This is the speech delivered by President Bill Clinton at the annual White House prayer breakfast on Friday, September 11, 1998, to an audience of more than 100 ministers, priests and other religious leaders. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was also in attendance.
The speech, written in long hand by the president, was delivered at the beginning of a day of tremendous political and personal turmoil surrounding the publication of the first report to Congress by Independent Counsel Ken Starr. The Starr Report, published on the Internet about 2 p.m. on Friday, laid the grounds for possible impeachment of the president, accusing Clinton of perjury, obstruction of justice and other offenses in connection with his sexual affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
If the President did in fact write this address himself, I am very impressed with his communication skills. Repeatedly throughout the speech, Clinton appeals to the forgiving nature of all those listening. Within the first few opening sentences, the President manages to gain sympathy by saying that he was up rather late thinking and praying about what he ought to say. Through a combination of this and stating that he himself wrote the speech, he has already gained support form his audience which can set the tone for how they will react to the remainder of what he has to say.
President Clinton then continues his attempt to put himself on the same ground as the American public. He says that he has hit the rock bottom truth of where I am and where we all are. Again, such a statement allows the assumption that he himself is honest and true, just like we all are. Clinton takes great care to mention the American public and how he is continually making efforts to lead the country. This covers himself for any later accusations that he is overly concerned with his own problems, and not with those of the nation.
In the speech, the President mentions the word repent four times, forgiveness three times, and eludes to his own sin more times than could be counted. All three ideas lend further to the sympathy issue. Which it seems, was Clintons primary intention.
I thought that the passage used form the book Gates of Repentance was very appropriate for the situation. It was also good that the President referred to more than one religion. He mentions prayers to God and forgiveness received from the Catholic clergy, and then continues the religious theme by directly quoting from a Jewish, Yom Kippur liturgy. Again, Clinton was careful to relate himself to the common person, careful not to exclude or connect himself to only one group. Throughout the entire speech, he uses simple, every-day language that can be easily understood by the most educated scholar to the average member of society. Again, this allows more room to reach the people, regardless of class or religion.
In his closing statements, the President asks for assistance and forgiveness. In my opinion, it was an excellent end to a very powerful speech. If his purpose was to gain national support and change any negative feelings that the public had toward him, I feel that his goal was achieved. The years of political exposure that Bill Clinton has been subject to probably effected his ability to write such a speech. Regardless of his experience, the President is a natural at the powerful act of persuasion.