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42: Inside the Presidency of Bill Clinton

Michael Nelson
Barbara A. Perry
Russell L. Riley
Copyright Date: 2016
Edition: 1
Published by:
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This book uses hundreds of hours of newly opened interviews and other sources to illuminate the life and times of the nation's forty-second president, Bill Clinton. Combining the authoritative perspective of these inside accounts with the analytic powers of some of America's most distinguished presidential scholars, the essays assembled here offer a major advance in our collective understanding of the Clinton White House. Included are path-breaking chapters on the major domestic and foreign policy initiatives of the Clinton years, as well as objective discussions of political success and failure.

    p>42is the first book to make extensive use of previously closed interviews collected for the Clinton Presidential History Project, conducted by the Presidential Oral History Program of the University of Virginia's Miller Center. These interviews, recorded by teams of scholars working under a veil of strict confidentiality, explored officials' memories of their service with President Clinton and their careers prior to joining the administration. Interviewees also offered political and leadership lessons they had gleaned as eyewitnesses to and shapers of history. Their spoken recollections provide invaluable detail about the inner history of the presidency in an age when personal diaries and discursive letters are seldom written.

    The authors producing this volume had first access to more than fifty of these cleared interviews, including sessions with White House chiefs of staff Mack McLarty and Leon Panetta, Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, National Security Advisors Anthony Lake and Sandy Berger, and a host of political advisors who guided Clinton into the White House and helped keep him there. This book thus provides a multidimensional portrait of Bill Clinton's administration, drawing largely on the observations of those who knew it best.



    Spencer D. Bakich, University of Richmond

    Brendan J. Doherty, United States Naval Academy

    Patrick T. Hickey, West Virginia University

    p>Elaine Kamarck, Center for Effective Public Management, Brookings Institution

    Sidney M. Milkis, University of Virginia

    Megan Moeller, University of Texas at Austin

    Michael Nelson, Rhodes College and the Miller Center, University of Virginia

    >Bruce F. Nesmith, Coe College

    Barbara A. Perry, Miller Center, University of Virginia

    Paul J. Quirk, University of British Columbia

    p>Russell L. Riley, Miller Center, University of Virginia

    Andrew Rudalevige, Bowdoin College

    Robert A. Strong, Washington and Lee University

    Sean M. Theriault, University of Texas at Austin

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0620-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Elaine Kamarck

    In the fall of 1996, I was on a campaign bus trip with President Bill Clinton and my boss, Vice President Al Gore. The enormous motorcade consisted of buses for the candidates, buses for the staff, buses for the press, and buses for the secret service. It also contained police motorcycles, ambulances, and fire trucks, making it seem like the row of vehicles went on for miles. As the motorcade snaked through towns between Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, it stopped every fifty miles or so. Some of the stops along the 175-mile trip were in small towns such as...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Michael Nelson, Barbara A. Perry and Russell L. Riley
  5. Bill Clinton’s Road to the White House
    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. 1-22)
    Russell L. Riley

    No American president has courted Clio, the muse of history, more assiduously than the 42nd, Bill Clinton. In part, President Clinton’s fascination with his forebears in the White House was the continuation of a lifelong passion for history, the product of a relentless and prehensile intellect. On the evidence of the oral history interviews conducted among those who worked most closely with him, Clinton refused to allow even the vast burdens of the presidency to intrude on that obsession. One of his personal aides, Kris Engskov, who was often the first staff member to see the president each day, reported...

  7. Part I POLITICS

    • 1 REDIVIDING GOVERNMENT: National Elections in the Clinton Years and Beyond
      (pp. 25-45)
      Michael Nelson

      Republicans emerged from the 1988 election as confident of their supremacy in presidential politics as Democrats were of their dominance of Congress.¹ Republican vice president George Bush’s 40-state, 426-electoral vote triumph over the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, was the GOP’s third victory in a row and its fifth in the last six elections, all but one of them by a landslide. From 1968 to 1988, Republican candidates for president outscored their Democratic opponents by a cumulative 2,501 electoral votes to 679 electoral votes and by 265 million to 215 million in the national popular vote. The Democrats’ sole...

    • 2 TRIANGULATION: Positioning and Leadership in Clinton’s Domestic Policy
      (pp. 46-76)
      Bruce F. Nesmith and Paul J. Quirk

      In March, 2015, a relatively obscure potential candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, sought to identify front runner Hillary Clinton with a political strategy for which her husband, President Bill Clinton, had been known. O’Malley declared that “triangulation is not a strategy that will move America forward.” He added, “History celebrates profiles in courage, not profiles in convenience.”¹ We leave aside the question of whether O’Malley had Hillary Clinton right. Did he have Bill Clinton and triangulation right?

      As a political term,triangulationis a Clinton-era neologism that has not passed into general use,...


