William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III, August 19, 1946) is an American politician who served from 1993 to 2001 as the 42nd President of the United States. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president from the baby boomer generation. Clinton has been described as a New Democrat. Many of his policies have been attributed to a centrist Third Way philosophy of governance. Before becoming president, he was the Governor of Arkansas for five two-year terms, serving from 1979 to 1981 and from 1983 to 1992. He was also the state's Attorney General from 1977 to 1979.
Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946, at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas. His father, William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. (1918–1946), was a traveling salesman who died in an automobile accident three months before Bill was born. His mother, Virginia Dell Cassidy (1923–1994), traveled to New Orleans to study nursing soon after he was born. She left Bill in Hope with her parents Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, who owned and ran a small grocery store. At a time when the Southern United States was segregated racially, Bill's grandparents sold goods on credit to people of all races. In 1950, Bill's mother returned from nursing school and married Roger Clinton, Sr., who owned an automobile dealership in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his brother. The family moved to Hot Springs in 1950.
Although he assumed use of his stepfather's surname, it was not until Billy (as he was known then) turned fifteen that he formally adopted the surname Clinton as a gesture toward his stepfather. Clinton says he remembers his stepfather as a gambler and an alcoholic who regularly abused his mother and half-brother, Roger Clinton, Jr., to the point where he intervened multiple times with the threat of violence to protect them.
In Hot Springs, Bill attended St. John's Catholic Elementary School, Ramble Elementary School, and Hot Springs High School – where he was an active student leader, avid reader, and musician. Clinton was in the chorus and played the tenor saxophone, winning first chair in the state band's saxophone section. He briefly considered dedicating his life to music.
Clinton's interest in law also began in Hot Springs High, when in his Latin class he took up the challenge to argue the defense of the ancient Roman Senator Catiline in a mock trial. After a vigorous defense that made use of his "budding rhetorical and political skills", he told the Latin teacher Mrs. Elizabeth Buck that it "made him realize that someday he would study law."
Clinton has named two influential moments in his life that contributed to his decision to become a public figure, both occurring in 1963. One was his visit as a Boys Nation senator to the White House to meet President John F. Kennedy. The other was listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1963 I Have a Dream speech, which impressed him enough that he later memorized it.
After graduating from Yale Law School, Clinton returned to Arkansas and became a law professor at the University of Arkansas. A year later, he ran for the House of Representatives in 1974. The incumbent, Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt, defeated Clinton in the general election by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. With only minor opposition in the primary and no opposition at all in the general election, Clinton was elected Arkansas Attorney General in 1976.
Clinton was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978, having defeated the Republican candidate Lynn Lowe, a farmer from Texarkana. He became the youngest governor in the country at 32. Due to his youthful appearance, Clinton was often called the "Boy Governor", a referent that continues to be used to refer to him during his gubernatorial era on occasion. He worked on educational reform and Arkansas's roads, with wife Hillary leading a successful committee on urban health care reform. However, his term included an unpopular motor vehicle tax and citizens' anger over the escape of Cuban refugees (from the Mariel boatlift) detained in Fort Chaffee in 1980. Monroe Schwarzlose of Kingsland in Cleveland County, polled 31 percent of the vote against Clinton in the Democratic gubernatorial primary of 1980. Some suggested Schwarzlose's unexpected voter turnout foreshadowed Clinton's defeat in the general election that year by Republican challenger Frank D. White. As Clinton once joked, he was the youngest ex-governor in the nation's history.
Clinton joined friend Bruce Lindsey's Little Rock law firm of Wright, Lindsey and Jennings. In 1982, he was again elected governor and kept the office for ten years. Beginning with the 1986 election, Arkansas had changed its gubernatorial term of office from 2 to 4 years. During his term he helped transform Arkansas's economy and significantly improve the state's educational system. He became a leading figure among the New Democrats. The New Democrats, organized as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), were a branch of the Democratic Party that called for welfare reform and smaller government, a policy supported by both Democrats and Republicans. He gave the Democratic response to President Reagan's 1985 State of the Union Address and served as Chair of the National Governors Association from 1986 to 1987, bringing him to an audience beyond Arkansas. Clinton made economic growth, job creation and educational improvement high priorities. For senior citizens, he removed the sales tax from medications and increased the home property-tax exemption.
