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

| Back to Table of Contents | Back to Debate Central |

Hillary Clinton:

Strategies and Goals


Vanessa Melamede

December, 1999

Hillary Clinton is an important character in the impeachment process and the sex scandal in general. As Bill Clinton’s wife, she is the most personally involved with the President, as well as the most personally involved in the subject matter involved with the impeachment. Since Bill Clinton’s wrong-doings stem from sexual misconduct, as his wife, Hillary Clinton has an extremely great involvement. Due to her great involvement in this personal matter, the public audience seems to associate their thoughts with her own (34% of the public thought that the scandal was a personal matter as long as Hillary Clinton was fine with it [U.S. News]). Meaning, the public feels that if Bill Clinton’s sexual affairs are accepted by Hillary, then they should be accepted by the country as well. It is important to look at how Clinton gets her points, what her motives are in doing so, and where her motives stem from because she is so influential regarding the President’s image. It is also important to look at the sexual misconduct between the President and Ms Lewinsky, as well as Hillary’s decision to support her husband, from the First Lady’s situation since women and their concerns are often forgotten when analyzing political discourse.

This paper will mainly discuss the strategies Hillary Clinton uses in an attempt to achieve her various goals. Concentrating on Hillary’s two main persuasive methods, I will look into whether or not these are honest attempts and whether or not her methods and decisions have benefited or harmed society, mainly women. In an attempt to identify with her audience, Hillary uses two main methods. One, she tries to connect with her audience, and two she uses the power of guilt to get her messages across. She uses a few techniques in order to connect with the American people.

One strategy she uses to connect herself with her audience is giving her audience a lot of credit and respect. She often assumes she knows what they want, and that what they want is what she is offering to give. When speaking on her husband and the Lewinsky sex scandal, Hillary Clinton makes it seem as if the American people are above discussing such immature topics as the affair and the allegations, and that they instead are interested in the State of the Union Address.

Clinton stated, "But let’s, if we could, talk for a minute about what the American people are interested in, and that’s what the President had to say last night ("Good Morning America)." She is using this as a way to change the subject away from a negative topic, onto one which represents her husband in a more positive light, without making it seem as if she is doing so. In the same interview, Clinton said,

Most Americans are concerned about what their President can do for them, and the kinds of issues that he talked about last night are the kinds of issues on people’s minds. You know, how are we going to save Social Security and educate our children and provide health care and child care (Good Morning America).

She is giving her audience much more credit than they deserve. She says, "I think the American people know what is most important, and that is for him [Bill Clinton] to give his energy and attention to the important affairs of state that have to be dealt with (Good Morning America)." As seen by the high rating of shows such as "Jerry Springer", it seems that what the audience really wants is scandalous dirt, but she does not want to give it them, and therefore, she behaves as if they do not want it. This method is useful because the audience is most likely appreciative of her applause of them, which will then in turn lead them to have more respect for Clinton.

This method seems to be slightly fake because Clinton is making it seem as if the audience doesn’t care what type of scandals are happening in the White House. As an intelligent woman, I’m sure Clinton knows that the American public is interested in the dirty gossip involving the sex scandal, but she acts as if they are above that, so that she does not have to bring up information she does not want to. She is falsely giving her audience credit even when she may not be feeling that they deserve it just because it will benefit herself and her own agenda.

Another strategy Clinton uses in order to identify with her audience is her use of inclusive pronouns and down to earth simple language in her speeches and interviews. In It takes A Village, Clinton writes,

If we as a village decide not to help families develop their children’s brains, then at least let us admit that we are acting not on the evidence but according to a different agenda. And let us acknowledge that we are not using all the tools at our disposal to better the lives of our children (Clinton 61).

In this passage we can see Clinton’s use of inclusive pronouns. By writing "we as a village" and "let us acknowledge" and "tools at our disposal" she is connecting herself with her audience. By giving them a sense of connection, it might make it more difficult for them to discard what she is saying. The audience will appreciate being given this respect and having the sense that Clinton is talking to them. This inclusive and unifying language is also expressed when Clinton discusses health care issues. In a speech she gave at the National Education Association convention she said:

Health care is not a political issues. When you look in the eyes of a sick child, you are not looking at a Republican or a Democrat, you are looking at an American who deserves to be taken care of…We are spending more money than we need to on our health care system. We can do better (National Education Association).

