Graduation Year

Spring 2012

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Andrew Busch

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Rights Information

© 2012 Megan Morris


The concept of an apologetic president has only recently emerged in the United States. All presidents have made mistakes, but only recently have Americans come to expect apologies from them. The development of an increasingly critical media has necessitated that future presidents hone the art of apologizing. This thesis extrapolates lessons in this skill from the apologies of Presidents Nixon and Clinton. Watergate and Lewinsky-gate were cover-up scandals that rocked the nation in the 1970s and '90s. Although the presidential misconduct in both cases were similar, the way each president opted to navigate his controversy differed dramatically. Both presidents initially tried out the tactic of denying all accusations but branched off after taking that step. A comparison of their approaches offers insight into the possible ways of seeking forgiveness from a scorned public. The nuances of delivering a successful apology are dictated by circumstantial, structural factors as well as the personality of the president, which explains why no two apologies are the same.

Although the art of apologizing will continue to evolve over time, future presidents stand to learn a great deal from studying Nixon and Clinton. This thesis finds that even though Americans get a certain degree of satisfaction from exposing presidential wrongdoing and making life more than uncomfortable for a wayward executive, the legacies of Nixon and Clinton are proof that a smattering of mistakes cannot completely overshadow a tradition of accomplishments. No matter how vindictive Americans may appear to be in the thick of a scandal, in the long run, the United States is a forgiving nation.