Clinton, William Jefferson


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Clinton, William Jefferson

Bill Clinton. THE WHITE HOUSE
Bill Clinton.
THE WHITE HOUSE

With his election as the forty-second president of the United States on November 3, 1992, William Jefferson Clinton became the first Democrat in the White House since jimmy carter left office in 1981. Clinton began his presidency pledging to reduce the federal government's budget deficit; streamline bureaucracy; increase public investment in education, job training, and the environment; and initiate widespread domestic reforms in health care, Welfare, and taxation. Although the United States achieved significant economic growth under Clinton, his presidency was eventually marred by personal and legal problems, including the second Impeachment of a president in the history of the country.

Although Clinton made progress toward reducing the budget deficit during his presidency, some of his other reforms, such as his proposal for universal health care coverage, met with opposition in the 103d Congress of 1993–94. Nevertheless, Clinton made an impact on U.S. law. On many issues, from Abortion to environmental protection, he steered the nation in a different direction from that of his Republican predecessors, Presidents ronald reagan and george h. w. bush.

Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe IV on August 19, 1946, in Hope, Arkansas. His father, William Jefferson Blythe III, died in a car accident before the future president was born, and his mother, Virginia Cassidy Blythe, married Roger Clinton four years after Blythe's death. When Clinton was seven years old, the family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he spent the rest of his childhood.

Clinton graduated fourth in his class at Hot Springs High School in 1964. Already intent on entering politics, he enrolled at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C. He completed a bachelor's degree in international studies in 1968 and won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, in England. After two years at Oxford, he entered Yale University Law School on a scholarship in 1970. He married Hillary Rodham on October 11, 1975.

"If you live long enough, you'll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you'll be a better person. It's how you handle adversity, not how it affects you."
—Bill Clinton

After a brief stint as a staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee, Clinton was hired in 1973 as a member of the faculty of the University of Arkansas School of Law, in Fayetteville. The following year, he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Arkansas's Third Congressional District. He lost by only four percentage points in a Republican stronghold. After successfully running Carter's Arkansas presidential campaign in 1976, Clinton won the office of state attorney general that same year.

In 1978, at the age of 32, Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas. He was the youngest governor ever to enter office in Arkansas, and the youngest governor in the nation since 1938, when Harold C. Stassen was elected governor of Minnesota at the same age. Shortly after entering office, Clinton raised the gasoline tax and automobile-licensing fees in order to finance highway improvements. These tax increases proved unpopular, and he lost the governorship in the 1980 election.

Clinton spent the next two years working in private legal practice, then won re-election as governor in 1982 and held the post until his election as president. He implemented educational reforms in Arkansas during the 1980s, increasing educational funding through a higher sales tax and introducing such measures as competency tests for teachers and compulsory school attendance through age 17 for students.

In 1992, Clinton entered a crowded field of candidates jostling for the Democratic nomination for president. His competitors included Jerry Brown, a former governor of California; Paul E. Tsongas, a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts; and Thomas R. Harkin, a U.S. senator from Iowa. Despite rumors of an affair with a singer named Gennifer Flowers, Clinton won his party's nomination. He chose albert gore Jr., a U.S. senator from Tennessee, as his running mate. In the general election, he defeated President George H. W. Bush and an independent candidate, H. Ross Perot. Clinton tallied 43 percent of the popular vote, against 38 percent for Bush and 19 percent for Perot.

Clinton was sworn in as president on January 20, 1993. At 46 years of age, he was the youngest president since john f. kennedy. Entering office at a time of economic recession, he immediately set to work on domestic agenda calling for economic stimulus, long-term public investments, and a deficit-reduction plan. Key aspects of this plan involved health care reform, reduction of tariffs, tax increases for the wealthy, tax cuts for the poor, spending increases for job training, and programs to increase the efficiency of the federal government.

