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The Presidency of Bill Clinton

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Vicissitudes: 1992 and the Road to the White House by Mark White. Extracted from our new collection, The Presidency of Bill Clinton.

The presidency of Bill Clinton has an intrinsic historical significance: a marker of generational change, as he was the first 'baby boomer' to reach the White House; the first president whose personal life received no less attention than his policies; and the first elected Democrat President to win re-election since Franklin Roosevelt. This book provides wide-ranging coverage of Clinton's career, addressing the salient aspects of Clinton's life in politics: his governorship; the 1992 presidential campaign; the battle for health care reform; his economic policies; the issue of character, including the Monica Lewinsky scandal; his foreign policy - specifically his role in the peace process in Northern Ireland and in authorizing an aerial war in Kosovo; his handling of the issue of gay rights; and his relationship with the Hollywood film industry. Based on the latest research, this volume provides important new perspectives on Clinton's life in politics.
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BILL CLINTON Edited by Mark White THE PRESIDENCY OF The Legacy of a New Domestic and Foreign Policy Mark White is Professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of six books, including Missiles in Cuba: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro, and the 1962 Crisis (1997), Kennedy: The New Frontier Revisited, ed. (1998), and Against the President: Dissent and Decision-Making in the White House (2007). He is Convenor of the Queen Mary Seminar Series on America, has been appointed Associate Fellow of the Institute for the Study of the Americas (at the University of London) and to the advisory board for the United States Presidency Centre, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. THE PR ESIDENC Y OF BILL CLINTON The Legacy of a New Domestic and Foreign Policy Edited by Mark White Published in 2012 by I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd 6 Salem Road, London W2 4BU 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010 Distributed in the United States and Canada Exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010 Copyright Editorial Selection and Introduction © 2012 Mark White Copyright Individual Chapters © 2012 John Dumbrell, Michael A. Genovese, Elpida Katsavara, Brian S. Miller, Iwan Morgan, Alex Waddan, Mark Wheeler, Mark White, Kevan M. Yenerall The right of Mark White to be identified as the editor of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this book, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Library of Modern American History: 1 ISBN 978 1 84885 888 6 A full CIP record for this book is available from the British Library A full CIP record is available from the Library of Congress Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: available Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY CONTENTS Notes on Contributors Introduction Mark White Grappling with the Governorship: The Fall and Rise of Bill Clinton Brian S. Miller Vicissitudes: 1992 and the Road to the White House Mark White A New Democrat’s New Economics Iwan Morgan Found and Lost: A Third Way on Health Care Alex Waddan The Clarion Call, the Muted Trumpet, the Lasting Impact: Gay Rights Kevan M. Yenerall The Clinton Character Conundrum Michael A. Genovese Diplomacy in Northern Ireland: Successful Pragmatic International Engagement John Dumbrell ix 1 1 7 34 65 92 2 3 4 5 120 158 6 7 180 viii THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON 8 The Aerial War in Kosovo Elpida Katsavara 9 Courting the Hollywood Film Industry Mark Wheeler Index 206 231 258 NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS Mark White (editor) is Professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London. He received his doctoral degree from Rutgers University, and has published six books, including Missiles in Cuba: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro, and the 1962 Crisis (1997), Kennedy: The New Frontier Revisited, ed. (1998), and Against the President: Dissent and DecisionMaking in the White House (2007). He is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and sits on the advisory board to the United States Presidency Centre. John Dumbrell (Ph.D., University of Keele) is Professor of International Affairs at Durham University. He has published five books, including A Special Relationship: Anglo-American Relations in the Cold War and After (2001) and President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Communism (2004), and some twenty-five articles and chapters in edited works. Michael A. Genovese (Ph.D., University of Southern California) holds the Loyola Chair of Leadership, is Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Institute for Leadership Studies at Loyola Marymount University. He has written sixteen books, including The Power of the American Presidency, 1789–2000 (2001) and The Paradoxes of the American Presidency (2004, 2nd ed., with Thomas E. Cronin), both published by x THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON Oxford University Press. He is Associate Editor of the journal White House Studies, and has frequently appeared as a political commentator on local and national television. Elpida Katsavara (Ph.D., University of Kent) is Lecturer at the University of Winchester, having taught at the University of Kent, the University of Sheffield, and Queen Mary, University of London. Her dissertation was on Bill Clinton’s foreign policy and she has produced several articles, including ‘Congress, President Clinton and Military Intervention in Haiti, 1994,’ in A. Mania et al., eds, US Foreign Policy: Theory, Mechanisms and Practice (2007). Brian S. Miller (Ph.D., University of Mississippi) is Assistant Professor of History at Charleston Southern University. He has taught previously at the University of Arkansas and the University of Mississippi, and has published an article on Russell Keaton. His dissertation was on Bill Clinton’s governorship. Iwan Morgan (Ph.D., London School of Economics) is Professor of US Studies and Deputy Director and Head of US Programmes at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, School of Advanced Study, University of London. He has taught previously at London Metropolitan University and London Guildhall University. He has published five single-authored books, including Beyond the Liberal Consensus: A Political History of the United States since 1965 (1994), Deficit Government: Taxing and Spending in Modern America (1995), and Nixon (2002). He has co-edited several other books, published numerous articles, and has served regularly as a commentator for several major media outlets, including the BBC and CNN. Alex Waddan (Ph.D., University of Manchester) is Senior Lecturer in American Politics at the University of Leicester. He has published two monographs: The Politics of Social Welfare: The Collapse of the Centre and the Rise of the Right (1997), and Clinton’s Legacy? A New Democrat in Governance (2002), and more than twenty academic articles (in such distinguished periodicals as the Journal of American Studies, Journal of NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS xi Social Policy, and Political Science Quarterly) and chapters in edited volumes. He serves as referee for six major journals. Mark Wheeler (Ph.D., Queen Mary, University of London) is Professor of Political Communications at London Metropolitan University. He has written three books: Politics and Mass Media (1997), European Television Industries (2005, with Petros Iosifidis and Jeanette Steemers), and Hollywood: Politics and Society (2006); and has also published numerous articles and chapters in edited volumes. He is the founder of the Political Studies Association Media and Politics Specialist Group, and has served as a research officer for the British Screen Advisory Council. Kevan M. Yenerall (Ph.D., Miami University) is Professor of Political Science at Clarion University. His publications include ‘Executing the Rhetorical Presidency: William Jefferson Clinton, George W. Bush, and the Contemporary Face of Presidential Power,’ in Christopher S. Kelley, ed., Executing the Constitution (2006), and ‘The Presidency as a Cultural Pulpit’, in Ryan J. Barilleaux, ed., Presidential Frontiers: Underexplored Issues in White House Politics (1998). He is also the coauthor of Seeing the Bigger Picture: Understanding Politics Through Film and Television (2004), which was nominated for book of the year by the National Library Association. He serves as chair of the Popular Culture and Politics section of the Northeastern Political Science Association. 