Presidential scandal speeches should be considered a unique form of discoursed that follow a common pattern and have similar elements. All of these may not be found in every single speech but most certainly will, including Richard Nixon's Second Watergate Speech (1973), Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra Speech (1987), and Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky Speech (1998). All the presidents used strong, direct and active voice when making these speeches, with Clinton seeming to be particularly prone to narcissism and use of the first-person singular. A standard feature of all such speeches is for the president to take responsibility for what went wrong, express regret, and then call on the country to move on so the government can return to dealing with the nation's 'real' business. Both Nixon and Clinton also had a strong tendency to blame their political enemies for their predicament, and with good reason, although in Nixon's case this paranoia and suspicion took on pathological levels. Scandal speeches always contain bombshells and shocking information, such as Clinton's admission of having a relationship with Lewinsky, but these admissions will inevitably be placed into as favorable context as possible. As politicians who had achieved the highest office, Clinton, Nixon and Reagan all wished to avoid impeachment or resignation, which is why they carefully avoided mentioning their involvement in any possible illegal actions, although in the end Nixon did not finish his term. In all of these speeches, the presidents were also dishonest and mendacious, omitting or denying important facts, such as Reagan's prior knowledge of the illegal funding on the Contras or Nixon's ordering of the Watergate break in and cover-up. Finally, they almost always contain references to God, family and patriotism, usually at the end.
Analysis of Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky Speech
President Bill Clinton gave his infamous televised address admitting his affair with Monica Lewinsky on August 17, 1998. Republicans had been attacking Bill Clinton about his personal life and sexual behavior from the time of the first primaries in 1992, even before he had been nominated or elected. During his time in office, he was always under investigation by the independent counsel Ken Starr, who began by looking into his personal finances and then expanded into his extramarital affairs with Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and other women. Clinton became the second president to be impeached, although like Andrew Johnson in 1868 he was acquitted. Like all presidents caught up in scandals, he claimed at the start that he had been completely truthful with the independent counsel and the grand jury when they had questioned him about his sex life. He was correct when he asserted that these questions about his private affairs were ones that "no American citizen would ever want to answer." No president had ever been questioned about this subject before, and certainly not under oath, although John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower had all committed adultery.
In the past, at least before Watergate, the media and public simply did not question presidents about these matters, although it had occasionally been in issue in elections for presidents like Thomas Jefferson and Grover Cleveland. Almost immediately, Clinton went on to take "complete responsibility for all my actions, both public and private," which is what all presidents must do in these scandal speeches. Even Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan took full responsibility for Watergate and Iran-Contra, although they never revealed every detail about what had really gone on in these scandals. Bill Clinton had been equally reluctant to "volunteer information" about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but in this particularly humiliating speech he had to admit that it occurred. Then he came to the bombshell portion of the speech by admitting that he did "have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible."
Once again, Clinton's remarks in this speech were similar to those of other presidents caught up in personal or political scandals in that he denied any violations of the law, perjury or obstruction of justice. For the Republicans, the key goal was to have Clinton lie to the grand jury under oath so he could be impeached and perhaps face criminal charges. They had been pursuing him for six years in hopes of finding some type of illegality or incriminating information, but he insisted that "at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action." As usual in other such presidential addresses, he expressed his deep regret for these actions, especially because he had given a "false impression" to the public and hurt his wife and daughter, and that his primary desire had been to "protect myself from the embarrassment of my own conduct," as well as his family. All along, he knew that these attacks on him by the Republicans were politically motivated, and the majority of the public agreed with him. Kenneth Starr had been pursuing him for years, in such a zealous and partisan way that he brought the office of independent counsel into disrepute. Indeed, even since Clinton's impeachment, that office has been abolished and no new special counsel has been appointed at the federal level. No investigation had ever revealed any financial wrongdoing by Bill and Hillary Clinton, even though his political opponents had accused him of many crimes, including the murder of witnesses like Vince Foster to keep them silent.
In concluding his speech, Clinton made the standard points that other presidents like Nixon and Reagan had in their scandal speeches, especially that the time had come to move on to other issues. He stated that "this has gone on too long, cost too much and hurt too many innocent people." All American politicians make reference to God in these types of speeches, as did Clinton when he said "this matter is between me, the two people I love most -- my wife and our daughter -- and our God. I must put it right, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to do so." He now wanted to make amends to his wife and family, and to seek their forgiveness, which was "nobody's business but ours." He denounced the politics of personal destruction that had been inflicted on him for six years, which he thought was in part designed to discourage candidates from running for political office in the future. Ironically, not long after his impeachment, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of Clinton's chief persecutors, was also forced to resign in a scandal involving adultery and financial impropriety, and his successor Robert Livingston also stepped down almost immediately when he was exposed for having an extramarital affair. Both sides of the political spectrum had learned to play the personal destruction game very well as a result of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and it has continued ever since. One of its most recent victims was former Democratic presidential candidate Jonathan Edwards, exposed for having an extramarital affair and put on trial for giving money from campaign contributions to his mistress.
Bill Clinton insisted that even presidents should have the right to a private life, and that there were limits that no politician should be forced to endure. He pleaded for an end to stories about the scandal so he could return to the nation's business, stating again that the "country has been distracted by this matter for too long, and I take my responsibility for my part in all of this." It was time for the nation to move on to deal with "real problems" in foreign and domestic policy and put an end to "the spectacle of the past seven months, to repair the fabric of our national discourse, and to return our attention to all the challenges and all the promise of the next American century." Clinton must also have been aware that part of the reasons for the Republicans had for pursuing him so zealously was that Nixon and Reagan had also been badly damaged by independent counsel investigations, with the former finally being forced to resign in 1974. In both of these administrations, many of the president's officials had been indicted, tried and sentenced to prison, so when the Republicans sensed an opportunity to do the same to Clinton, they pursued him without mercy.
Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra Scandal
When President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation from the White House concerning Iran-Contra on March 4th, 1987, he understood that he was caught up in a scandal that had the potential to destroy his presidency and might have led to his resignation of impeachment. In reality, he merely claimed to have been innocently unaware of what had been going on in the White House and National Security Council with Col. Oliver North, Admiral John Poindexter and Vice President George Bush, and the former two officials took all the…