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Carson helped Clinton turn it around

1988 news story remembers sax performance
/ Source: The Associated Press

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton has gone from the media doghouse to media darling in one short week. And all it took was a smile, a few self-deprecating jokes and a song.

Clinton, panned for a Democratic convention speech that seemed like the last word in boredom when he nominated Michael Dukakis for president, has apparently made a comeback with his appearance Thursday with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

Cable News Network on Friday cited the governor for the “fastest turnaround ever” on its weekly “Winners and Losers.”

Clinton, considered a rising political star, had been the big loser the previous week for his July 20 speech. “Clinton proved that being a good sport is the first step to political rehabilitation,” said Frederick Allen, a CNN political analyst.

Clinton traded quips with Carson and confided that his 35-minute nomination speech, which was interrupted by chants and less polite suggestions that he stop, was actually designed to make Dukakis look good.

He also took a turn on the saxophone, doing a passable rendition of “Summertime” with Doc Severinson and the NBC Orchestra.

“People who watch television love this kind of comeback story. He was so boyish and charming. I’m sure he won a lot of hearts,” said Tom Shales, syndicated television critic for The Washington Post.

E.J. Dionne, national political writer for The New York Times, said, “It may well be that Clinton had a bigger audience on Johnny Carson than he had at the convention.”

Not everybody was watching, though. Dukakis missed the broadcast, but Mark Gearan, Dukakis’ press secretary, said he did get favorable reports.

“It came as no surprise to him that Gov. Clinton went out of the ballpark,” Gearan said.