2 VICISSITUDES: 1992 AND THE ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE MARK WHITE The presidential campaign of 1992 has become a legendary part of recent American political history. With its mixture of sexual scandal (Gennifer Flowers), colourful characters (such as Ross Perot) and national crisis (the deep recession of the early 1990s), the campaign had the ingredients of a paperback bestseller or a Hollywood blockbuster. Indeed, it did inspire a successful novel and film, Primary Colors, as well as an Oscar-nominated documentary, The War Room. From Bill Clinton’s perspective, the 1992 campaign represented the trial by fire he had to survive in order to secure the presidency. The campaign would expose his shortcomings, as well as test his resilience and his political dexterity. Clinton’s journey from the New Hampshire primary at the start of the year to Election Day in November also foreshadowed his presidency: like his time in the White House, the electoral road to it was dominated by issues of character and by his attempt to fashion an effective Third Way brand of politics. And as with his presidency, Clinton’s ability to succeed in the 1992 campaign VICISSITUDES 35 hinged on perceptions of the state of the American economy and his ability to strengthen it. This essay has four principal objectives: firstly, to review the essential narrative of the 1992 campaign; secondly, to consider how Clinton prevented attacks on his character from derailing his presidential bid; thirdly, to examine Clinton’s attempts at shifting the Democratic Party, ideologically, from a quintessential liberalism to the Third Way; and finally, to provide an overall assessment of Clinton’s ability as a campaigner. The Campaign The origins of Clinton’s quest for the presidency go back not to 1991–92 but to four years earlier; for in 1987 he had thought seriously about declaring his candidacy for the following year’s presidential campaign. With the Reagan era drawing to a close and the Republicans’ reputation for rectitude damaged by the Iran-Contra scandal, the 1988 election campaign seemed to represent a good opportunity for ambitious Democrats. The young Arkansas governor came very close to throwing his hat into the ring, but at the last minute he decided against it. For one thing, Hillary Clinton was sceptical about the idea, partly because she thought George W. Bush would win what in effect would be Ronald Reagan’s third term. For another, Bill Clinton’s close aide Betsey Wright warned him that his sexual transgressions might well derail his campaign and disrupt his family life. With the recent precedent of Democratic frontrunner Gary Hart being forced out of the 1988 race before it had even begun because of an affair reported in the press, Clinton decided to bide his time. However, the interminable, soporific nominating speech he delivered for Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic Convention appeared to damage severely his presidential aspirations. But an effective appearance on the Johnny Carson show shortly thereafter allowed Clinton to stage what his wife described as, ‘Yet another comeback.’1 Following his landslide re-election in 1990 and with his performance as governor receiving national attention and praise, Clinton seemed handily placed as he mulled over his chances of winning the 36 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON Democratic presidential nomination and the presidency itself in 1992. Two other factors enhanced Clinton’s potential. The first, paradoxically, was Bush’s success in early 1991 in prosecuting the war against Iraq following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. That military triumph raised Bush’s approval rating to a historically unprecedented 91 per cent, which in turn created a strong but ultimately misguided consensus around the idea that Bush was unbeatable in 1992. As a result a number of prominent Democrats – such as Lloyd Bentsen, Al Gore, Richard Gephardt and Bill Bradley – decided against entering the presidential race; and they would have provided sterner opposition in the campaign for the Democratic nomination than that which Clinton ultimately faced.2 Not only were Clinton’s prospects aided by the impact of the Persian Gulf War on the field of Democratic candidates, they were also assisted by the recession that had begun in 1990. That recession served to obscure Bush’s foreign policy accomplishments, transfer the national focus to domestic issues, and to make Bush vulnerable in 1992 in the same way that economic malaise had imperilled the presidencies of Herbert Hoover in 1932 and Jimmy Carter in 1980. What would weaken Bush’s position further was political commentator Pat Buchanan’s announcement that he would challenge the president for the Republican nomination. This put the spotlight on what had long been a problem for Bush: his uneasy relationship with the right of his own party, who viewed him as excessively moderate and hence an unworthy successor to Reagan. Bush’s decision in 1990 to renege on his 1988 campaign promise not to increase taxes, in order to deal with the growing deficit, had angered many conservatives, thereby making them potentially receptive to the sort of challenge from the right posed by Buchanan.3 It was on 3 October 1991, in front of the Old State House in Little Rock, that Clinton officially declared that he was a candidate for president. ‘I refuse to be part of a generation,’ he stated in explaining the rationale behind his presidential bid, ‘that celebrates the death of communism abroad with the loss of the American Dream at home.’ During that autumn, Clinton assembled an effective campaign team of predominantly young operatives who saw in the Arkansas governor VICISSITUDES 37 a candidate capable of loosening the longstanding Republican grip on the presidency. Most notably, Clinton secured the services of James Carville and Paul Begala, the team that had just masterminded Harris Wofford’s surprise, come-from-behind victory in the Pennsylvania Senate race against GOP rival Richard Thornburgh, who had served as Bush’s attorney general. Following Wofford’s victory, Carville and Begala were the hottest property in the world of political consultancy. That they plumped for Clinton rather than the other Democrats who courted them did not escape the attention of the press. George Stephanopoulos, who had built a strong reputation working for Richard Gephardt in the House of Representatives, came on board the Goodship Clinton and would emerge as one of the candidate’s key campaign aides. Dee Dee Myers was appointed as Clinton’s press secretary, whilst Stanley Greenberg served as pollster. Rahm Emanuel proved to be an effectively aggressive fundraiser. Frank Greer, Mandy Grunwald and Bruce Reed also played important roles in the campaign.4 By December 1991, then, Clinton had assembled a formidable campaign team. The potential of his candidacy was underscored that month when he won the Florida delegate straw poll. Another piece of good news that arrived just before Christmas was New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s announcement that he would not be a candidate for president. Cuomo was viewed as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, if he decided to seek it. His name recognition far exceeded Clinton’s. He would have been best placed of all the Democratic candidates to raise funds for a presidential campaign. He was probably the greatest orator America had seen since the days of Martin Luther King. The argument can be made than Cuomo would have found it difficult, as someone perceived as a traditional, New Deal-type Democrat, to compete in the South against a centrist Southerner like Bill Clinton. But given the scandals that beset Clinton’s campaign in early 1992, it seems certain that Democrats would have turned in even greater numbers to a Cuomo candidacy. Bush’s success in the Persian Gulf War was Clinton’s first stroke of luck; Cuomo’s non-entry into the race was his second.5 With Cuomo disappointing millions of liberals by staying on the sidelines, and with other prominent Democrats deciding that Bush’s 38 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON post-Persian Gulf War poll ratings made him unbeatable, the field facing Clinton was far less daunting than it would otherwise have been. Nebraska Senator and Vietnam War hero Bob Kerrey appeared to provide the sternest opposition. But he flattered to deceive: his campaign lacked both energy and a strong theme. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin was a traditional liberal who attracted strong union support. Douglas Wilder, who in 1990 became in Virginia America’s first elected black governor, posed a potential threat to Clinton in the South. But he bowed out before the New Hampshire primary had even taken place. Former California governor Jerry Brown developed a rather eccentric brand of populist politics, though he would prove the most durable of Clinton’s rivals. In the early part of the campaign, though, Clinton’s main opposition was provided by Paul Tsongas, a former Massachusetts senator who had courageously won a personal battle against cancer, because – as Clinton later explained – he was the one other Democrat competing seriously in the realm of policy ideas.6 By early January 1992 Clinton had moved ahead of Tsongas in the polls for what would be the key early test in the Democratic primaries, New Hampshire. That same month an ignominious episode at a state dinner in Japan appeared to accentuate Bush’s vulnerability: he collapsed, with his head resting in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister. It was due to flu, but that did not prevent rumours of a heart attack from being spread by the media. This incident was, as Bush’s Vice President Dan Quayle recalls, ‘the worst kind of symbolism for a country that was becoming ever more anxious, even paranoid, about Japanese economic strength and business practices.’7 Promising beginnings for Clinton, then. But his past was about to catch up with him. Just as he was outshining his Democratic rivals, two scandals threatened his campaign. The first was the allegation, made in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star tabloid, that he had cheated on his wife with Gennifer Flowers, a sometime TV reporter and parttime singer. The second was that he had avoided military service in Vietnam. Sex and war – unsurprisingly, it was grist to the media mill. Thus it was in this inauspicious way that Clinton was introduced to the majority of the American people. With the support of his wife, VICISSITUDES 39 most notably in a television interview on 60 Minutes, he survived the sex scandal. The Vietnam issue, however, was more damaging. His poll ratings in New Hampshire dropped precipitously. Campaigning indefatigably through the final stretch of that primary campaign, he managed to come second behind Tsongas. Given that Tsongas was from neighbouring Massachusetts and