By Marty Mulrooney
I thought it would be interesting for my first post on the site to offer an article I wrote last year about President Bill Clinton. It regards a speech he gave after his sexual scandals and indiscretions were made public. It is probably no exaggeration to state that, perhaps even until Obama came into power, Clinton was the most popular American President in recent history. It therefore comes as no surprise to me that Obama and Clinton seem to get on very well together. What is quite surprising in retrospect is that Clinton’s behavior probably didn’t harm him politically at all. Both men have used religion to reach the American people in varying ways. Clinton ruined his homely family image and still managed to stay on top. Would Obama recover from something like this today?
On Friday, September 11, 1998, to an audience of more than 100 ministers, priests and other religious leaders, President Bill Clinton delivered a speech at the annual White House prayer breakfast.
The speech, hand-written by the President, started as would be expected; a normal, formal, warm greeting to those in attendance:
“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House and to this day to which Hillary and the vice president and I look forward so much every year.”
However, that fated day was anything but normal. The speech was delivered at the peak of an extraordinary political and personal crisis in Bill Clinton’s life. A new report to congress laid the grounds for possible impeachment of the President.
The report accused Clinton of perjury, obstruction of justice and other offences stemming from his sexual affair with former White House secretary Monica Lewinsky.
Surprisingly, the President did not shy away from these issues, instead diving straight away into the very heart of the controversy.
“First, I want to say to all of you that, as you might imagine, I have been on quite a journey these last few weeks to get to the end of this, to the rock bottom truth of where I am and where we all are.”
“I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified I was not contrite enough. I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.”
“I have sinned”, as the speech is now known, was shocking in its humbleness from the outset. Rather than defend him, or offer explanation for past lies, Clinton’s speech was touching in that it came from the heart, not only as a leader, but also as a man.
“It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, my family; also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.”
It is a testament to the former President’s effective reign that nobody snickered or sneered at these words of apology. Instead, the people in attendance listened eagerly. The scandal, lies, betrayal…had somehow seemed to make him more human. This was solidified with the humility he was now using to address his people. It was this humility that made his next words ring true, and left everyone present open to the possibility that he could move beyond the scandal, to effectively serve once again as leader of the nation.
“I will intensify my efforts to lead our country and the world toward peace and freedom, prosperity and harmony, in the hope that with a broken spirit and a still strong heart I can be used for greater good, for we have many blessings and many challenges and so much work to do.”
It was with religion and God that he finished his speech, every word flowing and certain, with a lust for acceptance that was hard to ignore or deny.
“I ask once again to be able to love my neighbour – all my neighbours – as my self, to be an instrument of God’s peace; to let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and, in the end, the work of my hands, be pleasing. This is what I wanted to say to you today.”
It was a speech that paid off: Clinton left office in 2001 with a 65% approval rating, the highest end-of-presidency rating of any President that came into office after World War II. In reflection, Clinton’s final farewell words that day may well have been a sign of gratitude for the overwhelming support shown by the American people for their President, the sinner.
“Thank you. God bless you.”