Bill Clinton: Forty-Second President of the United States
Nickname: The Comeback Kid
Terms in Office: 1993-1997; 1997-2001
- Born August 19, 1946, in Hope Arkansas
- Parents: William Jefferson Blythe III and Virginia Dell Cassidy; Stepfather: Roger Clinton
- Bill Clinton is still living
- Age upon Start of First Term: 46; Age upon Conclusion of First Term: 50
- Age upon Start of Second Term: 50; Age upon Conclusion of Second Term: 54
- Religious Affiliation: Baptist
- Political Party: Democrat
- Height: 6 feet 2.5 inches
- Vice President: Al Gore
Bill Clinton dealt with two government shutdowns during his presidency: one from November 14 to November 19, 1995, and another from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. He still managed to stabilize the American economy and balance the national budget. Clinton also experienced several international successes and continued national prosperity, but he was forced to fight to overcome three scandals.
What Was He Thinking?
Bill Clinton believed the government should provide programs to protect and enhance the well-being of United States citizens. At the same time, however, Clinton realized that government could get out of hand with too many regulations and too much spending, and agreed with Republicans that reforms were necessary. Clinton’s political stances evolved to fit the needs and desires of his constituents.
Why Should I Care?
One of Clinton’s greatest achievements while in office was his success in recovering the American economy. Clinton paid off $360 billion of the national debt and converted the largest budget deficit in American history to the largest surplus, $237 billion. Additionally, Clinton decreased government spending to the lowest level in three decades while simultaneously decreasing federal income tax levels to the lowest in thirty-five years. During Clinton’s presidency, America experienced her longest period of economic expansion: 115 months of economic growth – 4 percent economic growth per year after he assumed office.
Nationalized health care: When a government strictly regulates private health care providers to ensure coverage for all citizens and is paid for with government subsidies (coming from taxpayer money).
While attending Georgetown University, Clinton won a Rhodes Scholarship – a program that funds a two-to three-year enrollment at Oxford University. Clinton remains the only president to have attended Oxford.
Breakin’ It Down
Three months before Bill Clinton was born, his biological father died in a car accident. His mother, Virginia, named her son William Jefferson Blythe IV after his late father.
When Bill was four years old, his mother married Roger Clinton. Although he has no biological siblings, Bill has one half brother. He was officially adopted by his stepfather in 1962, and his name was changed to William Jefferson Clinton. In school, Bill enjoyed government classes, but he found the most enjoyment in music and playing his saxophone. He even considered a career in music at one point in his childhood!
In 1964, Clinton began college at Georgetown University. During his years at the college, he worked as an intern for a U.S. senator from Arkansas, wanting to become more engaged in politics. He also signed a letter of intent to join the Reserve Army Training Corps in Arkansas, but he never followed through.
Clinton then pursued a law career by entering Yale University Law School. He graduated in 1973 and took a job at the University of Arkansas Law School. Less than a year later, he ran for his first government position.
Bill Clinton was the first president born during the Baby Boom, the post-World War II time period when the U.S. population increased dramatically.
Bill Clinton married Hillary Rodham in 1975. They are considered the powerhouse couple of politics, because they both can withstand the rough-and-tumble world of politics. The lifelong politicians have one daughter.
Hillary Clinton became the first first lady to run for her own political position when she ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000. Hillary won the election and so became the first female senator from New York. Additionally, in 2008, Hillary ran for president, but lost the Democrat Party nomination to Barack Obama. She later became secretary of state under President Barack Obama.
Previous Political Career
1974: Ran for a position in the U.S. House of Representatives, but lost.
1976: Elected Arkansas attorney general.
1978: Elected governor of Arkansas.
1980: Ran for reelection as governor, but lost.
1982: Elected governor of Arkansas once again. He served four two-year terms.
1990: Became chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.