that the weeks preceding the vote had been dominated by an assault on Clinton’s character, it was an impressive result, justifying the candidate’s description of himself as the ‘Comeback Kid’ in his election-night speech.8 Though Clinton had survived the buffeting of New Hampshire, things did not go swimmingly thereafter. Tsongas won the Maine caucus, and in the South Dakota primary Kerrey and Harkin eclipsed him. In March, Brown won Colorado and Tsongas triumphed in Maryland. That made the Georgia primary crucial for Clinton, as he had still not won a primary. He prevailed there with 57 per cent of the vote, then won even more convincingly in South Carolina. Kerrey dropped out after Georgia, as did Harkin following the South Carolina primary. In the collection of primaries on Super Tuesday, Clinton strengthened his grip on the nomination. Tsongas won in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and in the Delaware caucuses, but Clinton prevailed elsewhere. He went on to win in Illinois and Michigan. Tsongas dropped out in late March, leaving Jerry Brown as Clinton’s one remaining opponent. Brown inflicted some damage on the Clinton campaign, winning the Connecticut primary. But after a harsh examination by the media in the Big Apple, in which the character issue was used again to damn him, Clinton won in New York. Other primary successes followed, and in June he clinched the nomination with victory in a number of states, including California.9 Two factors cast a shadow over Clinton’s sequence of primary successes in the spring of 1992. The first was the emergence of a strong third party candidate in the form of Texan Ross Perot. With his emphasis on the scale of the national debt, Perot’s incipient campaign had focus. His quirky personality, quotable one-liners, palpable dismay at the president’s performance, and background in business rather than politics gave him an intriguing outsider status at a time when many Americans felt cynical about conventional politics and 40 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON politicians. Polls at the end of April put him ahead of Bush, with Clinton in third place. Exit polls at the end of the primary season in June indicated that a good many Democrats planned to vote for Perot in November.10 The second factor to take the gloss off Clinton’s primary victories was the continuing concern over his character. There was a distinct sense that the Democrats were nominating a man whose personal shortcomings made him unelectable. Exit polls taken at the time of the New York primary, for instance, showed that only 49 per cent of voters thought he had the integrity to be president.11 Beginning in the spring, the Clinton campaign mounted a rearguard action to rehabilitate his image and transform his poll ratings. Aide Stan Greenberg devised the Manhattan Project in order to present Clinton to the American people in a more positive light. Clinton utilized free media, appearing on shows such as Arsenio Hall, in a manner unprecedented in presidential campaigns. As one journalist who followed the Clinton campaign put it, he began to operate freely within the sphere of popular culture. His selection of Al Gore as his vice-presidential running mate added credibility to his campaign. Ross Perot withdrew on the eve of the Democratic Convention, suggesting that his candidacy was no longer required as Clinton had ‘revitalized’ the Democratic Party. After a meticulously organized convention, Clinton emerged with a lead of 20 per cent in the polls. ‘Clinton-Gore have gone into orbit,’ Bush remarked gloomily to a friend. A post-Convention bus tour, in which Clinton, Gore, and their spouses visited a number of battleground states, sustained the momentum generated by the Convention.12 In the fall, the Bush campaign – now led by the astute James Baker, on leave from his post as secretary of state – assailed Clinton on the issues of trust and taxes. The organization and ethos of the Clinton campaign team meant that the Democrats, in contrast to the 1988 presidential campaign, would fight fire with fire. Based in Little Rock, and headed up by the brilliant James Carville, the ‘War Room’ ensured a rapid response to any Bush attack and provided Clinton’s campaign with thematic focus: change, economic revival and health care would be its salient issues.13 VICISSITUDES 41 A late September Stan Greenberg poll showed that no type of Bush attack could prevent a Clinton victory. But Bush’s opportunity to erode Clinton’s lead came with the three television debates held between 11 and 19 October. As Perot had re-entered the race, these debates were three-way affairs. The second debate, in Richmond, Virginia, which was conducted in a town-hall-meeting format, with questions from the audience, provided the fall campaign with its most memorable moment following a question about how the national debt had affected the candidates personally. Bush answered hesitatingly and unconvincingly, whilst Clinton was at his empathetic, knowledgeable best. As journalist Joe Klein observed, this exchange meant that, for all intents and purposes, the campaign was over.14 The polls did tighten as the election approached and Bush and Perot stepped up their attacks on the frontrunner. Bush took aim at Clinton’s anti-Vietnam War activities during his time at Oxford. He erred, though, by referring publicly to Clinton and Gore as ‘bozos’; it came across as undignified. The final nail in the coffin of the Bush campaign came four days before the election when Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh indicted former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger over the Iran-Contra scandal, and in so doing made clear that Bush had known about the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal. On Election Day, Bill Clinton received 43 per cent of the vote, Bush 37 per cent, and Perot 19 per cent. In the electoral college, Clinton’s triumph was more impressive, winning by 370-to-168. Bruised, battered, but unbowed, Clinton had survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to bring to an end a period of Republican Party dominance of the presidency.15 Character Clinton’s eventual triumph in 1992 was dependent to a large extent on his ability to withstand the various attacks on his character – or, as his critics saw it, his lack of it. In retrospect, there were early indicators that his personal life would come to constitute part of the political terrain over which the 1992 campaign would be fought. Gary Hart’s implosion in the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, 42 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON caused by his affair with Donna Rice, showed that infidelity could destroy a candidacy. In 1990 Clinton got a taste of things to come as Republicans sought to prevent his re-election as governor by pointing the finger at his personal life. GOP Chairman Lee Atwater, who feared Clinton as a potential presidential candidate, planned for Tommy Robinson to run a vicious campaign against Clinton in 1990 – but his plans were thwarted when Sheffield Nelson defeated Robinson in the Republican primary. Nelson, however, persuaded former Arkansas state official Larry Nichols to make the claim that Clinton had conducted affairs with five women, including Gennifer Flowers. The accused women denied the allegation, thus defusing the issue. Clinton proceeded to win re-election by 18 per cent. If Lee Atwater, whose preference for an iron-fist style of politics without even a hint of kid glove was infamous, had lived, character attacks would have figured even more prominently in the 1992 Republican campaign.16 By the summer of 1991 it became even clearer to Clinton that Republicans would make character a major issue the following year. In July he received a phone call from White House official Roger Porter. The Bush aide was candid: should Clinton run for the presidency, Republicans would use the media to destroy him personally. The threat was based on the fear expressed by Porter that as a centrist Democrat, Clinton would be a more serious threat to Bush than that posed by liberal nominees to Republican presidential candidates in the recent past. Porter’s call had the opposite effect to that intended. Clinton viewed it as contemptible bullying, and it strengthened his determination to run.17 Once he had declared himself a candidate for president in October 1991, Clinton hoped that his skeletons would remain in the closet. Rather than leaving it to chance, he sought to devise a strategy that would prevent personal scandal from wrecking his presidential bid. Accordingly he met at the Washington Court Hotel in September 1991 with a group of close friends to mull over how best to handle the issue. Ignore it or confront it – that was the question. Strong opinions were expressed either way but in the end Clinton decided if he said nothing the rumours swirling around about the state of his marriage might damage his campaign irreparably. So it was that on 16 September at a VICISSITUDES 43 Sperling Breakfast meeting with leading journalists Clinton explained that his marriage had not been perfect. Decoded, that constituted an admission of adultery. Such an acknowledgement, the Clintons calculated, would satisfy the curiosity of journalists, thereby removing the issue of their personal life from the media agenda in 1992. However, the press response to Clinton’s remarks at the Sperling Breakfast indicated that the nation’s scribes would not necessarily remain indifferent to his private life. Whilst the New Republic criticized the media’s obsession with politicians’ personal lives, the Washington Times insisted that a candidate’s character would be a legitimate target for attack in 1992.18 The only personal issue that threatened his equanimity in the autumn of 1991 arose when rock groupie Connie Hamzy alleged that eight years earlier Clinton had