President William Jefferson Clinton
President Clinton and the Draft
The White House Years
Emphasizing change and a "new covenant" between citizens and government, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas was elected the 42nd president of the United States in 1992. He was one of the youngest men and the first Democrat since the 1976 election to be elected to his nation's highest office.
Mr. Clinton and his vice-presidential running mate, Senator Albert Gore, Jr., of Tennessee, received 43 percent of the popular vote and 370 electoral votes to win against the Republican ticket of President George Bush and Vice-President Dan Quayle. Clinton won office with the lowest popular vote percentage since Richard M. Nixon was elected in 1968. The presence of independent candidate H. Ross Perot in the race did not substantially alter Clinton's lead in the polls.
President Clinton was 46 years-old when he took office and became the first baby boomer president. He had brown hair and blue eyes, and was 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 230 pounds.
Family Background and Education
Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe IV on Aug. 19, 1946, in Hope, Arkansas, a small town near the Texas-Oklahoma border. His father, an automobile-parts salesman, died in an automobile accident three months before Bill was born. When Bill was 2 years old his mother, Virginia Cassidy, went to nursing school in New Orleans, La. She sent Bill to live with his grandparents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, who ran a grocery store in Hope.
His mother returned to Hope when Bill was 4, and three years later she married Roger Clinton, an automobile dealer, who moved the family to Hot Springs, Ark. There Bill and his younger half brother, Roger, Jr., attended public schools. The family attended a Baptist church. When his mother returned home each day after work at a local hospital, she often engaged Bill in political discussions and encouraged his ambitions.
Growing up had its difficulties, however, because his stepfather was an alcoholic who sometimes beat his mother. After one particularly violent evening, the young teenager took his mother and half brother by the hand and warned his stepfather, "You will never hit either of them again. If you want them, you'll have to go through me." Although his stepfather's drinking continued, the violencestopped. Virginia and Roger divorced but soon remarried, when Bill was 15. As a gesture to help hold the family together, Bill had his last name legally changed to Clinton.
Bill participated in many activities, including student government, at Hot Springs High School. He played the saxophone in several bands at the high school, regional, and state levels. One of the highlights of his life came in the summer of 1963 when he was chosen to attend the American Legion Boys State, a government and leadership conference, in Little Rock, Ark. He was elected a senator and was sent to Boys Nation in Washington, D.C. At the White House he shook President John F. Kennedy's hand. When Bill returned to Arkansas, politics became a pursuit from which he never wavered.
He turned down a music scholarship to Louisiana State University in favor of attending Georgetown University. While pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in international studies he worked for Democratic Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. Clinton's own opposition to the war grew as he attended hearings and clipped newspapers. Shortly before he graduated from college, riots erupted in Washington, D.C., after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in April 1968. During the riots Clinton put a Red Cross sign on the side of his white car and brought groceries to church basements in riot-torn neighborhoods.
While Clinton was still an undergraduate, his stepfather was dying of cancer at Duke University Hospital. The younger Clinton drove the more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) between Washington, D.C., and Durham, N.C., on weekends to visit. Gradually they were reconciled before Roger Clinton died.
Like his mentor, Fulbright, Clinton won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University. During his two years at Oxford Clinton's opposition to the Vietnam War came into conflict with his political aspirations. When he received a draft notice in 1969 he enrolled in the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Arkansas Law School. He made himself available for the draft but was never called up because he received a high number in the draft lottery held that year. Then, in a letter that years later was made public during his presidential campaign, he thanked his ROTC commander for "saving me from the draft." He was then dropped from the ROTC program, which critics claimed was the goal of the letter, in case ROTC students were later subjected to the draft.
Law School and Early Career
In the fall of 1970 Clinton entered Yale Law School. He was more interested in politics than in a law career and soon started working on the senatorial campaign of Joe Duffy. Clinton was assigned to the Third Congressional District, a blue-collar working- class neighborhood of New Haven. Duffy lost to Lowell Weicker in a three-man race, but he won the district where Clinton worked.
While at Yale Clinton met Hillary Rodham, a Wellesley College graduate from suburban Chicago. Together they worked for George McGovern's presidential campaign in Texas during the summer and fall of 1972, with Clinton serving as the state coordinator. The following year they were graduated from law school. Clinton worked briefly in Washington, D.C., as a staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee but soon moved back to Arkansas. In Fayetteville he not only taught at the University of Arkansas School of Law but also practiced law.