In the early 1980s, Clinton made reform of the Arkansas education system a top priority. The Arkansas Education Standards Committee, chaired by Clinton's wife, attorney and Legal Services Corporation chair Hillary Rodham Clinton, succeeded in reforming the education system, transforming it from the worst in the nation into one of the best. Many have considered this the greatest achievement of the Clinton governorship. Clinton and the committee were responsible for state educational improvement programs, notably more spending for schools, rising opportunities for gifted children, an increase in vocational education, raising of teachers' salaries, inclusion of a wider variety of courses, and compulsory teacher testing for aspiring educators. He defeated four Republican candidates for governor: Lowe (1978), White (1982 and 1986), and businessmen Woody Freeman of Jonesboro, (1984) and Sheffield Nelson of Little Rock (1990).
The Clintons' personal and business affairs during the 1980s included transactions that became the basis of the Whitewater controversy investigation that later dogged his presidential administration. After extensive investigation over several years, no indictments were made against the Clintons related to the years in Arkansas.
According to some sources, Clinton was in his early years a death penalty opponent who switched positions. During Clinton's term, Arkansas performed its first executions since 1964 (the death penalty had been re-enacted on March 23, 1973). As Governor, he oversaw four executions: one by electric chair and three by lethal injection. Later, as president, Clinton was the first President to pardon a death-row inmate since the federal death penalty was reintroduced in 1988.
In 1987, there was media speculation Clinton would enter the race after then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo declined to run and Democratic front-runner Gary Hart withdrew owing to revelations of marital infidelity. Clinton decided to remain as Arkansas governor (following consideration for the potential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for governor, initially favored – but ultimately vetoed – by the First Lady). For the nomination, Clinton endorsed Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. He gave the nationally televised opening night address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, but his speech, which was 33 minutes long and twice as long as it was expected to be, was criticized for being too long and poorly delivered. Presenting himself as a moderate and a member of the New Democrat wing of the Democratic Party, he headed the moderate Democratic Leadership Council in 1990 and 1991.
In the first primary contest, the Iowa caucus, Clinton finished a distant third to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. During the campaign for the New Hampshire primary, reports of an extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers surfaced. As Clinton fell far behind former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas in the New Hampshire polls, following Super Bowl XXVI, Clinton and his wife Hillary went on 60 Minutes to rebuff the charges. Their television appearance was a calculated risk, but Clinton regained several delegates. He finished second to Tsongas in the New Hampshire primary, but after trailing badly in the polls and coming within single digits of winning, the media viewed it as a victory. News outlets labeled him "The Comeback Kid" for earning a firm second-place finish.
Winning the big prizes of Florida and Texas and many of the Southern primaries on Super Tuesday gave Clinton a sizable delegate lead. However, former California Governor Jerry Brown was scoring victories and Clinton had yet to win a significant contest outside his native South. With no major Southern state remaining, Clinton targeted New York, which had many delegates. He scored a resounding victory in New York City, shedding his image as a regional candidate. Having been transformed into the consensus candidate, he secured the Democratic Party nomination, finishing with a victory in Jerry Brown's home state of California.
Because Bush's approval ratings were around 80 percent during the Gulf War, he was described as unbeatable. However, when Bush compromised with Democrats to try to lower Federal deficits, he reneged on his promise not to raise taxes, hurting his approval rating. Clinton repeatedly condemned Bush for making a promise he failed to keep. By election time, the economy was souring and Bush saw his approval rating plummet to just slightly over 40 percent. Finally, conservatives were previously united by anti-communism, but with the end of the Cold War, the party lacked a uniting issue. When Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson addressed Christian themes at the Republican National Convention – with Bush criticizing Democrats for omitting God from their platform – many moderates were alienated. Clinton then pointed to his moderate, "New Democrat" record as governor of Arkansas, though some on the more liberal side of the party remained suspicious. Many Democrats who had supported Ronald Reagan and Bush in previous elections switched their support to Clinton. Clinton and his running mate, Al Gore, toured the country during the final weeks of the campaign, shoring up support and pledging a "new beginning".
Clinton won the 1992 presidential election (43.0 percent of the vote) against Republican incumbent George H. W. Bush (37.4 percent of the vote) and billionaire populist Ross Perot, who ran as an independent (18.9 percent of the vote) on a platform focusing on domestic issues; a significant part of Clinton's success was Bush's steep decline in public approval. Clinton's election ended twelve years of Republican rule of the White House and twenty of the previous twenty-four years. The election gave Democrats full control of the United States Congress, the first time one party controlled both the executive and legislative branches since Democrats held the 95th United States Congress during the Jimmy Carter presidency in the late 1970s.
