The President’s Previous Apology

With Harry Thomason going before the grand jury on Tuesday, Chatterbox was reminded of the Hollywood producer’s role in orchestrating one Bill Clinton’s rare mea culpas. It was Thomason and his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who arranged for Clinton to repair his image on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show after the Arkansas governor’s “don’t stop talking until tomorrow” 1988 convention speech nominating Michael Dukakis. As Bloodworth-Thomason said at the time with eerie prescience, “It was certainly a better choice than having [Clinton] go on MacNeill/Lehrer and play the sax. I’ve always thought that politics and show business were an awful lot alike anyway.”

But reading accounts of the 1988 Clinton apologia on the Tonight Show do not provide much fodder for those hoping that the president will tell the truth about Monica Lewinsky. Even as Clinton played Summertime on the sax and played along with a Carson gag of clocking his remarks with an egg timer, the future president still stubbornly defended his endless oration as a “good idea that didn’t work.” And by the time he got back to Arkansas after his late-night performance, the unabashed Clinton had perfected his spin, claiming with trademark sincerity, “It does a politician good to get knocked on the face now and then. To be embarrassed and criticized on a personal level, it makes you more sensitive to other people.”

Still, even if the president won’t be allowed to play his instrument in front of the grand jury next Monday, he’ll still have no problem proving his sax appeal.

Walter Shapiro