Again, she is including her audience in her speeches by using "we" as well as by mentioning Americans. These words will stand out to the listener and give them a sense that Clinton is talking to them, as well as talking about their problems. In this passage we can also see how Clinton wants her audience to visualize what she is discussing in a way that will perhaps make her message clearer.

Mentioning "the eyes of a sick child" bring all listeners to a place that they can envision. They can think of their own children, their grandchildren, friends, neighbors, or even a cute baby on the street and think of how horrible it would be if they were sick without the money to pay for the care they needed. She uses this visualization as a tool to make the audience feel guilty if something is not done to change the conditions.

The audience connecting a real child with Clinton’s speech makes it less likely that they will think politically about what she is saying, and think of her views on a more personal level. Due to this, someone who might perhaps feel that her views are too liberal or Democratic, would instead think on a smaller, more personal scale. This allows Clinton’s discourse to be more socially acceptable, which enables her views to spread further.

In both passages above we can also see Clinton’s use of making her audience feel guilty. When she writes,

If we as a village decide not to help families develop their children’s brains, then at least let us admit that we are acting not on the evidence but according to a different agenda. And let us acknowledge that we are not using all the tools at our disposal to better the lives of our children (Clinton 61).

We can see the use of guilt to force her readers to acknowledge that they are consciously hurting the future. Her choice of the word "decide" gives the impression that there is an alternative, and that if her audience chooses "not to help families develop their children’s brains" then they are inhuman or harmful.

These tactics seem to be slightly manipulative and coercive since she is not blatantly showing that she is trying to make her audience feel guilty. Only when looking deeply into Clinton’s discourse can see how her language usage would make those in her audience guilty, which thus is manipulating their thoughts. Although I might be bias because I agree with much of what Hillary Clinton stands for and I feel that she should do all she can to achieve her agenda, I don’t really see much wrong with this type of manipulation. I feel that she is smart in her discourse because she is allowing her audience to choose their own feelings. Rather than telling them that they should behave in a certain way in order to help tomorrow’s children, she is instead showing them the consequences of their actions and giving them the opportunity to act as they please. She is using certain persuasive methods in order to give the public a better understanding of her goals, something that all speakers, at least successful ones, do in order to get their message across.

Hillary Clinton does not seem to be misleading the people in a malicious or hurtful way. Generally, I have found her discourse to be socially aware and for the benefit of society. She speaks on issues that concern many different groups of people, such as the elderly, the sick, children, and women, and it is in these sections of society that her discourse is beneficial.

Whether Clinton is advocating for children’s rights, trying to make health care assessable to all, or speaking out in favor of her husband, she does so with passion and strength because she cares for her causes. During the Lewinsky scandal, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly spoken out in defense of her husband and their marriage. She attributed much of the problems to"the vast right-wing conspiracy ("Good Morning America")"and set out to bring that to the attention of the American public throughout her many television appearances. She said,"I don’t think there is any doubt that there are professional forces on the right at work for their own purposes and profit ("Good Morning America")."On the"Today"show with Matt Lauer Clinton discusses her husband's innocents, and again brings up the"right wing opponents". She states:

We get a politically motivated prosecutor who is allied with the right-wing opponents of my husband, scratching for dirt, intimidating witnesses, doing everything possible to try to make some accusations against my husband (NBC Nightly News).

When speaking on "Good Morning America", Clinton said that she could "state unequivocally that, as my husband has said, these are false allegations." She goes on to say,

My husband has told the truth, and he will continue to tell the truth. And so my view about all this is that we ought to look carefully at who’s telling the truth and what the truth is, and we ought to just wait until the truth comes out in all if these matters ("Good Morning America").

Throughout Bill Clinton’s denial of the affair, and once he admitted to sexual relations, Hillary Clinton defended her husband and stayed with him lovingly (at least publicly lovingly). It is important to look deeper into why she has chosen to support her husband, even after he admitted to sexual relations with Lewinsky. Why is Clinton so adamant about saving her husband’s image after he openly cheated on her numerous times? What were her motives and thoughts during her decision making process?

