integrity, be independent, self-governing, and wild right now That world is either right now or it is never (qt in Foss et al 317)."
Another persuasive measure that Tripp used was the tonality of her public statement. She sighed a lot during her speech and sounded solemn and weary at times suggesting that she is tired from all she has"suffered"through. With first interpretation of this discourse, support from the feminists in our society would be expected. Indeed even the Gallup polls, which suggested that the people of this country are looking for morality amongst people, support Tripp. In January of 1999 only twenty percent of the population thought that Clinton had good moral values. Therefore Linda's portrayal of herself as a mom with good values seems as if it would be well received (Gallup Polls). Contraries to this presumption many people today are of a more modernist viewpoint. The modernists tend to follow the feminist principles in his discourse. They see great wrong in betraying a friend and do not identify with the need for Linda to dedicate her time to revealing the truth (Class notes).
Another part of Tripps rhetoric that she disclosed to Michael Isikoff a journalist who writes for Newsweek was of her vulnerability as a divorced woman who was raising her two children on her own. In her interview with Isikoff it is suggested that Tripp was afraid she may lose her job (Isikoff). The economic responsibility of raising two children has also been discussed as part of the economic strains under which Tripp spoke. Her salary at the White House was under $50,000 and she received only $10,000 in alimony from her husband. In addition during the Clinton scandal her husband was going to retire soon from the military which would leave her with less alimony. Therefore her total income at the time was $60,000 to support herself and her two children in the suburbs of Washington D.C. It is not far to imagine that Linda Tripp really did have some financial worries (Isikoff). But on a grander scale Linda Tripp's financial concerns miniscule compared to what many feminists discuss as dire income situations. Tripp's income was and even more so is now much better than a majority of single mother's in this country today. Tripp was having difficulties paying for the various extracurricular activities that she wanted her children to have the chance to participate in whereas many mothers in this country are struggling to put food on the table for their children to eat. In addition not all women work in the White House. Therefore identifying with Linda Tripp is not easy for a majority of women in this country.
By identifying herself as a"suburban mom"Tripp belittles her own achievements in the workplace. She discusses openly how for years she traveled around the country moving from army base to army base when her husband was reassigned. She was also married at the young age of twenty. These details of her personal life do not support an image of a strong independent woman rather they place Tripp in a more traditional role (Isikoff). Her characterization does not support the promotional image of strong women that feminists promote today. I would go even so far as to call Tripp a pawn of the patriarchal structure of our society.
Tripp identified herself as a victim in interviews. She said once,"this is not a Linda problem. I see myself as a victim."Most feminist critics would not agree with the idea of Linda being a victim. She made choices and they were detrimental to the sacred friendship she had with Monica Lewinsky. In addition, I think a majority of feminists would not want women to identify themselves as victims in a light manner. Victimization suggests a lack of power and I think the feminist movement today is more focused on empowering women rather than disempowering them. I have done work with a theater group on campus that performs a skit about sexual assault and date rape. One thing that is stressed to us as peer educators is that women who make it through a sexual assault are called survivors and not victims. To call them victims is to empower the people who assaulted them. I feel as if this is a clear indication of how feminists would Linda Tripp's situation as well. Despite the fact she hasnt suffered a lot any problems she has in result of the Clinton scandal she is still alive and has made it through. She is demeaning herself as a woman by calling herself a victim.
Foss et al discusses the process the detrimental severity of women labeling themselves as victims. A women by the name of Johnson explained victimization as follows, "So we must never think of any woman in that way [E}very woman is capable of taking responsibility for herself and only she, never we, must do it (qt. in Foss et al 307)."
I think the overall point with the statements and the characterization discourse about Tripp shows that she is not just like all other women in this country. Her argument that she is like the rest of womankind in this country just does not fair well with the feminists in the country. Tripps attempt to identify with the majority of American women through her principle role as a mother lacks "multiplicity". The Feminist Trinh T Minh-ha feminist critic believes that identity of women can not be marginalized in one "I". Rather Minh-ha expresses the many layers that compose each individual. It seems to be consistent with the idea of individuality overall. Women as well as men can not be assimilated to entire populations (Foss et al 24).
The discourse that Linda and Monica shared in the telephone conversations is also a clear indication of some of the hurtful things Linda Tripp has said that have been detrimental to the feminist movement. Woman to woman Tripp said the following,"Hey Monica we already know you are going to lie under oath (Tripp conversations)."This opened up the conversational space for Lewinsky to discuss how she often lies and how she comes from a family of liars. This clearly sets Monica up to be legally incremented. Lying under oath is a crime and Tripp was deceitful and coaxed Lewinsky into saying she will lie in court. In addition, Tripp was deceitful in encouraging the relationship that Monica and Bill were developing. The manner in which she supports the relationship refers to Monica as a girl and not a woman which may be deemed word play to some but as far as the level of respect level Tripp has for Monica I think the use of the word girl is important to think about. Tripp said to Monica in a telephone conversation,"I knew you were the type of girl he would like (qt. from Morton 119)."A woman, in her twenties, who has interned for the US government should not be referred to as a girl. It would be similar to referring to a young male intern as a boy. Some how I feel that demonstrates the lack of strength the word "girl" holds in a political setting.
Tripp tries to make the argument that the taping of the phone conversations was just part of her job and she is leading the country to the truth about our president. Unfortunately I think that this may be Tripp overcompensating and trying to be a success in the political realm. She tries to detach herself from partisanship and therefore validate her search for the truth. She said in a statement on January 29th 1998:"Although there is no political litmus test for telling the truth, I am a registered independent. Further as a career civil servant in both the Bush and Clinton White Houses, my responsibility was to serve and support the institution of the presidency rather its particular incumbent or party (Tripp 1-29-98). Yet Tripp goes on to say that she,"thought it was a great honor to work for someone like [George] Bush (qt. in Ackerman and Brownlee 2)."
The irony here lies with in Tripp's identification with the Republican Party. How can feminists be supportive of republican representation in political office? As was demonstrated a couple weeks back in class the website for the Republican Party did not mention women's rights at all where as the democrat website mentioned women's issues and the parties' stance on those issues. I think if the Republican Party is not strong on women's issues the vote must go to the Democratic Party. This is were a lot of faith is lost in Tripp, how can a women enjoy working for a government that does not represent women.
I believe it is important to discuss the materials that are currently available on the World Wide Web currently. I think that the websites about Linda Tripp have made it difficult to collect credible information about her discourse. Often times the things written about Tripp, seem to be an opportunity for the author to slam Tripp and discredit her as a respectable human being. Popular web bashing lingo for Linda Tripp includes"the tape loving tattler"and a"backstabber"(Widow Maker). These websites are hurtful to Tripp as well as to the feminist movement. Linda Tripp has been called a "bitch" several times by several people. This kind of attitude perpetuates derogatory words that historically been applied to women. These websites are promoting stereotypes of women as gossips and deviants. Of course, Tripp is partially liable the display of such websites because she helped make public some of her most intimate conversations. These websites have stage for even more infiltration of expose journalism in our media.
Clearly, Tripp has hurt the feminist movement and the image of women in our society. Since our society still is not equal among the sexes it is necessary to evaluate the Linda Tripp in a critical gender dichotomized manner. Feminist criticism is broad but I think defining essential principles to feminism was a successful way to evaluate the role of Linda Tripp in the Clinton scandal. We must continue to study things in terms of gender until women have equal accessibility to the political realm. Women should not have to work to be superior to men or work harder then men just to be taken seriously. All political figures should play equal roles in politics. We must study women and men critically and evaluate how they effect the political environment. Linda Tripp is one of those figures that needed to be studied.
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