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Analysis: More Apology, Mr. President, And Less Politics, Please

By Kathleen Hayden/AllPolitics

WASHINGTON (Aug. 18) -- The public confessional delivered by Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal was heartfelt.

The problem was the president did not appear to be feeling what you might hope of a man admitting to extramarital sex with a woman half his age and lying about it to everyone he has sworn to love and lead.

The last thing the American public wanted to see Monday night was a beaten man. With pundits sounding dire predictions of a mortally wounded presidency, Clinton needed to project as strong an image as possible.

And he succeeded on that front. But while avoiding the appearance of weakness, he failed to come across as at all chastened. Those looking for even a little contrition were deeply disappointed.

Instead the speech was laced with legal doublespeak and a sharp, defiant edge. Not once did he utter either the word "sorry" or "apologize."

Nor did he deliver a straightforward description of his relationship with Lewinsky. He only said it was "inappropriate." And "wrong." Oh, and it "constituted a critical lapse in judgment" (How many people tuned out at that bit of legalese?)

It's baffling, really. For a brilliant wordsmith like Clinton, whose strength lies in relating to the average person, his speech to the nation was a missed opportunity to give a fuller accounting, while appealing for the public's understanding.

So what if he was angry after four years of investigations and four hours of intimate questioning . He could have had the grace to at least sound a little more apologetic for his behavior. He might have even thrown in a pinch of humility for good measure.

Though the strategy rubbed many the wrong way, the president should be awarded points for boldness.

He took a position that many people don't believe and even fewer honor: "Even presidents have private lives." It's a question the nation will have to grapple with before the whole mess is put to rest.

It was one of the few moments when the president didn't bother to mince his words and followed an even riskier one when Clinton demanded that Independent Counsel Ken Starr, Congress and the media get their noses out of his and his family's business.

In another gamble, the president rejected the advice of advisers and included a barely measured attack on Starr. It was unnecessary for the public to hear this; opinion polls have long registered how poorly the public thinks of the independent counsel.

Not particularly politic either, since Starr still controls the Lewinsky probe. So it must have been something Clinton just felt he had to say, from his gut.

But his defensive tone left little room for any other genuine emotion. And that was the perplexing part when the president's "explanation" to the people ended a quick four minutes after it began.

Maybe Clinton didn't owe the general public an apology. Granted, he did look us in the eye seven months ago and insist we believe him when he adamantly denied any affair or coverup. But very few -- outside his family, aides and allies -- have been personally harmed by the president's conduct.

Yet, its in Clinton's best interest to keep public opinion on his side as the line in the Lewinsky investigation between the legal and the political has effectively been erased.

He attempted to strike a balance Monday night between conceding to the public as little misconduct as possible while working in as much criticism of the "political" attacks against him as listeners would be able to stomach.

For the record, Mr. President, we could have done with a lot less of the latter and a whole lot more of the former.

In Other News

Tuesday, August 18, 1998

Poll Shows Job Approval Not Hurt By Clinton Confession
Clinton's Troubles Not Over Yet
Jones: Clinton Speech Shows He Thinks 'He's Above The Law'
Dick Morris Testifies As Grand Jury Goes Back To Work
Lawmakers React To A Presidential Confession
'High Drama': Worldwide Reaction To Clinton Mixed
A Quick Look At Commentary From Around The Nation
Clinton Deposition In Jones Case: 'I've Never Had An Affair With Her'

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