Together, Bill Clinton (age 46) and Al Gore (age 44) made the youngest presidential ballot in American history. Clinton campaigned on plans to improve the floundering economy by decreasing the federal deficit, creating new jobs for the thousands out of work, and establishing national health care insurance. He used slogans such as “It’s the economy, stupid” and targeted the “forgotten middle class.” In doing this, Clinton received 43 percent of the popular vote. Clinton’s success in the election, however, was partly because of the presence of third-party candidate Ross Perot, who took nearly 19 percent of the popular vote from George H.W. Bush.
When the Republican Party gained the majority in Congress with the election of 1994, many speculated that Clinton would lose reelection. However, since many Americans blamed Republicans for the government shutdown of 1995, Clinton’s popularity in the polls skyrocketed. Ross Perot once again ran as a third-party candidate, taking much-needed support from Clinton’s opponent, Robert Dole.
Government shutdown: A government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass a spending bill and the government discontinues providing services that are not considered “essential.” Typically, essential services include police, firefighting, armed forces, utilities, and correctional facilities.
Election of 1992
- Bill Clinton: 370 Electoral Votes
- George H.W. Bush: 168 Electoral Votes
- Ross Perot: 0 Electoral Votes
Election of 1996
- Bill Clinton: 379 Electoral Votes
- Robert Dole: 159 Electoral Votes
- Ross Perot: 0 Electoral Votes
In 1991, Clinton was voted the country’s most effective governor and he announced his candidacy for president.
During Clinton’s presidency, economic growth was only one of the improvements Americans enjoyed. More than twenty-two million jobs were created, unemployment was the lowest in thirty years, education standards were increased, 95 percent of schools were connected to the Internet (a novelty in Clinton’s time), and one hundred thousand new police officers and new gun laws led to the lowest U.S. crime rages in twenty-six years.
Subpoena: An official order requiring an individual to come before a court or a congressional committee.
Bill Clinton is known as an outgoing and amiable man who sincerely enjoys the life of politics. Extremely persuasive and talented at maneuvering his opponents to stand on his side of issues, Clinton is able to personally appeal to almost anyone, regardless of political affiliation. One nickname, Slick Willie, came not only from his tendency to reshape his political views to best suit his constituents but also his ability to bend his opponents’ views and strategically avoid political attack.
Upon assuming the presidency, Clinton appointed a record number of women and minorities to executive positions. He began his term by fulfilling his campaign promise, passing a new medical care reform. In 1993 he signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. However, Clinton’s more radical health care reform bill was voted down by Congress. Clinton then ignored party lines and signed a welfare reform package that reduced government involvement in and funding for major social programs.
In the midterm election of 1994, the Republicans took the majority in both the House and Senate. With this drastic change, Washington, D.C., became a place of stalemate, especially concerning Clinton’s budget. In May 1995, Clinton proposed a plan that would balance the federal budget in ten years. The Republicans also had a plan to balance the budget, which would take seven years. The Republicans passed their bill through Congress but Clinton vetoed it. Due to the lack of compromise and failure to agree on any budget, the government shut down. When it finally reopened, the polls showed that America blamed the Republicans for the shutdown, and as a result, Clinton garnered more support for his Social Security and Medicare reforms.
With the government up and running again, the economy was booming, which helped Clinton win reelection in 1996. Whereas Clinton’s first term focused mainly on domestic affairs, his second term focused largely on international affairs. In 2000, he sent his secretary of state, Madeline Albright, to North Korea to negotiate with the communist leaders to shut down factories the U.S. suspected were used for production of nuclear weapons. Also in 2000, Clinton signed a trade bill with China that established permanent, normal trade status to the communist country. Clinton believed that the open trade would encourage a more democratic government in China.
Clinton’s second term began with international success and domestic prosperity. Three scandals, however, halted all progress in the Clinton administration. The first scandal as the Whitewater Controversy. Although the scandal was unearthed during his first presidential bid, it was not highlighted until Clinton had secured his second term in office. The controversy was linked to Clinton’s Arkansas governorship in 1978. He was accused of illegal real estate purchases paid for by siphoning off money given to the state of Arkansas for state projects. In January 1996, Hillary Clinton became the first first lady to receive a subpoena from a judge when she was asked to testify on behalf of her husband regarding the scandal. The denied any claims of misdemeanor.
