The Rhetoric of an Apology: The Clinton Sex Scandal
"I ask that all Americans demonstrate in their personal and public lives... the high ethical standards that are essential to good character and to the continued success of our Nation."
On August 17, 1998, exactly one year after making the statement above, President Bill Clinton prepared to deliver a speech concerning a scandal that had gripped the nation for months. It is needless to say that this was an important moment during the Clinton administration. After accusations of sexual harassment, Clinton addressed the nation and admitted to having a relationship with Monica Lewinsky. In this critical speech Clinton set out to admit to wrong-doings, provide a few reasons for his action, and ultimately persuade the audience into moving on and forgetting the scandal. This essay will break down his speech into sections and examine the most and least effective strategies that Clinton employed and how well he executed those strategies. This is an interesting speech given under rare circumstances. Not since Watergate had an American president been under such harsh moral criticism from the public. By looking critically at this speech we are able to gain valuable insight into Clinton's motives.
The best way to examine this speech is through a speech-act methodology. Speaker-setting and speaker-audience relationships are key in the analysis of this situation. Before answering the proposed research question we can ask another important question. Why did former President Bill Clinton choose to give this address? According to the Hart text several things must be true. 1. The speaker feels something is wrong. After several rounds of questioning the American public was growing tired of Clintons beguiling statements. He needed to try to regain credibility and repair a damaged reputation. 2. The speaker is not yet desperate. Although Clinton was arguably border-line desperate, he had been acquitted of charges and simply needed to get America to forget and forgive. 3. The speaker is committed. Clinton was committed to himself, his family, and his country. 4. The audience is open to change. (Hart 41-43) Everyone is capable of forgiveness. Clinton believed that he could salvage some reputation and gain if not the forgiveness of the nation, then at least the acceptance. Clinton interacts with his audience in this speech on several levels.
Scandal in the White House
In January of 1998, Monica Lewinsky filed a sworn affidavit denying sexual relations between the president and her. She also allegedly asked Linda Tripp to lie for her. Tripp wore a wire and recorded conversations between the two. Clinton then denied that the two had a relationship repeatedly and several of his aides were questioned in court as well as several of his personal bodyguards. Next, Lewinsky was given immunity in exchange for the completely true testimony. Soon afterward Clinton admitted to having an inappropriate...