The real words of King? "I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government." (quoted in: Husseini)
The final major flaw is that Clinton addresses the black ministers with a severe racial hubris -- he never makes any mention of the racial differences that might call into question his naive (at best) brotherly demeanor. He careful avoids bringing attention to the fact that he is not, as he says, "one of" these honest black ministers -- he does not actually share in their pain or their calling. The fact that he preaches to them on their moral duty instead of involving them in dialog and addressing them honestly as equals who might have as much to teach him as vice versa on the issue of race relations is rather disturbing.
Reactions to the speech were mixed. It was widely hailed as a breakthrough, and considered to be extremely eloquent. One New York Times reported said of it, "[Clinton] spoke from within himself, responding in emotional terms to the appalling reality of violence in this country today. The response he got shows that one thing Americans want a President to do is to speak out about wrongs... No one person can solve our problems of social decay but this President has made us face them." (in: American Review) Perhaps ironically, for an unabashedly liberal-centrist president, the conservative parties apparently had very little to say about this speech, though of course they generally opposed his crime and medical bills which were exalted here. The general white media seemed glad to honor it as racial bridge-building, an assessment based, one assumes, on the cozy fashion in which Clinton addressed the ministers as brothers.
Black activist groups and true liberals, on the other hand, had some rather harsh opinions of the speech. Their readings, like that of this listener, instantly saw the speech as a very direct attack on the progress of civil rights (as seen in his claim that King would decry black people's supposed misuse of their freedoms).
As Scott Marshall of the Race and Ethnicity site says:
Perhaps the most unashamedly racist speech by a president, or any public official, was Clinton's "off-the-cuff, straight-from-the-heart" speech in which he lamented the "great crisis of the spirit that is gripping America today." Using codewords and themes such as "personal responsibility," "family stability" and "family pathologies," he reverted to the old themes of blaming the victims, revealing a president deeply infected with racism. This address will go down in history as infamous, reviving the oldest and worst racist stereotypes, bigotry and ignorance."
Clinton reports that this speech was done entirely off-the-cuff. As he says in his book My Life, " I put away my notes and, [I was] speaking to friends from my heart in the language of our shared heritage..." (excerpt in: Blueprint Magazine) it is difficult to say precisely what heritage Clinton shared with these minority religious leaders. It is even more difficult to be sure about the actual heritage of this speech. According to Clinton's autobiography, the speech was delivered on-the-fly, as it were. In other places, however, he openly and promiscuously gave credit for the writing of that speech to one of his prominently non-white (Latina) speechwriters, Carolyn Curiel.
Curiel herself, on the other hand, collaborates his early statement by saying that "gave him talking points, not text, and Clinton launched off of them..." (Bogue) One can, of course, consider any number of reasons why the president might want to credit a speech which many considered to be racist to a non-white woman writer.
Carolyn Curiel is also credited as being the author of his 1995 speech on affirmative action, in which the phrase "mend it, don't end it" was introduced.
Curiel's life story is, in itself, an obvious tribute to the successes of affirmative action. She spent most of her childhood removed from the normal experiences of a child in her position due to dehabilitating asthma that kept her constantly in a controlled indoor environment. She became a fluent reader, actor, and writer early in. She attended school to study journalism, and fresh out of her graduation was snapped up by a company who liked her resume. She held a short series of jobs after that, including working for some short time for Ted Koppel. The White House actually contact her, at her job with the New York Times, to ask her to audition for a position as a presidential screenwriter. After she was very quickly snatched up to the White House, where she frequently volunteered for the most difficult writing assignments. After leaving her position there, she was honored by the president and granted the position of "ambassador for life." She credits her success with her ability to, as she puts it, "Plug Away!" And "Stand out in some way... I could put myself in a position where I could show results." (Borgue)
If Carloyn did write this speech herself, it still does not alter the fact that it has many racist undertones perceptible to an alert listener. For starters, of course, Carolyn is not black but Hispanic, and historically there has been some tension between these two groups. Perhaps more importantly, of course, is the fact that the role of the speechwriter not to evoke their own opinion and ideas about the world, but to submerge their own id and ego in favor of expressing the articulations and ideas of the person for whom the speech is written. Clinton's poilitical stances are the primary thing which affected this speech. Apparently, spontaneous alterations of the text and proof-reading of any speech texts. In one article on the historical development of speech-writing explained: "[Clinton] would start reading what you had, and he would edit with his mouth, not with his hands. 'That's not me; I can't say that; how does this sound?'... As he gave it there would be an entirely different speech taking shape... And that would be the nucleus of a new speech." (American President.org) With such a pattern, there is no wonder that this speech was slightly dismorphic.
American Presidents.org "Office of Speechwriting: Judson Welliver and His Successors. http://www.americanpresident.org/action/orgchart/administration_units/officeofspeechwriting/printable.html
American Review. "PRESIDENT CLINTON'S SPEECH to BLACK MINISTERS in MEMPHIS. http://www.americanreview.us/memphis.htm
Borgue, Amy. " Alumna Enjoys Career as Presidential Speechwriter, Journalist and Ambassador" the Communicator. http://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/comm/Newsletter/Spring2003/curiel.html
Clinton, Bill. My Life (Excerpt). Blueprint Magazine, July 2004. http://www.ndol.org/ndol_ci.cfm?kaid=127&subid=173&contentid=252794
Clinton, Bill. "REMARKS to the CONVOCATION of the CHURCH of GOD in CHRIST in MEMPHIS, November 13, 1993." The Clinton Foundation. http://www.clintonfoundation.org/legacy/111393-speech-by-president-in-memphis.htm
Denton, Nancy. "Half Empty or Half Full: Segregation and Segregated Neighborhoods 30 years after the Fair Housing Act." Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. Vol 4 No 3. 1999, pp. 107-122.
Husseini, Sam. "Religion and Politics: The Media's One-Dimensional View" Osama Husseini. http://www.husseini.org/
Marshall, Scott. " the Fight Against Racism Today" Race & Ethnicity. http://eserver.org/race/fight-against-racism-today.html