Clinton experienced only partial success in implementing his proposals in Congress, even though his party enjoyed majority status in both the House and the Senate during the 103d Congress. He won passage of and earned Income Tax credit for working poor people; cut federal spending and bureaucracy; and passed the National and Community Service Trust Act (107 Stat. 785 [1993]), which provides students with tuition assistance in exchange for work on special service projects.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (32 I.L.M. 605), signed by Clinton on December 8, 1993, was hailed as landmark legislation. Although NAFTA negotiations had begun under President George H. W. Bush, Clinton made the controversial trade agreement a test of his presidency and used his influence to secure its passage through Congress in the North American Free Trade Implementation Act (107 Stat. 2057 [1993]). The agreement removes tariffs on products traded between the United States, Mexico, and Canada over a 15-year period. The Clinton administration also secured major changes in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Clinton did not win passage of his entire economic stimulus package, nor was he able to generate significant welfare reform. But the most noted failure of the early Clinton administration proposals was its sweeping plan to reform health care. Organized by Hillary Rodham Clinton and presented to Congress in the fall of 1993, the 240,000-word document was one of the most detailed legislative proposals ever presented to Congress. The Health Care Security Act, as it was later called, would have provided Health Insurance to all citizens. Although the act was defeated in Congress, it spurred modest reforms that helped to bring down the health care inflation rate in future years.

During the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton had pledged to lift a ban on homosexuals in the military. His efforts to fulfill this promise during his first year in office quickly met with disapproval from military leaders, members of Congress, and the general public. After lengthy debate of the issue in Congress, Clinton moderated his initial position with a new policy that was dubbed "don't ask, don't tell." Under this policy, homosexuals are free to serve in the military as long as they do not display their homosexuality or engage in homosexual conduct. Many homosexual rights advocates voiced their disappointment with Clinton's compromise on the issue.

Other significant legislation signed by Clinton included the Family and Medical Leave Act (29 U.S.C.A. §§ 2601 et seq. [1993]), which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for family illness, childbirth, or Adoption. The National Voter Registration Act (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1973gg et seq. [1993]), also called the motor-voter law, permits citizens to register to vote by mail or while obtaining a driver's license. Similar bills had been vetoed by President Bush.

Another bill signed by Clinton, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 248 [1994]), strengthens protection of family-planning clinics that perform abortions by making it a federal crime to obstruct clinic entrances and harass clinic patients and personnel.

Clinton signed into law a major piece of anticrime legislation on September 13, 1994 (108 Stat. 1796). The $30.2 billion measure was a complex mixture of government spending and changes in Criminal Law. It provided for social programs, prisons, and the hiring of 100,000 police officers nationwide; the extension of the death penalty to more crimes; and the banning of 19 different assault-style firearms.

Clinton was the first Democratic president since lyndon b. johnson to make an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993 and stephen breyer in 1994. Both justices were approved by the U.S. Senate with little controversy. With their moderate positions, these justices were likely to help prevent threatened reversals of previous Court decisions on abortion and Civil Rights.

Clinton appeared less confident in the area of foreign policy. Early in his term, critics characterized his handling of U.S. policy toward conflicts in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda as indecisive. Clinton appeared to gain confidence with time, however, and claimed a number of foreign policy victories later in his administration. He successfully sent U.S. troops to Haiti in 1994 to restore democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. The Clinton administration also secured significant disarmament agreements with Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, former states of the Soviet Union that possessed Nuclear Weapons; restored normal diplomatic relations with Vietnam; helped to broker peace negotiations in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; and slowed North Korea's development of nuclear weapons.

In March 1992, questions arose concerning a failed Arkansas business deal that the Clintons had been involved in during the 1980s. The deal centered on the Whitewater Development Corporation, a proposed real estate development near Little Rock. Among the charges later directed at Clinton was that he had benefited from criminal actions of James McDougal, an Arkansas savings-and-loan owner. In particular, it was alleged that McDougal had illegally diverted money to Clinton's gubernatorial campaign fund—money that McDougal had been able to raise partly through the help of then-Governor Clinton. James and Susan McDougal, along with former Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker, were convicted of Fraud in 1996 for their roles in several transactions, including the Whitewater affair.

The Whitewater scandal was the most damaging to Clinton in the first term of his presidency, drawing comparisons to the Watergate scandal under President richard m. nixon and the iran-contra scandal under President Reagan. The continuing investigation into White-water by independent counsel kenneth w. starr also led to first impeachment trial in the U.S. House of Representatives since President Andrew Johnson in 1868.

