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

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones 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:

 

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate