Resurrecting the Clinton
Presidency: A Linguistic Profile
Roderick P. Hart and J. Kanan Sawyer
The story told in the future about the Clinton administration will inevitably be the story of impeachment. But which impeachment story should be told? There are several available narratives: overweening arrogance; sexual predation; the mystique of power; innocence gone awry; a slavering right wing; a meddlesome Congress; a salacious press; a constitutional crisis; a man who knew no bounds. In this essay, we wish to add another chapter to the story of impeachment. Our argument is that insufficient attention has been given to Bill Clinton’s rhetorical wiliness during the crisis. We also argue that examining how Clinton spoke at that time is to understand why he was able to govern the nation so successfully for eight years. To call attention to Clinton’s rhetorical skill is not to apologize for his indiscretions but simply to make his story more complicated. It is within these complications that Clinton’s richest story lies.
This chapter looks at a short, but crucial, moment during the Clinton administration. By examining the president’s responses to the legal and moral quagmires during the fall of 1998, we discover certain stylistic traits that let him sustain his legitimacy for many Americans (60–70% of them, by most measures). In contrast to the oft-painted picture of an embattled president holed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we describe a man who aggressively put forth his case and who never lost the ability to connect to the American people. The result was a presidency saved. For good, for ill, or for both.