Bill Clinton is famously, and sometimes mockingly, remembered for biting his lip before he prepared to say something. At times, it seemed corny or even smarmy, and on Saturday Night Live, it became a staple of the great Phil Hartman’s impression of Clinton during the Clinton Administration. The mannerism was usually followed with a comment like, “I feel your pain.”
However, in Michael Takiff’s awesome oral history of Bill Clinton, A Complicated Man, it is revealed that there was much more to Clinton’s lip biting than a goofy quirk. In fact, it was a calculated action — a speed bump for the lightning quick thoughts of one of the most intellectually powerful and supremely gifted politicians in American history. Clinton’s longtime aide and one of the driving forces of his 1992 Presidential campaign, Paul Begala, says that Clinton was trained to do the lip biting because Clinton answered questions so quickly that it almost seemed unnatural.
According to Begala:
“He was so smart about so many things but also could connect. The whole thing about his biting his lip — that was coached. Because he would answer so fast. We’d say, ‘Take a beat. Pretend you’re thinking about it. Pretend you haven’t already got an answer.’ It was a studied thing to give himself a second to force himself to slow down.”