The second scandal was named Trooper-Gate, and was also linked to Clinton’s time as Arkansas governor. The scandal alleged that Clinton ordered two Arkansas state troopers to arrange a secret meeting for him with two women for inappropriate activities.
This scandal was soon overshadowed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which nearly cost Clinton his presidency. This third scandal began when a former Arkansas state employee sued Clinton for harassment. The court subpoenaed Clinton, and the Supreme Court ruled that, even though he was the president, he must answer the subpoena.
During the scandal, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky was asked to testify whether or not she had engaged in any improper relations with the president or had ever been harassed by him. Both Lewinsky and Clinton denied any accusations. It was found later through a taped conversation between Lewinsky and her friend that Lewinsky and Clinton had indeed engaged in improper relations during the winter of 1995 and 1996. The House of Representatives composed four articles of impeachment against Clinton (reasons why he should be impeached), including obstruction of justice and perjury. On two of the four articles, Clinton was impeached by the House, sending to the Senate for trial, where Chief Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist presided as judge. However, 62 percent of Americans opposed Clinton’s impeachment. The Senate voted two times. The first vote ended in a 50-50 tie and the second ended in a 45-55 result, both times without the two-thirds majority necessary for the Senate impeachment.
I like the job of the president… The bad days are part of it. I didn’t run to have a pleasant time. I ran to have a chance to change the country and if the bad days come with it, that’s part of life, and it’s humbling and educational. It keeps you in your place. – Bill Clinton
Clinton remains active in the political field, supporting many Democratic candidates in various political races across the country. He has authored several books, including My Life, in 2004; Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, in 2007; and Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy, in 2011. In 2009, Clinton became a U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti. He has also partnered with former political opponent and former president George H.W. Bush to raise awareness about various humanitarian crises around the world.
Family and Medical Leave Act: This act initiated a required three-month, job-protected leave of absence for employees with a serious family medical need.
National Voter Registration Act: This act was passed in 1993 and required states to allow citizens to receive or update their voter registration cards when they renew their driver’s licenses or apply for Social Security benefits.
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act: This bill, passed in 1993, created a five-day waiting period and background checks for handgun purchases.
North American Free Trade Agreement Implantation: This treaty was approved by the Senate in 1993 and called for a gradual elimination of all tariffs and taxes placed on goods and produce shipped between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
Line Item Veto Bill: This bill, signed in 1996, allowed the president to only execute certain aspects of congressionally approved bills. This bill was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998 in a 6-3 vote.
Balanced Budget Act of 1997: This act would reduce spending by $160 billion over four years. The increase in spending for welfare and children’s health care, however, resulted in only $127 billion being saved.
Children’s Health Act: This act was passed in 2000 and formed federal child health funding programs initiated for pediatric health research.
Thoughts on the Constitution
When we got organized as a country and we wrote a fairly radical Constitution with a radical Bill of Rights, giving a radical amount of individual freedom to Americans, it was assumed that the American who had that freedom would use it responsibly.
Do you remember the definition of a midterm election? A midterm election is the congressional election that takes place two years into the president’s term of office – the halfway point.
Congress Approves NAFTA
November 14, 1993 – Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) yesterday. Clinton signed NAFTA with Canada and Mexico earlier in his term. This agreement created the largest free-trade zone in the world by eliminating any tariffs or import/export taxes on goods between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Clinton’s presidential opponent Ross Perot is claiming this agreement will cause American businesses to move their production facilities to either Mexico or Canada, where they will be able to hire cheaper labor and face less business taxation. As a result, Perot argues, America’s industrial economy will sag and many American jobs will be lost.