propositioned her at a Little Rock hotel. Clinton assured his aides her claim was inaccurate, and his denial was confirmed by others present at the encounter. The Clinton team was able to use all of this to persuade the mainstream media not to run with Hamzy’s uncorroborated account. Clinton’s mother, for one, believed that this would not be the end of the character issue. She predicted to Joe Klein in December 1991 that the press would criticize her son’s personal life intemperately. When the Gennifer Flowers story broke in the midst of the New Hampshire primary, her worst fears were confirmed.19 Gennifer Flowers proved to be only the start of Clinton’s woes in early 1992. Fast on the heels of that scandal came the story about whether he had avoided the draft for the Vietnam War. A 6 February Wall Street Journal article on the subject was influential, and ABC television obtained a copy of the 1969 letter sent by a young Bill Clinton to ROTC commander at the University of Arkansas Colonel Gene Holmes. ‘I want to thank you . . . for saving me from the draft,’ Clinton had told Holmes, and that suggested Clinton’s account of the matter – that after studying at Oxford for a year he had enrolled at the University of Arkansas law school and met his military obligations by joining the ROTC, before deciding instead to return to Oxford, after which a high draft lottery number meant he did not have to serve in Vietnam – was not the full story. What the letter to Holmes 44 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON indicated, as George Stephanopoulos recalls, was that at the very least Clinton had been ‘stringing Holmes along and holding on to his coveted ROTC slot until after he was certain he wouldn’t be drafted.’ The fear that the scandal would end his campaign compelled Clinton to appear on Ted Koppel’s Nightline television show to defend his record on Vietnam. ‘Ted,’ Clinton groused towards the end of the interview, ‘the only times you’ve invited me on this show are to discuss a woman I never slept with and a draft I never dodged.’ Clinton’s second place finish in New Hampshire showed that the Vietnam controversy had not destroyed his campaign, but the issue dogged him throughout the spring, particularly at the time of the New York primary.20 That primary saw the emergence of yet another scandal. During a television debate on 29 March, Clinton revealed: ‘When I was in England [at Oxford], I experimented with marijuana a time or two and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale and I never tried it again.’ The New York tabloids had a field day. ‘Clinton on the S-Pot,’ was the New York Post headline, whilst the Daily News joked: ‘Weed Asked Him That.’ To be sure, this seemed a trivial issue to many people. But what elevated it from the risible to the significant was Clinton’s claim that he had not inhaled. That claim was portrayed as a pathetic attempt to deny responsibility for his drug use and an example of his inability to be honest with the American people. In other words, both the admission of drug use and his apparent refusal to be candid about the matter were used to cast doubt, once again, over the candidate’s character.21 One other revelation that spring kept the spotlight on the character issue: Whitewater. An article by Jeff Gerth in the New York Times on 8 March drew attention to a real estate investment made by Clinton and his wife during his time as governor. Dubious business associates, alleged financial impropriety and, once again, character were the aspects of the Whitewater ‘scandal’ that received the most attention. This controversy would rumble along during Clinton’s presidency, and its impact would be profound.22 It is instructive to consider the underlying reasons why Clinton’s private life and character were dissected in these ways. His critics would argue that character is essential in a successful president, and VICISSITUDES 45 hence the lack of rectitude displayed by Clinton in his personal life was a legitimate topic for discussion as Americans evaluated his candidacy. But the extent and intensity of the media and Republican assault on Clinton the man suggested that other, deeper factors exerted an influence. One was what Clinton symbolized to the right in 1992. To his ideological opponents, he was the personification of the values of the 1960s that they saw as responsible for the erosion of traditional American virtues. The lack of family values implied by a hedonistic sexual life, the lack of patriotic commitment suggested by that generation’s scepticism about the Vietnam War, and the lack of character revealed by use of drugs – so much that conservatives despised about the 1960s they saw in Clinton. Put another way, the prospect of a drug-taking, draft-dodging, philandering son of the sixties becoming president and commander-in-chief was – for conservatives – their worst nightmare. Perceiving Clinton as a symbol of liberal, permissive 1960s America made their attacks on him even more virulent than they would otherwise have been. Another underlying reason as to why Clinton’s early years and private life were so scrutinized in 1992 was the shift in American political culture since Watergate. Convinced that Vietnam and Watergate had shown that politicians could not be trusted, the press developed a more adversarial relationship with political leaders. They viewed politicians with a more critical, even a more cynical eye. With the Democrats effectively removing Richard Nixon from the White House in 1974, tensions between themselves and Republicans also increased. The sort of bipartisanship that Lyndon Johnson had at times relied upon for passage of some of his Great Society programmes, or indeed Johnson’s own generally amiable relationship as Senate majority leader the previous decade with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, became less apparent. The politeness and cooperation often evident in the past was to a large extent replaced by a vicious partisan warfare. In that sense, Newt Gingrich’s rise to prominence in the 1990s was the culmination of a trend. In the 1930s and 1950s Clinton’s personal foibles would have mattered not one jot. But in the more poisonous and febrile atmosphere of 1990s America those shortcomings were grist to the mill of prurient journalists and political opponents.23 46 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON One other factor underpinned some of the obsessive interest in Clinton’s private life: his glamour. The argument can be made that his youth, good looks and charisma heightened the interest of the media and perhaps the American people in Clinton’s personal life. Consider, for instance, the widespread fascination in contemporary popular culture and academic discourse with the private life of glamorous John Kennedy in comparison to the relative disinterest in the private exploits of the craggy but equally libidinous Lyndon Johnson. Compare, too, the saturated coverage of Clinton’s personal life with the reluctance to investigate George Bush, Sr, with anything like the same zeal, despite the rumours of infidelity as well as the specific allegation made in the midst of the 1992 campaign that he had had an affair with State Department official Jennifer Fitzgerald. When a CNN reporter asked Bush about the veracity of the story, he snapped: ‘I’m not going to take any sleazy questions like that.’ And that, essentially, was that. The media showed little inclination to pursue the story. How different to the doggedness they brought to bear in reporting on Clinton’s private life. It is speculative, but it does seem to be the case that both the media and the public are drawn more to the private lives of those individuals they perceive as attractive and glamorous.24 Whatever the underlying reasons for the dissection of Clinton’s character in 1992, surviving the personal attacks was essential if he were to win the Democratic presidential nomination and then the presidency itself. That he was able to do so was due to the economic context against which the campaign unfolded, the organization and ethos of the Clinton campaign team, the role played by Hillary Clinton, and to a variety of cogent arguments made by Bill Clinton in response to the criticisms of his character. The fact that Clinton’s campaign took place at the time of a severe recession meant that millions of Americans – concerned about their job prospects, their health coverage, and other important issues – were more interested in matters of substance than personal scandal. Hence Clinton was able to claim that the attacks on his private life were deleterious to the national interest because they lessened the focus on issues of real concern to recession-afflicted Americans. This is precisely what he said on Phil Donahue’s talk-show, in the run-up VICISSITUDES 47 to the New York primary, as the host hammered away at his alleged infidelities: Believe it or not, Phil, there are people out there with futures that are worth fighting for, but it’s very difficult, because people like you don’t want me to. I don’t believe that I or any other decent human being should have to put up with the kind of questioning you’re putting me through now. I think this is debasing our politics.25 After George Bush’s successfully aggressive campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988 it was easy for Republican strategists to believe that a similarly abrasive approach would work in 1992, especially as Clinton’s personal foibles left him so vulnerable to attack. Privately, Clinton told Dukakis in 1988 to respond to Bush’s criticisms – to fight back hard – but Dukakis, as Clinton put it to his former and future adviser Dick Morris, felt that was beneath him. Four years later, Clinton was determined not to repeat Dukakis’s mistakes: he would be vigilant in defending himself against not only Republican criticisms but those from the media as well. Hence at the end of March 1992 he hired Betsey Wright, who had served him long and loyally during the 1980s, as director of damage control. Once she realized a journalist was investigating a particular subject, she would phone him or her – before anything had been published – to give the campaign’s slant on the issue. As well as anticipating media attacks, the Clinton team did to Bush what some of the president’s advisers were doing to Clinton: they collected dirt on their opponent. Information about Bush’s alleged affairs was filed away. The hope was that this would discourage the Bush team from focusing excessively on Clinton’s private life. It is instructive to note that whilst Bush did focus on the issue of character in the autumn campaign, emphasizing Clinton’s avoidance of the Vietnam draft as well as his 1969–70 trip through northern Europe that took in the Soviet Union, he steered clear of the subject of Clinton’s infidelities.26 It was not just the preparation undertaken by Clinton’s advisers in anticipation of character attacks that was important, it was the 48 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON alacrity with which they responded when those attacks took place. The James Carville-led War Room was instrumental in developing this rapid-response approach. Carville emphasized the campaign’s mind-set by sporting a t-shirt which read: ‘Speed Kills . . . Bush.’ As Stephanopoulos recalls, ‘our goal was to ensure that no unanswered attack reached real people.’ Computer and satellite technology was used to achieve this objective in a way that made the Dukakis campaign seem archaic. Sometimes the War Room’s satellite dish intercepted an unaired GOP commercial that was being sent to a local affiliate. During the Republican Convention, the War Room used a SWAT team to infiltrate the Houston Astrodome and to release a response to Bush’s convention address before he had even delivered it.27 Hillary Clinton, too, played a vital role in ensuring her husband survived the personal criticisms. Her support was articulated in both public and private. At the height of the Gennifer Flowers controversy she agreed to appear with Bill Clinton on 60 Minutes before a massive television audience immediately following the Super Bowl. Her backing was strong and unequivocal: she loved and honoured her husband, she said, and her support was genuine, not perfunctory. Hillary Clinton’s comments on this and other occasions created a dynamic whereby millions of Americans felt that if she could back him despite his failings, they could as well. Privately, her support was no less robust. After Gennifer Flowers gave a press conference in which she played tapes of her phone conversations with Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton raised the morale of campaign workers with an upbeat conference call from Minnesota. It is difficult to imagine Bill Clinton surviving the trials and tribulations of 1992 without the steadfast support he received from his wife.28 As well as the impact of the recession, the effectiveness of the Clinton campaign team, and the contribution made by Hillary Clinton, the skill with which Bill Clinton refuted the critique of his character enabled him to survive the personal accusations. In response to the claim that his character was flawed, he made a series of generally persuasive arguments. Firstly, he maintained that focus on his private life meant that due attention was not being given to serious matters of policy at a time when the American people, sobered by the ongoing recession, VICISSITUDES 49 were more interested in substantive policy proposals than sleazy personal attacks. Secondly, he suggested that the scandals reflected more the viciousness with which conservatives were attacking him than they did his own shortcomings. The intemperate criticisms made by Republicans – notably at the GOP Convention in August – added weight to Clinton’s claim. The search instigated by the Bush team into Clinton’s passport files in the run-up to the television debates in October also substantiated Clinton’s argument. In the first television debate on 11 October in St. Louis, he accused Bush of making a McCarthyite assault on his patriotism. Scholars Dhavan Shah, Mark Watts, David Domke and David Fan have asserted that during Clinton’s presidency the public came to view the focus on personal scandal as the handiwork of a mean-spirited conservative elite. That argument is equally applicable to the 1992 campaign.29 Thirdly, Clinton defended himself by putting his alleged misdemeanours in a historical context. He was being evaluated, he maintained, by a different and stricter standard than that which had been used to assess his predecessors. That was unfair, he implied, and had previous candidates been judged as he had the United States would have been deprived of many of its finest presidents. When Helen Thomas asked him in the third television debate with Bush and Perot about the draft issue, Clinton pointed out that Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt had not served in the military, and that Lincoln had opposed the Mexican War. It was an argument Clinton would continue to make in later years. In his memoirs, he argued that many of the presidential greats, scrutinized as he was in 1992, would have struggled to be elected. Washington with his questionable expense accounts from the Revolutionary War, Jefferson with his womanizing, and Lincoln with his depression would – Clinton wrote – have not fared well in the political climate of 1990s America.30 Fourthly, Clinton framed the character issue so that it represented a challenge for the American people. They could prove, he suggested, that they were not influenced by sleazy politics by voting for him. ‘I’ve taken my character test,’ he declared in San Antonio at the height 50 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON of the Gennifer Flowers controversy. ‘Now the character test is what you do with “cash for trash”.’ It was a line of argument akin to John Kennedy’s on the religious issue in 1960. Voters could show they would not succumb to anti-Catholic bigotry by voting for him, JFK suggested. Likewise voters could demonstrate they paid no heed to tabloid sleaziness, Clinton argued, by backing his candidacy.31 Fifthly, Clinton sought to broaden the prevailing definition of character so that it encompassed policy ideas and not just personal peccadillos. Such a definition of character played more to his strengths, with his encyclopedic knowledge of the issues and his carefully-thought-out set of proposals, and minimized the impact of his personal shortcomings. During the second presidential debate, for instance, he stated that he was not interested in Bush’s character and was focused instead on changing the character of the presidency. What was important, he argued, was which policies could each of them be trusted to carry out as president. In other words, policy was a character issue too.32 This cluster of arguments, therefore, helped Clinton to repel the attacks on his character in 1992. They represented an adroit response to what became a severe impediment to his chances of reaching the White House. Though Clinton survived this critique of his character, the questions remain: were his critics justified in 1992 in emphasizing his private shortcomings? Was his character highly flawed? Did the scandals of 1992 reflect major personal failings? In fact, they did not. The issue of marijuana use was always a transparently trivial one. Moreover, we know from the recollections of journalist Martin Walker that when Clinton said he had tried marijuana but did not inhale he was in fact telling the truth. Whitewater, a land deal in which the Clintons had lost money, amounted to nothing – as an investigation lasting years, costing millions of dollars and carried out by an over-zealous independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, finally proved. On the Gennifer Flowers matter, Clinton did later acknowledge there had been an affair. But to have used fidelity as a yardstick for the presidency in the twentieth century would have excluded FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson – whereas some of the more incompetent chief executives had led spotless personal lives, as did the most corrupt twentieth-century president, Richard Nixon. In other words, the Gennifer VICISSITUDES 51 Flowers story had no bearing on Clinton’s prospective ability to lead the nation. Unlike the above issues, the question of the Vietnam draft did merit serious discussion. Vietnam was the key foreign policy matter of the late 1960s, and Clinton was already politically active by that point. However, an even-handed review of the issue does not expose Clinton as a reprobate. As James Carville argued, a careful reading of the letter Clinton sent to Colonel Holmes in 1969 reveals a young man who was impressive in many respects: in possession of a mature intellect, passionately opposed to the war in Vietnam and to racial division in the United States, and in a state of genuine anguish over how he should respond personally to the possibility of military service. In this final respect, his dilemma reflected that which confronted many of his generation. To be sure, he could have been more forthcoming in 1992 about his experiences in 1969. But a story almost a quarter-century old, which in fact showed Clinton’s strong opposition to a war that turned out to be a disaster, should not have been viewed as any sort of bar to his bid for the presidency.33 Ideology ‘New Democrat’ ideology, as well as character, was one of the salient issues in the 1992 campaign. Uppermost in Clinton’s mind as he began his quest for the White House was the fact that Republicans had won five of the previous six presidential elections. Underpinning that reality were some broad shifts in the political map of America: the South had gone