The Political Image Management
Dynamics of President Bill Clinton
Kenneth L. Hacker, Maury Giles, and Aja Guerrero
President Bill Clinton ended his presidency in 2001 with a presidential approval rating higher than that with which he began his presidency in 1993. No other president had accomplished such a record in the history of modern polling (Benedetto, 2000). However, as Clinton left office with a 58 percent job-approval rating, he also left with a small, 21 percent personal approval or favorability rating (Benedetto, 2000). The enigma of Bill Clinton’s being appreciated as a president but not as a person has yet to be explained.
In this chapter, we address the phenomenon that President Bill Clinton maintained high presidential approval ratings while confronting numerous attacks on his character. Specifically, we address his use of various political communication strategies and tactics to repair his public political image and consider how well they worked. We conclude with summary propositions derived from observed fits between political communication theory and empirical data gathered during the Clinton years. The summary generalizations offered may be useful in the study of presidential images in general.
We begin with the assumption that politicians, as candidates and as leaders, generate symbolic constructions made from interactions of messages that circulate through news media, interpersonal conversations, political discourse, and campaign or White House public relations. These symbolic constructions reside in citizens’ minds as what are called images. Images that are aggregated are known as public images. Images and public