In this chapter, Clinton’s limited discourse explaining his use of marijuana as an Oxford University student will be analyzed to discover which image restoration strategies he used and to what public reaction.
During a March 29, 1992, Democratic primary debate in New York, presidential candidate Bill Clinton admitted to smoking marijuana. Since marijuana is illegal in the United States, this admission clearly had the potential to hurt his candidacy. Moreover, in response to earlier press questions about drug use, he had replied, “I have never broken the laws of my country” (Edsall, 1992b). His admission of drug use while in England did not technically contradict his assertion of never disobeying American law. However, the carefully worded answer risked sounding evasive, something which a candidate for the presidency would want to avoid.
Columnist George Will (1992) took issue with Clinton’s choice of words: “Is he again slaloming like a downhill skier, past semantic flags he carefully positioned, as he did about marital problems and the draft?” (p. A27). Balz and Broder (1992) documented how party insiders quietly began considering Representative Dick Gephardt and New York Governor Mario Cuomo as possible late entrants into the primaries.
Clinton needed to repair his image quickly. He needed to address three accusations: (1) that he had used marijuana, an illegal drug (though one should properly understand that Clinton admitted this prior to this accusa-