The roots of Clinton's impeachment began in 1994, when Starr began his investigation and Clinton faced a series of accusations regarding sexual misconduct. In 1994, Paula C. Jones filed a Sexual Harassment lawsuit against Clinton, alleging that Clinton had made unwanted sexual advances in a hotel room in 1991, when he was governor of Arkansas and she was a state employee. Clinton was the first sitting president since 1962 to face a civil lawsuit. Meanwhile, as early as 1995, Clinton began having an adulterous relationship with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky that lasted into 1997. In December 1997, Jones's lawyers named Lewinsky as a potential witness in the sexual harassment lawsuit. Lewinsky filed an Affidavit in the Jones case, denying that she had had sexual relations with the president, although in a series of events that were disclosed later, Lewinsky had returned several gifts that Clinton had report-edly given her during the affair. On January 12, 1997, Linda Tripp, a co-worker of Lewinsky's who had recorded telephone conversations in which Lewinsky had described the affair, turned tapes over to Starr. About a year later, on January 17, 1998, Clinton denied in a testimony before the Grand Jury in the Jones case that he had had an "extramarital sexual affair," "sexual relations," or a "sexual relationship" with Lewinsky. Starr then investigated whether Clinton had lied under oath and/or whether he had encouraged others to lie. After Starr granted her Immunity for her testimony, Lewinsky appeared before a grand jury in August 1998, describing at least 11 sexual encounters, although none involved sexual intercourse. Clinton admitted to some encounters with Lewinsky that had involved oral sex, but he claimed that because he had not engaged in intercourse, his denials about sexual relations did not constitute perjury.

Starr submitted a report to the House of Representatives on September 8, 1998, outlining 11 grounds for impeaching Clinton, including charges of perjury and obstructing justice. On October 5, 1998, the House Judiciary Committee voted 21-16, along party lines, to recommend that the House begin formal impeachment proceedings. The House concurred with the committee's recommendation, and in December 1998, Clinton faced four Articles of Impeachment. On December 19, the House approved two of the articles charging Clinton with perjury in his grand jury testimony and with Obstruction of Justice. The trial then moved to the Senate, where Chief Justice william h. rehnquist presided as the senators listened in silence to presentations by Clinton's defense team and representatives from the House. After about a month of deliberations, the Senate voted on whether to remove Clinton from office. On both counts, the vote failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority.

Although the impeachment undoubtedly scarred Clinton's legacy, his economic success was virtually unparalleled in recent U.S. history. Although Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years (Clinton admitted that he was partly responsible for his party's losses) the national deficit was reduced by several billion dollars during the last few years of the Clinton presidency. The country also experienced sustained levels of economic growth that were unmatched since the early 1960s.

Notwithstanding his successes, controversies surrounding Clinton continued even as he left office in 2001. On January 20, 2001, on his final morning in office, Clinton granted more than 170 presidential pardons and commutations, including those for two fugitive financiers who allegedly had traded illegally with Iran in the 1980s and defrauded the U.S. government of about $48 million in taxes. In March 2001, Attorney General john ashcroft announced that he had launched an investigation into the pardons, dubbed "Pardongate" by the media. Clinton's actions in office also affected his status as a lawyer, as both the Arkansas Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court suspended his law license for the perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges stemming from the Lewinsky and Paula Jones affairs.

Clinton has remained in the public consciousness, although his legacy in U.S. history is difficult to assess thus far. In 2001, he received a $12 million advance to publish his memoirs. In March 2003, the CBS television network announced that Clinton had agreed to appear with former senator robert dole, whom Clinton had defeated in the 1996 presidential election, in a regular piece on the news program 60 Minutes, where the former politicians debate current political issues. Clinton maintains an office in New York City, and construction of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, will be completed in the fall of 2004. Conservatives typically dismiss Clinton's economic and domestic achievements, pointing out his indiscretions throughout his two terms in office. Liberal supporters do not dismiss his imprudence, but they point out that he both presided over the country's emergence from economic recession and provided millions of Americans with opportunities that they would not have had without his programs.

Further readings

Clinton, Bill. 1996. State of the Union address, January 23. Transcript available at 1996 WL 23253 (White House) and at the Democratic National Committee Web site <www.democrats.org/contact/president/union.html>.

——. 1995. Clinton Administration Accomplishments. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Executive Office of the President. Office of Management and Budget. 1993. A Vision of Change for America. February 17.

Johnson, Haynes Bonner. 2001. The Best of Times: America in the Clinton Years. New York: Harcourt.

Cross-references

Armed Services; Gay and Lesbian Rights; Voting; Presidential Powers; Veto.