The Presidents of the USA



Bill Clinton
A not so distant period before the World Trade Center fell, before U.S. troops bogged down in Iraq, before the economy reeled toward recession. And also before the scandals and the bitter partisan battles that consumed so much of the 1990s.

Born Aug. 19, 1946, Hope, Ark.
Political partyDemocrat
Education ♦ Georgetown University, B.S., 1968
 ♦ Rhodes scholar Oxford University, 1968-70;
 ♦ Yale University, J.D., 1973
Military service none
Previous public office  ♦ Attorney general of Arkansas, 1977-79;
 ♦ governor of Arkansas, 1979-81, 1983-92
picture of Bill Clinton

Early Life

Clinton's father was killed in an automobile accident three months before he was born, and he was adopted by his mother's second husband. Throughout his school years he was considered a leader. Selected for the Boys Nation Leadership Camp in 1963, he shook hands with John F. Kennedy at the White House.

He worked for Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright as an intern during his college years at Georgetown University and won a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University. In 1969 he organized two anti-Vietnam War rallies in London.

In 1972 Clinton worked for George McGovern as co-director of his Presidential campaign in Texas. That fall Clinton entered Yale Law School. He taught at the University of Arkansas law school from 1974 to 1976, becoming only the second future President to teach constitutional law (the first was Woodrow Wilson).

Political Career

Clinton became active in Arkansas Democratic politics. After losing a race for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1974, he was elected attorney general of Arkansas in 1976 and then governor in 1978 with more than 60 percent of the vote. He raised taxes and was defeated for a second term, becoming the youngest ex-governor in U.S. history. He was again elected governor in 1982 and served until 1992.

He was elected president of the National Governors Association and was instrumental in founding the Democratic Leadership Conference, an organization devoted to moving the Democratic party away from its liberal orientation toward a centrist position, designed to win back voters in the Southern and border states in Presidential elections.

In the spring of 1991, when President Bush's popularity stood at 91 percent in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, Clinton began his run for the 1992 Presidential nomination. He defeated a weak field of contenders in the primaries despite allegations that he had engaged in extramarital affairs, had smoked marijuana (but didn’t inhale), and had avoided military service during the Vietnam War.

In a three-candidate race (involving the independent Texas billionaire Ross Perot) Clinton positioned himself as the one best equipped to manage the economy. His selection of Tennessee Democratic senator Al Gore as his running mate added strength to the ticket and took away the Republican advantage in the Southern and border states.

Clinton broke new ground in campaign strategy. He appeared on a late-night television show wearing sunglasses and played the saxophone in a successful attempt to appeal to younger voters. He followed up with many appearances on daytime television and radio talk shows.

Clinton won his first election with 42 percent of the popular vote, against 37 percent for Bush and 19 percent for Perot. He won 370 electoral college votes, compared with 160 for Bush.


In his first term, Clinton cut the annual deficits in half, laying the groundwork for growth, as well as lower unemployment and inflation. His bill to provide health insurance to all Americans was defeated after health insurers lobbied against it in Congress. Questions about his character continued to dog Clinton, especially his role in a scandal involving a failed savings and loan institution in Arkansas.

In the 1994 midterm elections, Republicans won control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, putting an end to Clinton's legislative agenda. Thereafter his threat to veto Republican measures enabled him to negotiate with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate majority leader Robert Dole on welfare reform and environmental policy.

Clinton won reelection over former senator Bob Dole with almost half the vote of the electorate, but the Congress, which in the 1994 midterm elections had become controlled by Republicans, remained in the hands of the opposition party.

Two years into his second term, Clinton had failed to win enactment of his major health care initiatives but otherwise had compiled a respectable legislative record by cooperating with the Republicans or outmaneuvering them. He reoriented the Democratic party toward the center by balancing the budget, winning crime control measures (crime rates plunged during his terms), and cooperating with the Republicans to end “welfare as we know it” by providing incentives for states to reform their programs to get recipients into jobs.

Clinton's administration also downsized the federal departments as part of a “reinventing government” initiative. Clinton worked hard to improve race relations by appointing minorities to high positions in his administration and beginning a national dialogue on race. He appointed women to the highest positions in government, including for the first time secretary of state and attorney general.

