The Map Room Speech delivered by President Bill Clinton by way of apology and explanation regarding his conduct with Monica Lewinsky appeals to the listener as an American and as an individual, that is, makes its appeal to personal and presumably universal feelings and emotions regarding the state and the family. This speech must be reviewed with the idea in mind that this is not the first time that Clinton is speaking on the subject.
His initial statement regarding Lewinsky involved the memorable line “I did not have sexual relations with that woman. ” In the early stages of a scandal, it is possible to strategize along the lines of the Chinese saying that “less talk, less mistake. ” That is, by delivering a direct and unequivocal statement, it is possible to brazen everything out and avoid further discussion regarding degrees of involvement or moral culpability. However, in view of later developments, it became necessary to take a different tack.
The strategy employed by this speech involves admitting a mistake – admitting a “wrong” relationship with Ms Lewinsky and deceiving his wife in the process – but it is a mistake that had to be framed as a mistake that any other man would have made. But at the same time that it presents the President as having a lot in common with the man on the street, it also intends to reinforce the image of great-heartedness expected in a gentleman, where he says “I must take complete responsibility for all my actions, public and private.
” Here we are presented with a fusion of Everyman and Hero. The first paragraph of this speech makes the point that he has, in the course of the investigation, answered questions that “no American citizen would ever want to answer. ” The juxtaposition of “American citizen” with the concept of doing something unwillingly while at the mercy of a probing authorities is meant to create tension between the idea of the American as the “freest citizen on Earth” and a version of reality where he actually is not quite “free”.
On some level it would evoke the historical “white man’s burden” that the US was supposed to have taken up when it acquired colonies in Asia – that the American has a great responsibility to truth because to those whom much is given, much is expected. The ordinary man on the street might feel this, that he submits to Big Brother on occasion, because he must keep his country great and intact. In the next paragraphs he owns up to his mistakes while emphasizing the mitigating factors.
He has been truthful and never lied, since all his answers were “legally accurate. ” This would dispose of the famous episode where “oral sex” as “real sex” was called into question during the investigation. He also stresses that he never asked anyone to practice deception for his sake, which statement seems to be intended to call attention to the fact that he is not a heartless cheating bastard or a predatory boss.
He did not ask the women in his life – his wife and his mistress – to cover up for him, or to risk their integrity for him as he could have done so easily, as some unscrupulous men would have done quite easily, were they situated in a position as powerful as his. Clinton then proceeds to attribute his silence to a lapse in judgment. The earlier tactic of brazening out a tricky situation seems to have backfired, and thus must be transformed into, or presented as, keeping quiet out of the desire to protect the innocent – those who cannot protect themselves.
Of course, one keeps silent or withholds information from the media, and this portion contrasts the family man’s desire to protect honor or the finer sensibilities of his wife and daughter with that of the media as a relentless institution that will say all, that must have its ratings and viewers, at the expense of reputations or feelings or whatever it is that is insulted in the course of getting the story. He also reminds the public that there was a politically motivated lawsuit – one which was subsequently dismissed – that was ongoing at the time the scandal erupted.
Now the image includes political enemies, whose popular image would be, like the media, that of predators: Power-hungry individuals out to destroy a man who is only trying to do his best. In touching on this investigation he says: “The independent counsel investigation moved on to my staff and friends, then into my private life, and now the investigation itself is under investigation. This has gone on too long, cost too much, and hurt too many innocent people. ”
Here it is worthwhile to note the emphasis on cost, the toll which the investigation, where he and his wife have been cleared anyway, has taken not just in terms of time or money, but again in terms of the mental or moral anguish that it has caused “innocent people. ” He then brings the situation home; the public issue is also a private one, and indeed, now that the public aspect of it has been disposed of, the process of dealing with it as a personal, a family issue, commences. The unspoken truth here is that this process will be more difficult than the public one.
He says that the people he loves most are his wife and daughter. Such statements are rather like a Hallmark greeting card – bland enough to slide off without anyone taking umbrage or questioning the validity of the statement. At the same time, the cliche carries with it great power. While love is a complex thing that is constantly in flux, with family relations being a barometer of the same, the ordinary individual does not question its nature but only sticks to his guns and says “I love my family.
” To say, “Now 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. Nothing is more important to me personally,” is to say exactly what the ordinary American thinks he would feel in such a situation, and moreover, it uses much the same language that he would. The father of the family also puts his foot down when he says, “…I intend to reclaim my family life for my family. It’s nobody’s business but ours. ”
Of course, one of the more striking lines in this speech is “Even Presidents have private lives. ” The audience here is asked to have mercy, or perhaps, more accurately, to step up and do their part as members of a community. If America is a great democracy, then the rules that apply to you and your neighbors down the hall or across the street apply to the president too – and not just rules, but privileges. The turn of phrase is made even more pleasing by the suggestion that this time, it is the nation – the man with his beer on the couch, watching tv, the mother preparing dinner, that has the power.
Spare the President, because he’s only human. And this way, the passive viewer gets to feel that he or she actually gets to do something that matters. Then Clinton, in the last three paragraphs, draws matters to a close. He says that “It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives, and get on with our national life. ” This is calculated to appeal to loftier feelings. It says “You’re better than that. ” Or better yet “We’re better than that. ” With these words, he aligns himself with the people.
It is at this point that he ceases to be – at least within the framework of this speech – the beleaguered and erring politician, or the earnest, hardworking father and husband who has made the mistake of an office dalliance. At this point, he is gathering up the reins and resuming the role of President, Leader of the Nation. In its sweep, it even disposes of the notion that the presidency he holds is actually at the mercy of the people’s preference. But there is nothing wrong with this, not really.
After all, anyone who has been a leader, whether coach of a basketball team, head of a clique or a mother of small children, knows that there is a time when one has to act decisively, to think for the followers and act rather than to pay obsessive attention to their every squeak and whimper. He refers to the country as having been “distracted for too long. ” Indeed, the business of nation-building, or at least the one of getting along from one day to another as a nation, would appear to benefit from being presented once more as something lofty.
For once everything is in place – when the people have enough to eat, for instance, and homes and televisions and cable tv – it is easy to become lost in inane distractions like a media circus. Or at least, that it is a media circus and detrimental to the work begun by the Founding Fathers and continued by the Pioneers, is the desired effect. He calls then for people to the “important work to do – real opportunities to seize, real problems to solve, real security matters to face.
” This effectively writes off the scandal in which he has been recently embroiled as “not real. ” Security issues are real, the opportunity for economic growth is real, but the doings of a man and his intern are less “real. ” And this makes sense in a practical way – set against the greater scale of things, it seems to say, does it really matter that Bill Clinton had sex with Monica Lewinsky? This speech acknowledges its importance to the nation in a “if it’s important to you, then it’s important to me” kind of way; “I care about how you feel,” he says to America.
But as it ends, he presents the events of the preceding months as a small matter, after all, set against the backdrop of the greatness that is America in the century that (at that time) was just about to begin. In conclusion, in the alliances and associations created by this speech is a powerful message to the listeners that they mustn’t care too much about one man’s mistake – what they (and that erring man) have at hand is a much greater task: upholding the great American nation.
Courtney from Study Moose
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