During his presidency, Clinton advocated for a wide variety of legislation and programs, much of which was enacted into law or was implemented by the executive branch. Some of his policies, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and welfare reform, have been attributed to a centrist Third Way philosophy of governance, while on other issues his stance was left-of-center. On budgetary matters his policy of fiscal conservatism helped to reduce deficits. Clinton presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. The Congressional Budget Office reported budget surpluses of $69 billion in 1998, $126 billion in 1999, and $236 billion in 2000, during the last three years of Clinton's presidency. At the end of his presidency, Clinton moved to New York and helped his wife win election to the U.S. Senate there.
Clinton was inaugurated as the 42nd President of the United States on January 20, 1993. Shortly after taking office, Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 on February 5, which required large employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave for pregnancy or a serious medical condition. This action had bipartisan support, and proved quite popular with the public.
On February 15, 1993, Clinton made his first address to the nation, announcing his plan to raise taxes to cap the budget deficit. Two days later, in a nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress, Clinton unveiled his economic plan. The plan focused on reducing the deficit rather than on cutting taxes for the middle class, which had been high on his campaign agenda. Clinton's advisers pressured him to raise taxes on the theory that a smaller federal budget deficit would reduce bond interest rates.
On May 19, 1993, Clinton fired seven employees of the White House Travel Office, causing the White House travel office controversy even though the Travel Office staff served at the pleasure of the President, who could dismiss them without cause. The White House responded to the controversy by claiming the firings were done because of financial improprieties that had been revealed by a brief FBI investigation. Critics contended the firings had been done to allow friends of the Clintons to take over the travel business and that the involvement of the FBI was unwarranted.
Clinton signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 in August of that year, which passed Congress without a Republican vote. It cut taxes for fifteen million low-income families, made tax cuts available to 90 percent of small businesses, and raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of taxpayers. Additionally, through the implementation of spending restraints, it mandated the budget be balanced over a number of years.
Clinton made a major speech to Congress regarding a health care reform plan on September 22, 1993, aimed at achieving universal coverage through a national health care plan. This was one of the most prominent items on Clinton's legislative agenda, and resulted from a task force headed by Hillary Clinton. Though at first well received in political circles, it was eventually doomed by well-organized opposition from conservatives, the American Medical Association, and the health insurance industry. However, John F. Harris, a biographer of Clinton's, states the program failed because of a lack of coordination within the White House. Despite the Democratic majority in Congress, the effort to create a national health care system ultimately died when compromise legislation by George J. Mitchell failed to gain a majority of support in August 1994. It was the first major legislative defeat of Clinton's administration.
On January 1, 1994, Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement into law. Throughout his first year in office, Clinton consistently supported ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Senate. Clinton and most of his allies in the Democratic Leadership Committee strongly supported free trade measures; there remained, however, strong disagreement within the party. Opposition came chiefly from anti-trade Republicans, protectionist Democrats and supporters of Ross Perot. The bill passed the house with 234 votes against 200 opposed (132 Republicans and 102 Democrats voting in favor; 156 Democrats, 43 Republicans, and 1 independent against). The treaty was then ratified by the Senate and signed into law by the President.
The Clinton administration also launched the first official White House website, whitehouse.gov, on October 21, 1994. It was followed by three more versions, resulting in the final edition launched in 2000. The White House website was part of a wider movement of the Clinton administration toward web-based communication. According to Robert Longley, "Clinton and Gore were responsible for pressing almost all federal agencies, the U.S. court system and the U.S. military onto the Internet, thus opening up America's government to more of America's citizens than ever before. On July 17, 1996, Clinton issued Executive Order 13011 – Federal Information Technology, ordering the heads of all federal agencies to utilize information technology fully to make the information of the agency easily accessible to the public."
After two years of Democratic Party control, the Democrats lost control of Congress in the mid-term elections in 1994, for the first time in forty years.
In the 1996 presidential election, Clinton was re-elected, receiving 49.2 percent of the popular vote over Republican Bob Dole (40.7 percent of the popular vote) and Reform candidate Ross Perot (8.4 percent of the popular vote), becoming the first Democratic incumbent since Lyndon Johnson to be elected to a second term and the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected President more than once. The Republicans lost a few seats in the House and gained a few in the Senate, but retained control of both houses of the 105th United States Congress. Clinton received 379, or over 70 percent of the Electoral College votes, with Dole receiving 159 electoral votes.
In the January 1997 State of the Union address, Clinton proposed a new initiative to provide coverage to up to five million children. Senators Ted Kennedy – a Democrat – and Orrin Hatch – a Republican – teamed up with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her staff in 1997, and succeeded in passing legislation forming the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the largest (successful) health care reform in the years of the Clinton Presidency. That year, Hillary Clinton shepherded through Congress the Adoption and Safe Families Act and two years later she succeeded in helping pass the Foster Care Independence Act. He negotiated the passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 by the Republican Congress. In October 1997, he announced he was getting hearing aids, due to hearing loss attributed to his age, and his time spent as a musician in his youth.
