The ongoing Lance Armstrong PR crisis has taken a new and interesting turn with the disgraced cyclist comparing himself to former U.S. President Bill Clinton. The website Deadspin is reporting that Armstrong said in an interview with Texas Monthly: “Ultimately, people forgive and forget and remember the good stuff you did… Is it hard to do? Yeah. But Clinton did it. He loves to work, he loves people, he loves to hustle.” Armstrong continued: “He’s a hero of mine. He’s a tough guy, he’s smart, surrounded himself with good people. And 10 years later, he’s president of the world. It can be done.”
Armstrong’s desire to repair his image is understandable, and Clinton certainly provides an amazing case study in overcoming reputation challenges to both remain relevant and to find favor again in the eyes of millions.
There are actually a handful of similarities between Clinton and Armstrong. Both are Southerners. Both grew up without fathers at home, rising from working-class childhoods to become household names all across the globe. Both, indisputably, made positive impacts through their dedication to charity: Armstrong through the Livestrong Foundation that he created and Clinton through a limitless number of worldwide humanitarian efforts.
But that is pretty much where the similarities end.
Armstrong gained fame and fortune through his athletic achievements, which were recently revealed to have been fueled in part by the very illegal drugs that he repeatedly and vehemently denied using. Clinton, on the other hand, was a scholar, policy wonk and political genius who became the first two-term Democratic president since FDR and a nominee for the Nobel peace prize.
Clinton betrayed his wife and the public by denying the truth before it was ultimately revealed. Armstrong not only lied for years about his behavior, but he used his personal power and vast financial fortune to bully, smear, and in some cases financially ruin others through litigation, labeling them as liars when it was he who was deceiving the world. Would Clinton have been able to revive his personal brand if he had attacked Monica Lewinsky with a vengeance and sued her into oblivion?
More importantly, a fundamental part of what made Clinton’s resurrection possible, and what could prove a high hurdle for Armstrong, are personal traits and communications skills that Bubba has in spades, but Lance does not seem to possess.
Clinton is arguably one of the most skilled communicators the world has ever seen. He can speak extemporaneously on a mind-blowing number of issues. But most importantly, Bill Clinton exudes charisma, a rare and almost indescribable magnetism that draws people to him. His empathy is legendary—he excels in giving people the impression that he not only understands their pain, but that he feels it too. He easily forms deep and personal bonds to those with whom he interacts.
Armstrong, with his brash and prickly demeanor, is an entirely different animal. During a lengthy interview with Oprah in which he admitted to doping, he often came across as cold and calculating.
To succeed with his Lance Armstrong damage control program, the fallen idol must strive to form an emotional connection with the public. They will ultimately be the ones who decide to bestow upon him scorn or forgiveness.
Many will look at Lance Armstrong’s recent comments associating himself with Bill Clinton as a display of narcissism. While time will tell if his efforts to revive the Armstrong brand will succeed, one thing does seem immediately clear: Lance Armstrong still believes in his ability to overcome adversity and triumph in the end.