It seems to me that her motivations stem from her need to be socially active and powerful. Clinton has certain goals that she wants to achieve. Namely, children’s rights, improved education, human rights, and the bettering of families (as listed on her campaign website Hillary2000). At an early age, Clinton was involved in many school activities and was always politically active (A&E Biography). She was involved in her high school’s student government and was a Goldwater Girl. She was class President at Wellsley, and gave the first speech by a student at her graduation (A&E Biography).

Also, both of Clinton’s parents felt very strongly about having a good education and high intelligence. When Hillary would bring home an "A" to her father, he would say that the schools must not be hard enough if she was doing so well (Clinton). These morals and the drive to succeed were instilled in Clinton at such a young age, and this is probably one of the reasons she will go to great lengths to achieve her goals. Also, Clinton grew up as an involved and contentious woman, thus allowing her to see the injustice in the world, which would further give her the motivation to try to change things.

When Clinton was young, she was able to leave Park Ridge, the wealthy suburb she grew up in, and travel to the city with her Church group. It was on this trip that she met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and learned of cultures and problems outside of what she was used to in her sheltered community (Clinton 27). She was also able to learn about various issues when she went away to college at Wellsley. Here, she worked with children in hospitals and had her first friends that were not White. These experiences, along with her general higher education, gave her more knowledge of the inequalities that exist, and perhaps pushed her further to make a change. It seems that due to her upbringing, and the high expectations that were placed on her, Clinton will do all that she can to achieve her goals. If she must stay with the President in order to remain in a position of power and prestige, she is willing to do that because it will later enable her to make social change.

Although Hillary Clinton states that she is staying with her husband out of love, much of the public believes there to be ulterior motives involved in her decision. Clinton says, "we have love" and that "I have been with him half my life and he is a very very good man (CNN.News, 8-1-99)." Publicly, this "love" is the reason she states for staying with the President. The American public has a different take on things though. 17% of them feel that she is remaining with the President because she wants to accomplish important public policies and 18% feel that she is concerned with her daughter’s wellbeing (U.S News). Basically, there is no real way of knowing exactly what is going on in Hillary Clinton’s mind, but we can reason that there are various factors involved.

If this is the case, and Hillary Clinton’s own political agenda is one of the main reason she is supporting her husband, should Hillary Clinton be criticized for this? Should Clinton be looked down on by Feminist Thinkers because she has let them down, even if the reasons behind her decisions were for the benefit of herself and her own political agenda? Many women who originally regarded Hillary Clinton as a helper to their cause, feel that she is setting a standard for women that should not be set. Women are discarding Hillary Clinton as a strong and independent woman because she is publicly letting her husband get away with extra-marital sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Neera Sohoni, a Feminist thinker writes,

She is the First Lady of a nation that is supposed to lead the world's women in their 'liberation'--a woman long seen in the Third World as a feminist and as the epitome of the modern-day 'professional' woman. Yet in response to charges that her husband has cheated on her, she has reacted in the manner of the traditionally oppressed (Sohoni).

She continues by writing,

Hillary is no different from an aunt or cousin or sister…someone we all grew up with. When faced with an abusive spouse, what did our mothers advise?"Go back to him, my dear. That is your home, he is you all."Seeing Hillary act out that advice is the biggest travesty of the current scandal. What is at stakes here is not the ethics of sexual promiscuity but how a wife should deal with it in terms independent of her husband and child (Sohoni).

Feminists rightfully are angry with Hillary Clinton because they feel that as one of a very select few of women in power, she should have used her influence to set a good example for other women in relationships were their husbands are taking advantage of them in some form. I agree with their perspective, but I also feel that Hillary needs to do what she feels is right, and what she feels will get her the furthest in the long run. She wants to be elected by New Yorkers as their Senator, and perhaps the way she felt she would be most successful was by stepping aside from her usually criticized aggressive personality, and take on the more traditional role of "standing by your man".

