Read about Clinton's domestic policies and scandal-ridden second term. 

Overview

  • Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States. He was elected in 1992 and reelected in 1996, becoming the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve two terms in office.
  • Clinton came to the White House with an ambitious domestic policy agenda centered on economic growth and immediately took steps to reduce the federal budget deficit.
  • Clinton’s second term was marred by scandal, as he was impeached for lying to Congress and the American people about an extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
  • Despite the Lewinsky affair, Clinton left the White House with the highest approval rating of any US president in the post-World War II era.

Bill Clinton’s rise to power

Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III in Hope, Arkansas in 1946 but formally adopted his stepfather’s surname, Clinton, when he was fifteen years old. He attended Georgetown University and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford before going on to earn his law degree at Yale. He served one term as Attorney General of the state of Arkansas and was elected governor in 1978.
Photograph of Bill Clinton.
Official White House portrait of Bill Clinton. Photograph by Robert McNeely. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Frequently referred to as the “Boy Governor” because of his young age (he was 32 years old), Clinton enacted reforms in the areas of education, welfare, and healthcare. He was reelected in 1982 and became a leader of the New Democrats, a centrist wing of the Democratic Party that sought to decrease the size and scope of the federal government—a goal to which progressives and liberals were vehemently opposed.
In 1992, he secured the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, and won in a three-way race against incumbent President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, and independent third-party candidate Ross Perot. Clinton was the first US president from the Baby Boomer generation. He was reelected in 1996, becoming the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve two terms as president. He is married to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who represented the state of New York in the US Senate before becoming Secretary of State during the Obama administration.

Clinton’s first term (1993-1997)

Bill Clinton came to the White House with an ambitious domestic agenda centered on economic growth. He immediately set to work reducing the federal budget deficit. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, known unofficially as the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, raised taxes for the wealthiest 1.2 percent, while cutting taxes for small businesses and lower-income wage earners. The legislation included a requirement to balance the federal budget, and set the stage for an economic resurgence that culminated in a federal budget surplus.
The Clinton administration proved less successful in the realm of healthcare reform. Although implementing a national health care plan with universal coverage was a top priority for Clinton, opposition from Republicans, the American Medical Association, and the health insurance industry proved an insurmountable obstacle to healthcare reform.
On January 1, 1994, President Clinton signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which eliminated barriers to trade and investment between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Though some have criticized NAFTA for moving jobs out of the United States, the overall economic impact of the agreement has been mostly beneficial, not only for the United States, but for Canada and Mexico as well. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of all three countries grew as a direct result of NAFTA, while trade and investment flourished and some industries that were expected to decline instead thrived as never before.start superscript, 1, end superscript

Clinton’s second term (1997-2001)

Although Bill Clinton easily won reelection in 1996, his second term in office was marred by corruption and scandal. Clinton became the second president in US history to be impeached, after he was discovered to have lied to Congress and the American people about his involvement in an extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Though the House of Representatives charged Clinton with perjury and obstruction of justice, the Senate vote, which was largely along party lines, did not attain the two-thirds majority required by the US Constitution to remove him from office.start superscript, 2, end superscript
In the United States, impeachment is a way for the legislative branch, Congress, to hold members of the executive branch accountable for crimes committed while in office.
The act of impeachment is the formal bringing of such charges, which is the prerogative of the House of Representatives. Impeachment is followed by a trial, which is carried out in the Senate. After the trial, the Senate votes on whether to convict the impeached official. If a two-thirds majority of the Senate votes to convict, the official is automatically removed from office.
To date, only two US presidents—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—have been impeached by the House of Representatives. Both were acquitted by the Senate. No US president has been convicted by the Senate and removed from office.
Despite the scandal, Clinton left the White House with the highest approval rating of any US president in the post-World War II era.start superscript, 3, end superscript He was succeeded in office by George W. Bush.

What do you think?

What were Clinton’s greatest achievements as president? What were his biggest shortcomings?
Why do you think Clinton continued to enjoy such great popularity even after the Monica Lewinsky scandal?
Overall, how would you rate Bill Clinton’s performance as president?
Article written by Dr. Michelle Getchell. This article is licensed under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.
Notes
  1. For more on NAFTA, see William A. Orme, Jr., Understanding NAFTA: Mexico, Free Trade, and the New North America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).
  2. See Peter Baker, The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton (New York: Scribner, 2012).
  3. For more on the Clinton presidency, see John F. Harris, The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House (New York: Random House, 2005).