William Jefferson Clinton
Clinton, the first Baby Boomer elected to the White House, maintained a centrist political stance. The American people enjoyed a great economic boom during his administration, and President Clinton worked effectively for peace in Northern Ireland, Haiti, the Middle East, and the former Yugoslavia. He also faced impeachment but was acquitted of the charges brought against him.
William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, was born at the Julia Chester Hospital on the 19th of August 1946 in the small town of Hope, Arkansas as William Jefferson Blythe III, named for his late father who had died in an auto accident in May. He lived in this comfortable frame house in Hope with his widowed mother and her parents for four years after his birth in 1946. Clinton remembered playing in the yard with friends and learning from his adored grandfather about social justice and the equality of all people.
Virginia received her R.N. certification in nursing in Shreveport, Louisiana where she met and married William Jefferson “Bill” Blythe II in 1943. He was a traveling salesman from Sherman, Texas. He served in Italy during WWII. Virginia returned to Hope, living with her parents and awaiting her husband’s return. In 1945, Bill Blythe and Virginia lived briefly with her parents before moving to Chicago for his work. Virginia was already expecting; she and Bill wanted to return to Hope for the birth of their child. He insisted she fly back and he would drive to meet her. Tragically, he died in an auto accident en route to Hope.
Young Billy lived with his widowed mother in the comfortable frame home with his grandparents, Eldridge and Edith Grisham Cassidy. He remembers playing in the yard with friends and cousins. In 1948, Virginia, a registered nurse, went to New Orleans for her certification as a nurse-anesthetist. She left her two-year-old son in the care of her parents. They visited back and forth during the months Virginia was away. Bill’s maternal grandparents and extended family played an important role in his childhood. His grandmother taught him his numbers using playing cards pinned to the kitchen curtains. He lived with his grandparents for four years and maintained a close relationship with them, visiting frequently until his grandfather’s death in 1956.
Bill Clinton completed high school in Hot Springs, excelling in many areas. Bill won the American Legion essay contest. During the Boys’ Nation trip to Washington, DC, he shook hands with President Kennedy. This experience reinforced his growing interest in politics and public service. Bill had a large extended family that encouraged him, and he was fortunate to meet many mentors along the way, including Senator Fulbright. Bill Clinton graduated from Georgetown University in 1968 and won a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University in England. He returned to the United States to go to Yale Law School.
While there he met Hillary Rodham. After graduating from law school, he taught at the University of Arkansas Law School. He and Hillary married in 1975, and she also taught at the law school. Bill Clinton entered politics after heading Senator McGovern’s presidential campaign in Texas. He first served as Attorney General of Arkansas in 1976. He was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978, the youngest governor in the nation at 32. Clinton pursued a liberal agenda. Defeated two years later, he moved to the centrist political stance that would characterize the remainder of his political career. Regaining the governor’s office in 1982, he served a total of five terms.
Many leading Democrats chose not to run in the presidential election of 1992, assuming that President George H. W. Bush would easily win reelection for a second term. Clinton, sensing opportunity, announced his candidacy in 1991. President Clinton and his vice president, Albert Gore, Jr., represented a new political generation, the men and women born after World War II. The Democrats swept the election, taking control of both the White House and Congress for the first time in 12 years.
House Republicans took power in 1995 with immediate plans to undermine President Bill Clinton by any means necessary, and they did so in the most autocratic, partisan and destructive ways imaginable. If there is any lesson from those ``revolutionaries,'' it is that partisan vendettas ultimately provoke a public backlash and are never viewed as legitimate.
During the Clinton administration, the nation enjoyed the lowest unemployment and inflation in modern times, reduced welfare rolls, falling crime rates in many places, and the highest home ownership in the country's history. President Clinton proposed the first balanced budget in many years and achieved a budget surplus by lowering government spending and increasing taxes of the wealthiest 1.2% of Americans. He sought to end racial discrimination, improve education, and strengthen environmental rules. A major initiative of the Clinton administration was an ambitious health care reform plan, led by First Lady Hilary Clinton. The administration’s plan was defeated on Capitol Hill.
Clinton was an effective peacemaker internationally, although he had little foreign policy experience. Tragedy marred President Clinton’s first term, when a rescue mission in Somalia begun by President Bush ended with the deaths of 18 American servicemen. He acted as a mediator during peace negotiations between Ireland, Great Britain, and the Irish Republican Army. He brought the leaders of Israel and Palestine together at the White House, where they signed a peace accord in 1995. He dispatched peacekeeping forces to Bosnia and bombed Iraq to enforce United Nations inspections of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. President Clinton successfully negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, which boosted both the American and Mexican economies. In 1995, the peace accord signed in Dayton, Ohio, led to a U.S. and NATO-backed cease-fire in the Balkans.