Clinton’s Quest For Health Care Reform Fails
November 8, 1994 – The Republicans took the majority in Congress today, officially ending President Clinton’s hopes for health care reform. During his first two years as president, Clinton has avidly supported health care reform. In 1993, thirty-seven million Americans had no health care coverage. To help reform the system, Clinton asked over five hundred experts, White House officials, cabinet members, and even his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to begin composing a bill. The bill quickly became known as Hillary Clinton’s bill. The bill garnered many opponents, including politicians who opposed nationalized health care, drug companies, and insurance companies, all of whom accused the bill of camouflaging a government takeover of health care. Opposition became so intense that White House officials feared for Hillary Clinton’s life and ordered her to wear a bulletproof best to rallies. Various problems have surrounded the health care bill, including the lack of public support and the delayed formation of grassroots support systems.
Government Shutdown Ends
January 6, 1996 – The government reopened today as Republicans finally agreed to Clinton’s budget, which will reopen the government and is expected to create twenty million new jobs and transform the national deficit of $29 billion to a national surplus of $106 billion.
The government shutdown on December 16, 1995 was a result of a lack of compromise between the Republican Congress members (deemed the Gingrich Revolutionaries after Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich) and President Clinton. The Gingrich Revolutionaries wanted to balance the budget in seven years by cutting $270 billion from Medicare in addition to providing a $240 billion tax cut. Clinton disagreed with the tax cuts and vetoed the bill. On November 14, 1995, 800,000 government employees (40 percent of the nation’s workforce) were furloughed – temporarily laid off. This temporary and partial November shutdown ended after six days. In December, the government shut down again due to a continuing lack of compromise.
State of the Union
(1) States: 50
(2) U.S. Population: (1993) 261,674,000
(3) U.S. Debt (1993) $4,535,687,054,406
(4) Value of the Dollar: $1 in 1993 would be worth $1.62 today. $1 in 2001 would be worth $1.32.
- 1993 – Janet Reno becomes the first female U.S. attorney general
- 1993 – Steven Spielberg releases his film Schindler’s List
- 1993 – Flooding in the midwest creates $10 billion in damages
- 1993 – A car bomb explodes in the garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center
- 1994 – The Rwandan genocide begins
- 1994 – Ronald Reagan reveals his battle with Alzheimer’s disease
- 1994 – South Africa holds its first interracial national election, Nelson Mandela is elected president
- 1995 – The U.S. government temporarily shuts down
- 1995 – Pope John Paul I visits the U.S.
- 1995 – The Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is bombed
- 1996 – Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Great Britain divorce
- 1996 – Madeleine Albright becomes the first female secretary of state
- 1996 – The first successful cloning of a sheep takes place
- 1997 – Princess Diana dies in a Paris car crash
- 1997 – Mother Teresa dies
- 1997 – The Mars Pathfinder lands on Mars
- 1998 – Frank Sinatra dies
- 1998 – The House of Representatives moves to impeach Clinton
- 1999 – Vladimir Putin becomes president of Russia
- 2000 – Mad cow disease breaks out in Europe
- 2000 – The USS Cole is attacked in Aden
- 2000 – Israel military forces withdraw from Lebanon
What Has He Done for Me Lately?
Today, welfare programs still exist and many disadvantaged Americans rely on the system. Before Clinton, many Americans were “riding the system,” never looking for work or ways to improve their situation. In a risky political move, Clinton sided with many Republicans in signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. This act, opposed by many Democrats, ended the “open-ended” guarantee to federal aid, and imposed a five-year limit to benefits and required able individuals to look for work after two years of receiving federal aid. It also supplied states with incentives, such as extra funds, to provide jobs for dependent individuals. Thanks to Clinton’s welfare reform, the percentage of Americans on welfare shrank to its lowest number in thirty-two years.
Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. – Bill Clinton
Clinton said this in his 1993 inaugural address. He believed that every problem facing America at the time could be overcome because of America’s previous successes and her democratic form of government.
Juliette Turner is the National Youth Director of Constituting America, and the author of three books: Our Constitution Rocks, Our Presidents Rock and the novel, based on life at her ranch with her mom, actress Janine Turner, That’s Not Hay In My Hair (all published by HarpersCollins/Zondervan).
Our Presidents Rock, HarpersCollins/Zondervan, 2014. Reprinted with permission.