from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican; many of the northern, urban working-class, who had usually voted Democratic in the past, were now backing Republican candidates (Reagan Democrats). It seemed to be the case that a quintessential liberalism, as expressed by the New Deal or the Great Society, no longer found favour with the American people. Clinton’s own political experiences confirmed that impression. After introducing various progressive policies as a young, idealistic governor of Arkansas in the late 1970s, he was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1980 – and only recaptured the governorship two years later after shifting to the centre. The argument has also been made that a centrist approach 52 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON appealed to Clinton psychologically: his bruising childhood, that could have been out of a Tennessee Williams play, left him with an inveterate desire to avoid conflict by pleasing as many people as possible.34 It was one thing to believe the Democratic Party needed to move to the centre, another to translate that notion into a coherent set of principles and policy proposals. Clinton began to do just that in the wake of Democratic candidate Walter Mondale’s defeat in the 1984 presidential election to Ronald Reagan. But the forum which was of critical importance in aiding this process for Clinton was the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), launched in 1985 in response to the (unsuccessful) leftward tilt of the Democratic Party over the previous two decades. Unsurprisingly, Southerners were prominent in the DLC. For his part, Clinton was a founding member, and a few years later became chairman. The discourse in the DLC served to sharpen Clinton’s thinking on the future direction of his party, and so paved the way ideologically for his presidential campaign.35 Influenced by the DLC, then, Clinton came to believe that Democrats should support fiscal responsibility rather than inordinate government spending, responsible social behaviour on the part of the poor, an assertive foreign policy, the use of market mechanisms to achieve policy objectives, a tough approach to crime, and a commitment to the middle class and not just to the poor. In his speech in Cleveland in May 1991 at the DLC’s annual convention, Clinton developed these themes in what DLC President Al From described as the finest explication of New Democrat thinking he had ever heard. After enumerating the ways in which middle-class Americans had been struggling, he asked why it was that they had not turned to Democrats for solutions to their problems: ‘I’ll tell you why: because too many of the people who used to vote for us, the very burdened middle class we are talking about, have not trusted us in national elections to defend our national interests abroad, to put their values into our social policy at home, or to take their tax money and spend it with discipline.’ ‘Our burden is to give the people a new choice,’ he continued, ‘rooted in old values, a new choice that is simple, that offers opportunity, demands responsibility, gives citizens more say, VICISSITUDES 53 provides them with responsive government – all because we recognize that we are a community. We are all in this together, and we are going up and down together.’36 That address signposted what would be the major themes of Clinton’s bid for the presidency. Throughout his campaign, he provided a rhetorical elaboration of those themes, most notably in his 3 October 1991 Little Rock speech in which he declared that he was a candidate for president; three addresses at Georgetown between October and December 1991; and his 16 July 1992 speech at the Democratic Convention in New York, in which he accepted his party’s nomination. In the declaration of his candidacy in Little Rock, he identified what for him was the main problem facing America: ‘Middle-class people are spending more hours on the job, spending less time with their children, bringing home a smaller paycheck to pay more for health care and housing and education. Our streets are meaner, our families are broken, our health care is the costliest in the world and we get less for it.’ What was important in devising solutions to these problems was ideological flexibility. America’s leadership should not be ‘limited by old ideologies,’ as, ‘The change we must make isn’t liberal or conservative. It’s both, and it’s different.’ He proceeded to emphasize inter alia the importance of generating economic growth, expanding world trade, tackling crime and drug use robustly, cutting taxes on the middle class, and moving people from welfare to work. Time and again in the speech, he stressed that the group he wanted to focus on was the middle class – not, by implication, the impoverished, as during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, or the very affluent, as in Reagan’s America.37 In his Georgetown speeches in late 1991, Clinton added flesh to the bones of these Third Way ideas. He spoke of his support for the Family and Medical Leave Act (so that workers could take time off to care for a baby or an ailing family member); the Brady bill, which would introduce a waiting period for the purchase of handguns, thereby preventing criminals from buying them; the introduction of 100,000 new community police officers; an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit to make work more appealing. These proposals made clear that 54 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON Clinton was interested in strengthening families, tackling criminals and reforming welfare. His claim that he was a New Democrat now seemed credible.38 His July 1992 Convention speech in New York added to that impression. ‘An expanding, entrepreneurial economy of high-wage, high-skill jobs,’ to help the forgotten middle class was his main objective, Clinton declared. He expressed his determination to reduce the number of bureaucrats working for the federal government by 100,000, and told the audience of Democrats, ‘it’s time for us to realize that we’ve got some changing to do, too. There is not a program in government for every problem. And if we want to use government to help people, we’ve got to make it work again.’ Making the case for a Third Way approach, he asserted that, ‘Trickle-down economics has sure failed. And big bureaucracies, both private and public, they’ve failed, too.’ He once again emphasized his core principles of opportunity, responsibility and community.39 During the fall campaign against George Bush (and Ross Perot), Clinton sang from the same hymn sheet. His television commercials in October 1992 highlighted the very low taxes he had imposed in Arkansas. They also depicted himself and Al Gore as part of a new generation of Democrats committed to spending cuts, welfare reform, and a tough-on-crime approach. The dire state of the economy under Bush was also stressed.40 Whilst Clinton concentrated on the domestic issues that so concerned the American people during the economic downturn of the early 1990s, he did address international affairs too. In a sense, this would appear to have been Bush’s trump card. On his watch in the White House the Berlin Wall had come down, the Russian empire in Eastern Europe had crumbled, and the Soviet Union itself had disintegrated. The West – and the United States in particular – had won the Cold War. That victory over communism, however, entailing as it did a diminished sense of overseas threat towards the United States, rendered foreign policy far less important to voters than it had been during the Cold War. When Clinton did discuss foreign affairs, however, he did so in a manner that made it difficult for Republicans to depict him as too VICISSITUDES 55 timid and liberal in his approach to the application of power on the world stage. It was reminiscent of the way John Kennedy had prevented Richard Nixon from accusing him of being ‘soft’ on communism by castigating Republicans for the ‘loss’ of Cuba to Fidel Castro in 1959 and for allowing a ‘missile gap’ to develop between the superpowers to the advantage of the Soviets. In Clinton’s case, he made clear in his 1992 campaign book Putting People First that, ‘We will not shrink from using military force responsibly, and a Clinton-Gore Administration will maintain the forces needed to win, and win decisively, should that necessity arise.’ On specific issues Clinton furthered the impression that he was a New Democrat in the sense that he would not be averse to intervention and confrontation. He chided the Bush administration for remaining too passive as civil war broke out in Yugoslavia, and pledged to end China’s ‘most-favored-nation’ trading status with the United States unless it improved its human rights record.41 So adroit was Clinton’s New Democrat strategy that he managed to eradicate the in-built advantage enjoyed by Republicans on various issues. On no subject was this more apparent than with crime. In 1988 public-confidence ratings in Bush far exceeded those of Dukakis when it came to crime. This was largely because Bush was able to portray Dukakis as ‘soft’ on the issue because of his opposition to the death penalty. As Clinton supported the death penalty – as demonstrated by his return from New Hampshire to Arkansas on 24 January 1992 to oversee the execution of brain-damaged Rickey Ray Rector, who had been convicted of murder – the death-penalty issue was effectively neutralized. This moved the debate from that of punishment to prevention. Whereas Republicans had said little about this, Clinton had specific proposals on using federal dollars to put 100,000 more police on the streets, and utilizing federal laws to bring about greater gun control. So effective was Clinton’s handling of the issue that polling data showed that the public came to have slightly more confidence in Clinton than in Bush on crime. (This trend would