In an article written in 1997, Carrie Deleon predicted that Hillary Clinton would keep her aggressiveness to a minimum since she was so widely criticized by the public for her assertive nature. The existing double-standard that makes men assertive and women bitchy is what is keeping many well-intentioned women on the back burners while their male associates are moving up the corporate or political ladders. Deleon goes on to say in her 1997 article that, "She [Clinton] won't be a soldier fighting in the forefront for the democratic platform, but she won't stay behind the scenes either (Deleon)."This quote seems to summarize Hillary’s activities thus far in her political career. Before thoughts of a Senate seat arose, Hillary Clinton was staying behind the political scenes. Now, with her announced bid for the New York Senatorial seat, Clinton is beginning to come on to the main stage more than ever before. Sadly though, she is still working within the patriarchal structure by not taking a stance against her husband. Since 62% of Americans agree with Hillary’s decisions to stay with the President, it would harm her politically to have left him (Walsh). I feel that this is why she is playing a more submissive role and allowing herself and her personal decisions to be affected by political and social influences.

Although this type of working within the system in order to not upset those with power (whether it is voting, monetary, or political power), is perhaps compromising her beliefs and morals, it is likely to get her to a position of power ultimately. This end result would then allow her to fulfill her dreams of improving education and health care and would allow her to continue in her career of bettering the lives of others, a dream in which I feel she is honestly attempting for moral and truthful reasons.

Looking realistically at society, although it is an unfortunate conclusion, it seems to me that women are defined by their relationship to men. Hillary Clinton may acknowledge this, and thus she is likely to remain in a close relationship with a man in power in order to give herself more recognition than she could have otherwise achieved. It is extremely hard for women to get ahead in this society, and since Hillary Clinton has defined goals and thoughts on what she wants to achieve in her lifetime, I admire her for her dedication in getting what she wants out of her marriage to Bill Clinton.

Although Hillary Clinton may initially be harming the Women’s Movement and setting a bad example for young women today, if she does acquire a Senate seat, and perhaps a position of greater power further down the line, she will ultimately be in a position to help women’s causes such as abortion rights, improved health care, improved child care, and implementation of livable wages (Hillary2000). These changes are crucial in order to better women’s status in society, and although Hillary Clinton may not be pleasing everyone now, I do feel that her motives behind her decisions are connected with her desire to implement positive social change in coming years.

Hillary Clinton, as an extremely educated, well-spoken, and well liked individual, has the power to achieve great social change in a time when most politicians in office forget that they are there in order to better society and people’s lives. She has been criticized in the past for being too aggressive, and perhaps she didn’t want that aggressive nature to harm her at the polls when it came time for the Senatorial elections. Unfortunately, since Clinton needs to apply to those voters who have criticized her aggressiveness in the past, Clinton must strategically playing a role which will ultimately benefit her. She uses her persuasive discourse to produce the characteristics that this submissive, yet smart, role encompasses. Although Clinton may not be in an ideal situation in terms of her personal life, I feel that she is making the best of the situation she is in by not allowing her personal problems to affect her political and business career.


A&E Biography. "Hillary Rodham Clinton"

Clinton, Hillary Rodham. It Takes A Village: and other lessons children teach us.

New York: Touchstone, 1996.

CNN.News. "Hillary Clinton: President’s infidelities were ‘weaknesses’caused partly by

childhood abuse" August 1, 1999. Accessed on November 10th, 1999.


"Good Morning America". ABC. January 28, 1998.


Hillary2000. Accessed November 10th-16th. <http://www.hillary2000.org>

National Education Association Convention Speech. New Orleans. July 3, 1994

"NBC Nightly News". NBC. January 27, 1998.


Sohini, Neera. "By ‘Standing by her man’, She Betrays All The Feminist ideals She was

Supposed to Represent to the Rest of the World" Salon March 4, 1998.

Accessed on November 10th, 1999. <http://www.salon1999.com/news/1998/03/04news.html>

U.S. News. "Exclusive: Our Survey on Hillary Rodham Clinton" Accessed on

November 10th, 1999.


Walsh, Kenneth. "The Survivalist". Accessed on December 3rd, 1999.