Clinton's past in Arkansas became the source of accusations and questions about his character as he was running for president. These included questions about financial dealings with a land development company called Whitewater. The main cause of that suspicion dated back to a purchase of land in Arkansas years earlier. Bill and Hillary Clinton had bought the land in nineteen seventy eight -- the year he was first elected governor of that state. The Clintons formed the Whitewater Development Company with Susan and James McDougal. The goal was to sell vacation homes along a river. However, the company did poorly. James McDougal also owned Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, for which Hillary Clinton did legal work. Madison failed during the nineteen eighties. The McDougals were found guilty of wrongdoing in connection with that failure.
The Whitewater investigation became increasingly complex and difficult to follow. In the end, President Clinton was never charged with any wrongdoing in connection with his financial dealings. But his legal problems did not stop there.
In 1994, a former Arkansas state employee named Paula Jones sued President Clinton. She brought a civil action accusing him of sexual harassment while governor of Arkansas. In her lawsuit she said he had asked her for sex. A federal judge dismissed her case for lack of evidence. Paula Jones appealed that ruling. Her lawyers said they wanted to prove that Clinton had a pattern of such behavior with female employees, including while president. They suspected that these included a twenty-one-year-old woman named Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky had worked as an unpaid intern in the White House.
Clinton never stated much of a domestic program for his second term. The highlight of its first year was an accord with Congress designed to balance the budget, further reinforcing the president’s standing as a fiscally responsible moderate liberal.
Kenneth Starr was still investigating the Whitewater case early in 1998. He received permission to include Lewinsky in his investigation. In 1998, American politics entered a period of turmoil with the revelation that Clinton had carried on an affair inside the White House with Monica Lewinski, a young intern. At first the president denied this, telling the American people: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The president had faced similar charges in the past.
In a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, a woman he had known in Arkansas, Clinton denied under oath the White House affair. This fit most Americans’ definition of perjury. Lawyers also questioned President Clinton. He too denied that the relationship with Monica Lewinsky had been sexual. On 26 January 1998, the president stated his denial to the American public.
In October 1998, the House of Representatives began impeachment hearings, focusing on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Whatever the merits of that approach, a majority of Americans seemed to view the matter as a private one to be sorted out with one’s family, a significant shift in public attitude. Also significantly, Hillary Clinton continued to support her husband. It surely helped also that the times were good. In the midst of the House impeachment debate, the president announced the largest budget surplus in 30 years. Public opinion polls showed Clinton’s approval rating to be the highest of his six years in office. Kenneth Starr sent his final report to the House of Representatives. The report suggested that President Clinton may have committed impeachable crimes in trying to hide his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
In November 1998, the Republicans took further losses in the midterm congressional elections, cutting their majorities to razor-thin margins. House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned, and the party attempted to develop a less strident image. Nevertheless, the House voted the first impeachment resolution against a sitting president since Andrew Johnson (1868), thereby handing the case to the Senate for a trial. In December 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton. The House sent the charges to the Senate to hold a trial. The two articles of impeachment accused him of lying to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice.
The Senate decided President Clinton’s future in February 1999. The one hundred senators held a trial to consider the charges and decide if he should be removed from office. Clinton’s impeachment trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States, held little suspense. In the midst of it, the president delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. He never testified, and no serious observer expected that any of the several charges against him would win the two-thirds vote required for removal from office. In the end, none got even a simple majority. Each charge required sixty-seven votes to find him guilty. Ten members of the Republican majority joined Democrats in voting to clear Clinton of the perjury charge. The Senate was evenly divided on the charge of interfering with justice. Thus, no guilty verdict. On February 12, 1999, Clinton was acquitted of all charges.
Clinton was popular as a “New Democrat,” but the tide began to turn in 1994, when the Republicans took over both houses of Congress, and personal scandal rocked his administration. He won reelection in 1996, but, in 1998, was the second sitting president impeached in the House of Representatives, where he was tried for charges relating to personal indiscretions with a White House intern. He became the first elected president to be tried by the Senate. After the Senate found him not guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, Clinton apologized to the nation.
Because of tax policy shifts, the Clinton administration ushered in a period of income growth for families across the income distribution. The economic boom of the 1990s impacted all Americans, regardless of their position in the income distribution. Middle income Americans saw their incomes increase by over $6,700 during the Clinton years. Wealthy Americans saw their incomes grow as well. Under President Clinton, the rising tide lifted all boats, not just the yachts.
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