He presided over one of the longest periods of economic expansion in the 20th century, with low rates of interest, inflation, and unemployment and high rates of economic growth. In consequence, the stock market reached new highs, and so did his job approval rating in the polls.

Throughout his Presidency, Clinton remained a centrist, attacked by conservatives for his defense of affirmative action programs and abortion rights and attacked by liberals for his willingness to cut domestic programs.

In foreign affairs, Clinton acted cautiously. He pulled U.S. troops out of Somalia after they came under attack; negotiated with North Korea to halt its development of nuclear weapons; and allowed former President Jimmy Carter to negotiate an agreement with Haiti's military rulers that allowed for a peaceful occupation of Haiti.

In other diplomatic efforts, Clinton worked to secure peace agreements between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

Clinton and other Western leaders made the decision to launch air attacks in Bosnia against the Serbs, which led to the Dayton Accords. Then in 1999 NATO leaders acted militarily against Serbia for its repression of the Kosovars, a decision that required Clinton to use all his negotiating skills to lessen the confrontation between NATO and the Russians and between his administration and the Chinese.

Clinton also backed a “Partnership for Peace” that would eventually permit Eastern European nations to join NATO without antagonizing Russia. Twenty years after the end of the Vietnam War, he established diplomatic relations with the communist government of Vietnam.

Clinton showed leadership in international trade issues. He led the United States into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico against the opposition of a majority of his party and made $20 billion available to Mexico during the transition to a free-trade zone. He won congressional approval for the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which lowered tariffs and provided for a World Trade Organization (WTO).

Both NAFTA and the WTO led to an increase in world trade.

In January 1998 the news media reported that Clinton had had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. At first the President denied the allegation, but by late August he had admitted to having an “improper relationship” with her.

Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr submitted a referral to the House of Representatives outlining possible “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and the House subsequently voted to impeach Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice committed during the investigation of his sexual relationships with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. The vote was highly partisan, with most Democrats defending the President and most Republicans voting for impeachment.

In February 1999 the crisis ended when the Senate failed to muster the two-thirds vote needed to convict—or, for that matter, failed to secure even a majority. Clinton remained in office, but he was unable to pursue much of his legislative agenda because of the impeachment crisis and the conflict in the Balkans.


The youngest former president since Theodore Roosevelt, he established his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., and, moving to New York where his wife was now a senator, opened an office and foundation in Harlem.

He remains an influential and generally popular figure, and became prominent in a number of causes, including international AIDS treatment.

He joined with George H. W. Bush to raise funds for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004) and Hurricane Katrina (2005), and in 2005 was appointed to a two-year term as UN special envoy for tsunami recovery, with responsibility for sustaining the international efforts for its victims. In 2009 he was named UN special envoy to Haiti, focusing on supporting the island's economic and social development, and following the 2010 earthquake there joined with George H. Bush to raise funds for relief.


Economy grew but no other real big accomplishment marked Clinton's terms in office; most of his achievements were mainly incremental, and were often overshadowed by setbacks. However, through his extraordinary ability to relate to ordinary Americans, his intelligence and wit, and his skill in manipulating the media, he maintained an unusual level of popularity and a high approval rating throughout most of two terms in office.

Nonetheless, the Lewinsky scandal, in particular, permanently marred his presidency. This was so although the sexual affair at its core was neither unique for Clinton, who had had other extramarital liaisons, nor for the office, some of the earlier holders of which had engaged in similar, although much less publicized, behavior.

In 1998, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison called Clinton "the first Black president", saying, "Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas

In the 2000 election campaign the Clinton camp had presented the former president's eight-year tenure as a modern-day era of good feelings when the United States stood tall in the world and took care of its people at home. Aides have played on nostalgia for a simpler time, before the World Trade Center fell, before U.S. troops bogged down in Iraq, before the economy reeled toward recession, before President Bush.

At the same time, they have banked on the hope that most Americans, or at least most Democrats, have forgotten or forgiven "the dark side" of his presidency, the scandals and partisan battles that consumed so much of the 1990s

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