Don’t Expect Bill Clinton to Follow the Script Tonight

Why the 42nd president is so good at giving speeches.

Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/Zuma

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Former President Bill Clinton will address the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, and if history is any indication, expect him to go off script. Like, a lot. Four years ago, the aspiring first man ad-libbed much of his speech endorsing President Barack Obama, forcing the teleprompter to freeze for minutes at a time as he skillfully walked the audience through Obama’s economic agenda. Clinton’s real-time edits, viewed alongside the original text, displayed a keen editorial sense of what works and what doesn’t.

But Clinton is also a hands-on editor when it comes to drafting his remarks too. Old presidential records at the Clinton Library offer a behind-the-scenes look at how Clinton (and his speechwriters) composed major addresses during his administration, scribbling in the margins in ballpoint pen and often rewriting long passages by hand. Incidentally, one of the best examples in the collection is a convention speech—from the 1996 convention in Chicago. That’s the one Clinton delivered the famous line “I still believe in a place called America.”

You can read his full markup starting below:

 

The meat of the speech, full of policy details—including a defense of his welfare reform law—received a lighter editing touch. But Clinton zeroed in on the opening, offering a blizzard of tweaks:

 

And continued with a series of rewrites on the second page:

 

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest