Bill Clinton: Rhetorical Settings, Strategies, and Paradoxical Popularity

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Bill Clinton: Rhetorical Settings, Strategies, and Paradoxical Popularity

Everyone knows what he did with Monica Lewinsky. They watched him shake his finger and lie to their face on national television. They heard his promise to be forthcoming with the truth, and head about how he patiently hair-split his way through four hours of grand jury testimony. Why is he still here?

The answer lies in a combination of Clinton’s rhetorical strategy and extrinsic circumstances.

Bill Clinton’s rhetoric is two-fold. His problem is unique in that he must communicate in two different forums–in a public context to the American people and in a legal context to the House and Senate. This presents some unique problems. Although the two arenas are
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Second, communication is exclusively through the mass media, so all statements must be clear, short, and easily quotable. This will ensure that the right sound bite gets picked for the evening news and that the length of statement won’t exceed the disinterested individual’s attention span.

Regarding his public statements on the scandal, President Clinton prefers one of two formats: to show up, make a single prepared statement on the matter, and then leave; (Dec 11, Sept 11, Aug 17) or alternatively, end an unrelated press conference with a single statement on the matter and then leave (Jan 26, Jul 31). Clinton does not like to answer specific questions, and will not offer information other than that which he has prepared. This is consistent with his style of making others play by his rules.

Clinton seeks his rhetorical purpose by admitting nothing that cannot be proven, and moving beyond what has already surfaced. Additionally, Clinton frames his rhetoric in a way that places emphasis and importance on the American people, while at the same time ignoring or trivializing his accusers, the Republicans, and the legal process in general.

We see these elements in Clinton’s January 26, 1998 denial. Asterisks have been added where he shook his finger, for extra emphasis:

Now, I have to go back to work on my

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