In a lame-duck session of Congress after the 1998 elections, the House voted to impeach Clinton, based on alleged acts of perjury and obstruction of justice related to the Lewinsky scandal. This made Clinton only the second U.S. president to be impeached (the first being Andrew Johnson).
Impeachment proceedings were based on allegations that Clinton had illegally lied about and covered up his relationship with 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky. After the Starr Report was submitted to the House providing what it termed "substantial and credible information that President Clinton Committed Acts that May Constitute Grounds for an Impeachment", the House began impeachment hearings against Clinton before the mid-term elections. To hold impeachment proceedings, the Republican leadership called a lame-duck session in December 1998.
While the House Judiciary Committee hearings ended in a straight party-line vote, there was lively debate on the House floor. The two charges passed in the House (largely with Republican support, but with a handful of Democratic votes as well) were for perjury and obstruction of justice. The perjury charge arose from Clinton's testimony before a grand jury that had been convened to investigate perjury he may have committed in his sworn deposition during Paula Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit. The obstruction charge was based on his actions to conceal his relationship with Lewinsky before and after that deposition.
The Senate later voted to acquit Clinton on both charges. The Senate refused to meet to hold an impeachment trial before the end of the old term, so the trial was held over until the next Congress. Clinton was represented by Washington law firm Williams & Connolly. The Senate finished a twenty-one-day trial on February 12, 1999, with the vote of 55 Not Guilty/45 Guilty on the perjury charge and 50 Not Guilty/50 Guilty on the obstruction of justice charge. Both votes fell short of the Constitutional two-thirds majority requirement to convict and remove an officeholder. The final vote was generally along party lines, with no Democrats voting guilty, and only a handful of Republicans voting not guilty.
Clinton's job approval rating fluctuated in the 40s and 50s throughout his first term. In his second term, his rating consistently ranged from the high-50s to the high-60s. After his impeachment proceedings in 1998 and 1999, Clinton's rating reached its highest point. According to a poll conducted by CBS in conjunction with the New York Times, he finished with an approval rating of 68 percent, which matched those of Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt as the highest ratings for departing presidents in the modern era.
As he was leaving office, a CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup poll revealed 45 percent said they would miss him. While 55 percent thought he "would have something worthwhile to contribute and should remain active in public life", 68 percent thought he would be remembered for his "involvement in personal scandal", and 58 percent answered "No" to the question "Do you generally think Bill Clinton is honest and trustworthy?" Forty-seven percent of the respondents identified themselves as being Clinton supporters. The same percentage said he would be remembered as either "outstanding" or "above average" as a president, while 22 percent said he would be remembered as "below average" or "poor". (For myself, I think Bill Clinton was the best president of my lifetime, and the best since John F. Kennedy.)
As the first baby boomer president, Clinton was the first president in a half-century not to have been alive during World War II. Authors Martin Walker and Bob Woodward state Clinton's innovative use of sound bite-ready dialogue, personal charisma, and public perception-oriented campaigning was a major factor in his high public approval ratings. When Clinton played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show, he was described by some religious conservatives as "the MTV president." Opponents sometimes referred to him as "Slick Willie", a nickname first applied while he was governor of Arkansas and lasting throughout his presidency. Standing at a height of 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), Clinton is tied with five others as the fourth-tallest president in the nation's history. His folksy manner led him to be nicknamed "Bubba", especially in the Southern U.S. Since 2000, he has frequently been referred to as "The Big Dog" or "Big Dog." His prominent role in campaigning for President Obama during the 2012 presidential election and his widely-publicised speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, where he officially nominated Obama and criticized Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Republican policies in detail, earned him the nickname "Explainer-in-Chief".
Bill Clinton continues to be active in public life, giving speeches, fundraising, and founding charitable organizations. Altogether, Clinton has spoken at the last six Democratic National Conventions, dating to 1988.
In September 2004, Clinton received a quadruple bypass surgery. In March 2005, he underwent surgery for a partially collapsed lung. On February 11, 2010, he was rushed to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City after complaining of chest pains, and had two coronary stents implanted in his heart. After this experience, Clinton adopted the plant-based whole foods (vegan) diet recommended by doctors Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn.
Clinton has reportedly begun practicing Buddhist meditation in order to help him relax and achieve a healthier lifestyle.
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