continue, as by 1996 the public had substantially more faith in Clinton than in Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole on the crime issue.)42 So much about Clinton’s 1992 campaign, therefore, suggested he was a new, centrist Democrat rather than an old-fashioned liberal 56 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON like recent Democratic presidential candidates Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. At the same time his campaign had a highly effective hybridity in that, although it was designed to appeal to moderate and even conservative voters, there was enough about it to keep liberals on board. While he called for fiscal prudence and a middle-class tax cut, he also proposed a tax increase for those making more than $200,000 a year and a major programme of government investment in such areas as education, transportation and job training. Indeed four months before he declared he was running for the White House, he was already putting pressure on Harvard economist and old friend Robert Reich to fine-tune his future campaign’s public-investment proposals. Though he would find it difficult to implement as president, this public-investment plan remained a prominent feature of his campaign. Clinton also made an unequivocal commitment to a woman’s right to choose an abortion, a position that contrasted with Bush’s. This was important as statistical analysis of voting patterns in the 1992 election has established that there were far more pro-choice Republicans who supported Clinton than pro-life Democrats who defected to the GOP. Most conspicuous in terms of the progressive facet of Clinton’s campaign was his pledge to introduce universal health-care coverage. Thrilling liberals throughout the nation, he vowed to fight avaricious drug companies and recalcitrant bureaucracies in order to achieve that objective.43 In putting together this set of proposals that could make him competitive in the political centre whilst retaining liberal support, Clinton’s campaign was not unprecedented in American history. John Kennedy, in 1960, adopted roughly the same approach. His hard-line foreign policy proposals reflected his own convictions but were also aimed at convincing the electorate he was not a typical liberal like Adlai Stevenson. He subsequently appointed several Republicans to key positions in his administration with the same purpose in mind. Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976 and his presidency thereafter also anticipated Clinton’s overall approach in 1992. Never before, though, had this centrist strategy, this fusion of liberal and conservative priorities, been so precisely and systematically formulated as it was in Clinton’s presidential campaign. Indeed his fashioning of an appealing Third Way/ VICISSITUDES 57 New Democrat agenda represented a major achievement. Ultimately, it influenced and energized the centre-left throughout the world. Tony Blair’s New Labour in Britain was but one of many political parties to be influenced by the ideas articulated by Clinton in 1992. It was not only through his rhetoric and policy proposals that Clinton was able to define himself as a New Democrat. The way he sharply differentiated himself from prominent liberals also helped him to achieve that objective. Ever since his scintillating indictment of Reaganism at the 1984 Democratic Convention, New York Governor Mario Cuomo had been regarded as both the finest orator and the leading liberal in the land. Prior to his announcement five days before Christmas 1991 that he would not seek the presidency in 1992, he was viewed as the favourite for the Democratic presidential nomination. Before his withdrawal from the race, Clinton and his advisers sought to put clear blue water between Cuomo and Clinton. Hence when Cuomo, in a press interview, criticized Clinton’s stance on welfare and national service, the Clinton team used the opportunity to make the case that Cuomo’s objections showed that Clinton was a new sort of Democrat, not an old-fashioned liberal like the New York governor.44 The simmering tension between Clinton and Jesse Jackson in 1991–92 was even more important in enabling the Arkansas governor to demonstrate he was not an unreconstructed liberal. In his campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, Jackson had thrilled many Democrats with his impassioned plea for social justice. Inspiring to liberals, to be sure, but the effectiveness of Jackson’s campaigns was more questionable when it came to appealing to moderate swing voters. As Stephanopoulos has disclosed, part of Clinton’s strategy was not to appear too obsequious to Jackson in part so as not to lose white votes. In fact, Jackson’s own role served to accentuate his differences with Clinton. He remained critical of the DLC, with which Clinton was so closely associated. He attacked Clinton in the primary of his home state of South Carolina, and during the New York primary backed not Clinton, who by that point was certain to win the nomination, but Jerry Brown.45 An inadvertent episode on 26 January 1992 further exacerbated tensions between Clinton and Jackson. In unguarded remarks – he 58 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON was not aware that an open microphone was recording him – Clinton exploded on being told (erroneously) by a reporter that Jackson had decided to support Tom Harkin: ‘It’s an outrage, it’s a dirty, doublecrossing, back-stabbing thing to do.’ On the one hand, his angry outburst was embarrassing. On the other, it made clear that Clinton and Jackson were hardly joined at the hip.46 Clinton also managed to distance himself from Jackson by design as well as by accident. Not only did he limit Jackson’s role at the convention, he publicly clashed with Jackson a month earlier over rapper Sister Souljah’s comments about how blacks should kill whites rather than blacks for a change. Clinton condemned the remarks in a speech before Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition in Washington, a meeting which Sister Souljah had attended the previous evening. ‘Her comments before and after Los Angeles,’ he said, ‘were filled with a kind of hatred that you do not honor.’ He compared her remarks to the sort of rhetoric used by ex-Nazi David Duke. Jackson claimed that Sister Souljah’s comments had been misunderstood. And some viewed Clinton’s criticism of her as simply an attempt to court white voters. Other observers – for instance, the New York Times – applauded him for denouncing comments that were provocative and hateful. The distance separating Clinton and Jackson at the start of the campaign had become a chasm, and that was helpful to Clinton in highlighting his determination to move away from traditional liberal leaders and policies and towards the Third Way.47 Two other Clinton strategies in the spring and summer of 1992 enabled him to develop an authentic image as a New Democrat. One was his decision to confront Jerry Brown when he assailed Hillary Clinton during a television debate in Chicago for an alleged conflict of interest involving the Rose Law Firm for which she worked. An angry Clinton tore into Brown: ‘I don’t care what you say about me. But you ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife. You’re not worth being on the same platform as my wife.’ Part of the right’s critique of liberalism, implicitly, was the notion that the left suffered from a machismo deficit – too soft on communism, too soft on crime, too soft on welfare cheats. Clinton’s robust defence of his wife suggested that he was not cut from the same cloth as liberal VICISSITUDES 59 Democrats. This helped shore up his support from blue-collar Reagan Democrats.48 The selection of Al Gore as his vice-presidential running mate also buttressed Clinton’s New Democrat credentials. Invariably, presidential nominees chose running mates who provided geographical and ideological balance to the ticket, such as JFK and Johnson, Carter and Mondale, Dukakis and Bentsen. In plumping for Gore, Clinton boldly ignored that tradition. He put alongside himself another son of the South, another prominent member of the DLC, someone viewed as a centrist and not as a liberal. The selection of Gore added weight to Clinton’s claim that he was a New Democrat.49 Conclusion Enduring the constant attacks on his character, crafting a Third Way message, Clinton prevailed in 1992. However one weighs the pros and cons of Clinton as a politician and as a president, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he was one of the most redoubtable campaigners in American history – and this was one of his greatest assets. There have been few if any presidential candidates in American history with a more encyclopedic knowledge of the issues. A very intelligent man with a highly retentive mind, he had applied himself studiously for many years to a range of social and political issues. It was said that when asked about housing policy, for example, he could explain the reforms being carried out in this area in every state in America. What the three televised presidential debates revealed was that Clinton was simply far better informed than Bush or Perot. His answers were more detailed, precise and authoritative.50 As well as the breadth of his knowledge of policy, his famed empathy was a major asset on the campaign trail. He met Americans who told him candidly about their difficulties, for instance in obtaining access to affordable health care, and he listened to their stories with genuine interest – and took the information they furnished on board in fine-tuning his views and message. But his sympathetic concern was of particular value given the context of recession. Millions of Americans were suffering in 1992. The empathy he displayed acted 60 THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON as a balm to the hurt felt by Americans who were out of work or in straitened