Clinton, Bill William Jefferson C.
42nd president of the USA 1993-2001. A Democrat, he served as governor of Arkansas 1979-81 and 1983-93, establishing a liberal and progressive reputation. As president, he sought to implement a New Democrat programme, combining social reform with economic conservatism as a means of bringing the country out of recession. He introduced legislation to reduce the federal deficit and cut crime. Clinton presided over a period of unchecked expansion for the US economy, which regained global pre-eminence, and he sought, with mixed success, to promote peace and stability in the Balkans, Middle East, and Northern Ireland. He was the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to be elected for a second term. Following accusations of perjury and obstruction of justice Clinton underwent an impeachment trial in 1999 but was acquitted. In 2008 he actively campaigned for his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her bid for the Democratic nomination for US president.
First years as president
During his first year in office, Clinton secured the passage of an ambitious deficit-reduction plan, combining spending cuts with tax increases targeted at the rich, and won Congressional approval of the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and wide-ranging anticrime bills. However, his Republican opponents sought to embarrass him by alleging his family's involvement in irregular financial dealings in the 1980s (the Whitewater scandal), when he was governor of Arkansas. This clouded his presidency and in the autumn of 1994, important health-care reform proposals (which his wife, Hillary, was helping to champion) were blocked by Congress. A subsequent diplomatic success in Haiti failed to prevent the loss of both houses of Congress to the Republicans in November 1994.
Clinton successfully repositioned himself on the centre-right, announcing that ‘the era of big government is over’, to win a second term. In June 1995, Clinton issued the first veto of his presidency in an attempt to block proposed cuts in public-spending programmes that had earlier been approved by Congress. This was followed by further vetoes as he established himself as the conservative defender of the status quo against the ‘New Right’ Republican extremism. He was also active overseas, promoting peace initiatives in Bosnia (the 1995 Dayton peace accord), the Middle East (the 1993 Israeli-PLO accord on the West Bank), and Northern Ireland (a 1994 ceasefire agreement). He easily defeated his Republican rival, Bob Dole, to be re-elected in November1996, but the Republicans retained their hold over both houses of Congress.
The second term
Clinton placed higher educational standards, balancing the federal budget, and extending health insurance as the top priorities of his second term. He achieved a balanced budget in 1998-89 and the number of welfare recipients fell sharply. Abroad, the USA led a NATO campaign of air strikes against Yugoslavia in 1999, in response to a crisis caused by Serb repression in Kosovo, and helped to broker the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. In April 1998, he faced allegations that he had had an improper relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, becoming the first sitting president to testify in a grand jury investigation into his own conduct. In October 1998 the House of Representatives voted to impeach him on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, but he was acquitted on both charges. Throughout the ‘Monicagate’ scandal, Clinton's public approval ratings remained high, partly because of the buoyant economy, and Democrats made some gains in the November 1998 mid-term congressional elections.
Born in the railway town of Hope, Arkansas, Clinton graduated from Georgetown University, Washington, DC, in 1968, won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University 1968-70, and graduated from Yale University Law School in 1973. He was elected attorney general for Arkansas in 1975 and governor in 1978, becoming at age 32 the youngest governor the USA had seen in 40 years. He failed to be re-elected in 1980, but was successful again in 1982 and four times subsequently. He won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992 and defeated the incumbent Republican president George H W Bush, in the November elections.
End of presidency
In November 2000, Clinton's wife Hillary was elected senator of New York state, becoming the first first lady to hold public office. Clinton's final days in office in early 2001 attracted controversy over his issue of a presidential pardon to Marc Rich, a Swiss-based fugitive financier, charged in the 1980s for tax evasion.
After his presidency Clinton opened an office in Harlem, Manhattan, and travelled around the world giving speeches. He opened the William J Clinton Presidential Center, which contains the largest archives of any presidential library, in Little Rock in 2004. Published works include the autobiography My Life (2004) and Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World (2007).
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