A FAREWELL ADDRESS
A FAREWELL ADDRESS
by William H. Benson
September 14, 2000
On a Thursday in mid-August, President Bill Clinton stood before 4,500 parishoners and listeners via satellite at the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois and poured out his heart for his mistake with Monica Lewinsky. It was one more valiant attempt to cleanse the stain from his less-than-honorable Presidency that barely survived impeachment. George Stephanopoulos wrote in Newsweek about Clinton’s soulful outporing, “It was vintage Clinton: a synthesis of politics, theology, and pop psychology; saccharine yet sincere, self-referential to the point of self-pity and possibly politically shrewd.”
Stephanopoulos reported that the person most upset by Clinton’s political/religious diatribe was the Vice-President. “Just as Gore and Joe Lieberman are promising a fresh start, Clinton steps from the wings right into their spotlight. Gore was seething, but what could he do? Upstaged by the master . . . again.”
Gore can take heart though that in eight weeks the American voters will select a new President, either Gore or Bush, one of which will then be sworn in as President in mid-January, just four months away. Clinton’s eight years in the Oval Office will officially end.
It was George Washington who established the precendent of serving only two four-year terms and then retiring, a precedent that remained until Franklin D. Roosevelt ran a third and even a fourth time for President. To those who urged Washington to run for a third term, he turned a deaf ear. The call of home at Mount Vernon he no longer could resist. In fact, when first elected in 1788 in his inaugural voyage to New York City, he made it known at every stop that he accepted the Presidency out of a sense of duty and in spite of a deep desire to stay in retirement at Mount Vernon.
Washington’s precendent to serve only two terms became the law when Congress officially ratified the Twenty-second Amendment in 1951.
One thing Washington did though before heading home was to prepare his final parting words to his fellow citizens. This document, called Washington’s Farewell Address, he dated September 17, 1796, but then he chose not to read it. Instead, he delivered it to a publisher who printed it for distribution on September 19, 1796. In it Washington warned future Presidents and Congresses to avoid entangling themselves in the alliances and wars and political intrigues of the rest of the world’s nations, especially with the European powers, and in retrospect, this was sound advice for the fledgling nation.
Washington served his eight years and called it quits, so anxious was he to return home. In contrast, Clinton does not seem to hear a clarion call to return to Little Rock; I am not sure that he even has a home there to return to. The last I heard was that he and Hillary bought a home in New York to establish residency for her run for the Senate. And I am not sure he even wants to quit as President, but it is the law that he cannot run a third time.
Knowing what we do about Bill Clinton, I do not think that we will see him go out with anything less than on front and center stage and in the spotlight. In fact, we should anticipate more such speeches–his Farewell Addresses–similar to those at the Willow Creek Community Church. These speeches will include more partial and haulting apologies for his sins with Monica Lewinsky and the ugliness of the impeachment proceedings, plus he will position himself and his eight years in the Oval Office in a more favorable and exemplary light for the historians’ kinder touch.
I seriously doubt we will receive statesmanlike and quality advice similar to that which Washington delivered more than two centuries ago. Instead, I think we can expect him to go out with a bang, frequently upstaging his replacement, for he will not go gently into that good-night.