Historians Spring an “October Surprise”

Wall Street Journal, November 3, 1998.


In the runup to every election, politicians wait in hopeful or nervous expectation of the “October surprise” — a last-minute news bombshell that can turn the electoral tide. In 1980, Republicans feared that the Carter administration would bring U.S. hostages held in Iran home prior to the election, and therefore avert the looming Reagan landslide. In 1992 Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh indicted top Reagan administration officials just before the election. This year also had its October surprise, though it came from a most unexpected quarter.

Or quarters. First, gravediggers around Monticello have purportedly confirmed that Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, did indeed father an illegitimate child with his slave, Sally Hemings, as Jefferson’s political opponents and some of his biographers had long alleged. In the year of Monica, this is supposed to be a significant finding. If Jefferson could do such a thing to his slave, it is argued, surely Mr. Clinton can be forgiven for doing similar to his servant.

American Enterprise Institute