circumstances some other way.51 Durability was another admirable trait displayed by Clinton in 1992. Previous candidates had been forced to withdraw from presidential campaigns having received far less criticism than Clinton endured. A sex scandal, the accusation he had dodged military service in Vietnam, the admission of drug use and the Whitewater allegations threatened his campaign. That he survived all of these attacks on his character, paradoxically, said much for his character – his durability, determination and toughness. More timid souls would have withdrawn into themselves and ultimately from the campaign. But Clinton simply kept going. His tireless campaigning that saved him in New Hampshire, following the Gennifer Flowers and Vietnam-draft controversies, was commendable and has rightly become the stuff of legend.52 What also impressed about Clinton in 1992 was the way he projected a socially inclusive, and especially a racially inclusive, message. Some previous presidential candidates had campaigned by dividing Americans – for example, by exploiting white fears of African Americans. George Bush in 1988 was a case in point. Clinton, however, chartered a more enlightened course. Precocious on racial matters as a youngster, he continued to show a particular sensitivity on the issue of race in later years. There had been no previous (white) presidential candidate who counted so many African Americans among his close friends. And this informed his campaign. In November 1991 he dazzled Stephanopoulos with a racially inclusive speech he gave in Memphis, in which he still told the largely African American audience that people needed to take responsibility, and so those on welfare who could work should work. It reminded Stephanopoulos of Robert Kennedy’s message and leadership in the 1960s. More remarkably, during the Michigan primary, Clinton delivered an address to whites in the Reagan-Democrat land of Macomb County, near Detroit, in which he urged them to reach across the racial divide to blacks; and gave another speech to blacks in inner-city Detroit about the need for responsible behaviour and hence the importance of welfare reform, child-support enforcement and anti-crime initiatives.53 VICISSITUDES 61 In his July 1992 address at the Democratic Convention he exhorted Americans to: look beyond the stereotypes that blind us. We need each other. All of us, we need each other. We don’t have a person to waste. And yet, for too long politicians have told the most of us that are doing all right that what’s really wrong with America is the rest of us. Them. Them the minorities. Them the liberals. Them the poor. Them the homeless. Them the people with disabilities. Them the gays. We’ve gotten to where we’ve nearly them’d ourselves to death. Them, and them, and them. But this is America. There is no them; there is only us. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all.54 Bill Clinton succeeded in reaching the White House. Along the way, he helped reshape the Democratic Party ideologically in ways that would influence centre-left leaders throughout the world. He showed enormous resilience in surviving the frequent and intemperate and generally unjustified attacks on his character. Moreover, he prevailed whilst, commendably, appealing to America’s ‘better angels’. Notes 1. Clinton, Hillary Rodham, Living History (London: Headline, 2003), pp. 96–98; Hamilton, Nigel, Bill Clinton: An American Journey (London: Century, 2003), p. 451. Blumenthal, Sidney, The Clinton Wars (London: Penguin, 2004 reprint), pp. 20–22. For a lucid, fluent account of the 1992 campaign, see Germond, Jack W., and Witcover, Jules, Mad as Hell: Revolt at the Ballot Box, 1992 (New York: Warner Books, 1993). Quayle, Dan, Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), p. 300. Clinton, Bill, ‘Announcement Speech’, 3 October 1991, in Bill Clinton and Al Gore, Putting People First: How We Can All Change America (New York: Times Books, 1992), pp. 187–88; Walker, Martin, Clinton: The President They Deserve, rev. ed. (London: Vintage, 1997), pp. 120–21; Clinton, Bill, My Life (New York: Knopf), pp. 370, 376–77, 406. 2. 3. 4. 62 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. Walker, Clinton, pp. 121–22. Clinton, My Life, pp. 379–80, 384. Quayle, Standing Firm, pp. 296–98. Stephanopoulos, George, All Too Human: A Political Education (Boston: Little, Brown, 1999), pp. 56–62, 64–77, 79–80; Hamilton, Bill Clinton, p. 635. Clinton, My Life, pp. 392–95, 397–410. Perot, Ross, United We Stand: How We Can Take Back Our Country (New York: Hyperion Books, 1992); Clinton, My Life, pp. 408, 410. Clinton, My Life, p. 408. Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, pp. 82–83; Klein, Joe, The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2002), p. 41; Clinton, My Life, pp. 414–15, 421; Quayle, Standing Firm, p. 312; letter from George Bush to Hugh Gregg, 21 July 1992, in Bush, George, All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters (New York: Scribner, 1999), p. 564; Kramer, Michael, ‘Front and Center’, Time, 27 July 1992. Matalin, Mary, and Carville, James, with Knobler, Peter, All’s Fair: Love, War, and Running for President (London: Hutchinson, 1994), pp. 243–45, 299–300. Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, p. 98; transcript of second TV debate between Bush, Clinton and Perot, New York Times, 16 October 1992; Klein, The Natural, pp. 42–43. Clinton, My Life, pp. 441, 444. Blumenthal, Clinton Wars, pp. 35–37. Clinton, My Life, pp. 368–69. Walker, Clinton, pp. 118–19; Blumenthal, Clinton Wars, pp. 37–38. Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, pp. 53–62; Klein, The Natural, p. 23. For her own account, see Flowers, Gennifer, Passion and Betrayal (Del Mar, CA: Emery Dalton Books, 1995). Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, pp. 69–77. For an example of the press coverage of Clinton and Vietnam, see Kramer, Michael, ‘The Political Interest: The Vulture Watch, Chapter 2’, Time, 17 February 1992. Klein, The Natural, p. 11; Matalin and Carville, All’s Fair, pp. 167–69; Allen, Charles F., and Portis, Jonathan, The Comeback Kid: The Life and Career of Bill Clinton (New York: Birch Lane Press, 1992), pp. 237–38; Allis, Sam, ‘Democrats Watch Yer Back’, Time, 13 April 1992. Blumenthal, Clinton Wars, pp. 41–44. Klein, The Natural, pp. 85–119. White, Mark J., ‘Behind Closed Doors: The Private Life of a Public Man’, in White, ed., Kennedy: The New Frontier Revisited (New York: New York University Press, 1998), p. 262; ‘The 1992 Campaign; Bush Angrily Denies a Report of an Affair’, New York Times, 12 August 1992. VICISSITUDES 63 25. Allen and Portis, Comeback Kid, p. 240. 26. Morris, Dick, Behind the Oval Office (New York: Random House, 1997), pp. 7–8; Allen and Portis, Comeback Kid, pp. 238–39; Walker, Clinton, pp. 141–42. 27. Clinton, Living History, p. 114; Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, pp. 86–88, 91. 28. Clinton, My Life, pp. 385–86; Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, p. 69. 29. Clinton, My Life, pp. 432–34; Shah, Dhavan V., Watts, Mark D., Domke, David and Fan, David P., ‘News Framing and Cueing of Issue Regimes: Explaining Clinton’s Public Approval in Spite of Scandal’, Public Opinion Quarterly 66/3 (2002), pp. 339–70. 30. Transcript of third TV debate between Bush, Clinton and Perot, New York Times, 20 October 1992; Clinton, My Life, p. 438. 31. Allen and Portis, Comeback Kid, p. 197. 32. Transcript of second TV debate, New York Times, 16 October 1992. 33. Walker, Clinton, p. 134; Clinton, My Life, p. 387; Stephanopoulos: All Too Human, p. 75. For Clinton’s 1969 letter to Holmes, see Maraniss, David, First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 199–204. The interpretation of the letter developed by Maraniss is less positive than my own. 34. Wayne, Stephen J., ‘Clinton’s Legacy: The Clinton Persona’, PS: Political Science and Politics 32/3 (1999), pp. 558–61. 35. Maraniss, First in His Class, pp. 417–18; Klein, The Natural, pp. 28–38. 36. Quoted in Klein, The Natural, pp. 38–39. 37. Clinton, ‘Announcement Speech’, pp. 187–198. 38. Clinton, My Life, pp. 380–82. 39. Clinton, Bill, ‘A New Covenant’, 16 July 1992, in Clinton and Gore: Putting People First, pp. 217–32. 40. Bill Clinton Campaign Ads (around October 1992), com/watch?v=XoBFL6iwid4 [accessed on 23 March 2011]. 41. Clinton and Gore, Putting People First, p. 132; Baker, James A. with DeFrank, Thomas M., The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989–1992 (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995), p. 113; Branch, Taylor, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History in the White House (London: Simon & Schuster, 2009), p. 147. 42. Holian, David B., ‘He’s Stealing My Issues! Clinton’s Crime Rhetoric and the Dynamics of Issue Ownership’, Political Behavior 26/2 (2004), pp. 95–124. 43. Clinton and Gore, Putting People First, pp. 107–111, 194, 228; Reich, Robert B., Locked in the Cabinet (New York: Vintage Books, 1988 paperback ed.), pp. 3–4; Abramowitz, Alan I., ‘It’s Abortion, Stupid: Policy Voting in the 1992 Presidential Election’, Journal of Politics 57/1 (1995), pp. 176–86. 64 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. THE PRESIDENCY OF BILL CLINTON Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, pp. 47–48. Ibid., p. 44; Clinton, My Life, pp. 365, 394, 402. Allen and Portis, Comeback Kid, pp. 219–20. Editorial, ‘Sister Souljah is no Willie Horton’, New York Times, 17 June 1992. Bill Clinton Versus Jerry Brown 1992, watch?v=iNI_dMVmuZQ [accessed on 23 March 2011]. Matalin and Carville, All’s Fair, p. 232. Klein, The Natural, p. 26. Clinton, Living History, pp. 115–16. Matalin and Carville, All’s Fair, p. 138. Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, pp. 38–40; Clinton: My Life, pp. 395–96. Clinton, ‘A New Covenant’, p. 229.
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