    • 3 COMPROMISE AND CONFRONTATION: Clinton’s Evolving Relationship with Congress
      (pp. 79-103)
      Sean M. Theriault, Patrick T. Hickey and Megan Moeller

      In the days after the November 2014 midterm elections, some argued that the Clinton presidency furnished the best playbook for Barack Obama in confronting Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. According to the pundits, Obama needed to bargain, compromise, and problem solve with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the same way that Clinton had worked with Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Trent Lott. Just as Clinton and Republicans in Congress had ended welfare as we knew it, balanced the budget, and provided for the largest peacetime economic...

    • 4 ROOT CANAL POLITICS: Economic Policy Making in the New Administration
      (pp. 104-122)
      Brendan J. Doherty

      Bill Clinton became president in January 1993 after a campaign in which he promised to restore strength to the faltering economy. Faced with a budget situation that was far more dire than had been anticipated, Clinton and his team had to make difficult decisions about which of his campaign commitments to pursue. The ways in which they reconciled their policy priorities with economic reality set the stage for a contentious legislative battle over his budget plan, the success of which was by no means guaranteed. These economic policy decisions played an important and intensely debated role in the dramatic economic...

    • 5 THE BROKEN PLACES: The Clinton Impeachment and American Politics
      (pp. 123-151)
      Andrew Rudalevige

      “As required by Section 595(c) of Title 28 of the United States Code, the Office of the Independent Counsel hereby submits substantial and credible information that President William Jefferson Clinton committed acts that may constitute grounds for an impeachment.”¹ So began what became known as the Starr Report, which was delivered to the House of Representatives on September 9, 1998, accompanied by thirty-six boxes of evidentiary material.

      Two days later, the House voted overwhelmingly to make the 450-page report public, even though most members had not read or even seen it.

      Two hours later, the text was posted to the...

      (pp. 152-173)
      Michael Nelson

      A frequent assertion about the presidency of Bill Clinton, one that has congealed into conventional wisdom, is that he signed landmark welfare reform legislation—formally the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—for short-term and crassly political reasons.¹ As the accepted narrative goes, electoral consigliere Dick Morris “told him flatly that a welfare veto would cost him the election” because it “would transform a fifteen-point win into a three-point loss” to Republican presidential nominee Robert J. Dole in the November election.²

      Buttressing this interpretation is testimony from several Clinton administration officials who wanted the president to forgo...

    • 7 HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Recasting the Role of First Lady
      (pp. 174-190)
      Barbara A. Perry

      “Don’t do it, Hillary! Don’t let them talk you into it! Don’t do it!” Hearing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s distinctive voice shouting at her, Hillary Clinton thought, “Now there is the voice of reason and experience.” She was “sure that there were countless times when Jackie said, ‘No, I just won’t do that.’” So Mrs. Clinton responded to the former first lady, “You know, you’re right!”¹

      The exchange between two presidential spouses was not over a matter of state. Rather, it occurred in 1993 on a casual summer boat cruise off Martha’s Vineyard. At the urging of her husband and daughter,...


    • 8 THE RELUCTANT GRAND STRATEGIST AT WAR: Diplomacy and Force in Bosnia and Kosovo
      (pp. 193-213)
      Spencer D. Bakich

      The end of the cold war signaled no “holiday from history” for the United States.¹ The period from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was of tremendous historical importance, particularly in Europe, where core issues pertaining to U.S.-Russian relations and the continent’s security architecture came to a head. For President Bill Clinton, the collapse of the Soviet Union offered Washington and Moscow a unique opportunity to forge a relationship based on cooperation, if not genuine friendship.² At the same time, continued progress toward democracy in Eastern Europe was not guaranteed. Instability and threats (real...

    • 9 PEACEMAKER’S PROGRESS: Bill Clinton, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East
      (pp. 214-233)
      Robert A. Strong

      Scripture tells us that peacemakers are blessed and will be called the children of God. It is good that God is looking out for them, because here on earth peacemakers encounter more than their share of misfortune. Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin were both assassinated by members of their own faith because of the leadership they provided to peace negotiations in the Middle East. John Hume and David Trimble, the leaders of the largest Catholic and Protestant parties in Northern Ireland, worked hard to produce a peace agreement. That agreement helped more radical parties and leaders secure senior executive positions...

    (pp. 234-266)
    Sidney M. Milkis

    The chapters of this volume shed valuable light on the complicated character and political times of America’s forty-second president. Examining Bill Clinton’s campaigns, his domestic and foreign policy record, and the challenges posed by the political environment of the 1990s, the authors make clear that both his successes and his failures were highly consequential. They differ considerably, however, in their interpretations of his legacy for American politics and government. As Russell Riley shows, Clinton himself struggled to make sense of his place in history, noting that “no president has courted Clio, the muse of history, more assiduously.” Clinton was a...

    (pp. 267-270)
    (pp. 271-274)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 275-312)
  14. List of Contributors
    (pp. 313-314)
  15. Index
    (pp. 315-324)