Fayetteville's Republican Congressman, John Paul Hammerschmidt, was a strong supporter of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis. Clinton felt that Hammerschmidt was therefore vulnerable in his 1974 reelection bid, so Clinton decided to run against him. Clinton lost a surprisingly close race, holding Hammerschmidt to only 52 percent of the vote. Rodham worked on the House staff for Nixon's impeachment but came to Fayetteville to help with Clinton's campaign. After President Nixon resigned she joined Clinton on the law faculty and ran a legal clinic. The two were married in 1975.
Clinton's close race for Congress had attracted statewide attention. In 1976 he was elected Arkansas's attorney general. In that post he fought against raising the cost of pay telephone calls to 25 cents, sued to keep utility rates from being increased, and ended restrictions on advertisements for liquor and eyeglasses.
USA'S Youngest Governor Since 1938
In 1978 Clinton decided to run for governor of Arkansas. He received 60 percent of the vote against four other candidates in the Democratic primary. He won the general election against Republican State Chairman A. Lynn Lowe, receiving 63 percent of the vote to Lowe's 37 percent. Clinton was 32 years old, the youngest person to be elected chief executive of any state since 1938, when Harold Stassen won Minnesota's gubernatorial election at age 31.
At the time he was elected, Arkansas's school system was ranked 49th in quality nationwide. Believing that his states' citizens were tired of being ranked at the bottom of major indexes of social and economic welfare, he made economic growth and educational improvement top priorities of his administration. He made strides in bringing jobs to the state and in selling the state's products abroad. He removed the sales tax from medicine for senior citizens and increased the homestead property tax exemption for the elderly.
Clinton sponsored one of the nation's first workfare programs, which required people who requested food stamps to register for work. In the years following its initiation several thousand ineligible people were removed from food stamp rolls. National attention was also drawn to his educational improvements, notably increased spending for schools, increased opportunities for gifted children, advancement of vocational education, and raising of teachers' salaries.
His administration was noteworthy in Arkansas history for appointing women and minorities to cabinet-level jobs. He also regained power for the governor's office, which had been dominated by the legislature in previous decades. In 1979 Time magazine listed him as one of America's outstanding young leaders and one of 50 "faces to watch" in the future.
Nevertheless, during his two-year term (the state constitution allowed only a two-year term at that time) Clinton angered many voters. Some resented the young "outsiders" he brought in as advisers and officials, the flurry of programs he proposed to solve the state's problems, and even his wife's decision touse her own last name. Other voters opposed the automobile registration and license fees Clinton instituted to raise revenue for building and maintaining roads.
Finally, in 1980, his reelection chances were damaged further by his handling of the Cuban refugee situation. Thousands of Cubans who had left or been expelled from their country were housed at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, and Clinton was unable to force the White House to make other states share the problems and costs of the operation. That November he was defeated by Republican Frank White, a political newcomer and businessman who won 52 percent of the vote. That same year, the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, was born.
The Birth of The Comeback Kid
When Clinton was defeated in 1980 he became only the second Arkansas governor in the 20th century to fail to win at least a second two-year term. He joined the Little Rock law firm of Wright, Lindsey and Jennings, but many observers believed that his political career was far from over.
His first challenges in his 1982 bid to return to the governor's mansion were fellow Democrats Jim Guy Tucker, a former member of Congress, and Joe Purcell, a former lieutenant governor. Clinton beat Purcell in a runoff contest and faced White a second time. Clinton spent much of the campaign apologizing for his first-term mistakes and assuring voters that he had no immediate national political ambitions. His wife adopted the Clinton last name in a move to appeal to the socially conservative state. A key issue of the campaign was the record 277-million-dollar utility rate increases approved during White's term. Voter turnout was high, and Clinton was returned to office with 55 percent of the vote.
Curbing unemployment became a chief goal of Clinton's administration. A welfare-reform program that he instituted imposed penalties on able-bodied recipients who did not undergo training or schooling. The governor faced a difficult decision in 1984, when state police officers learned that his half brother, Roger, was selling drugs. Clinton approved a sting operation that led to Roger's arrest and conviction on drug charges. Though angered at the time, the younger Clinton entered drug rehabilitation and counseling with his family, including the governor, and the relationship between the two was eventually restored.
In 1984 Clinton beat Republican challenger Elwood Freeman by a large margin. He faced a tough challenge in the 1986 Democratic primary against former Governor Orval Faubus and W. Dean Goldsby, but Clinton went on to triumph easily over his past opponent Frank White in the general election in November. Earlier that year the legislature changed the length of the governor's term from two to four years, making Clinton the first 20th-century Arkansas governor to serve a four-year term.
The state constitution required a nearly unobtainable 75-percent vote to raise any tax other than sales tax, so the governor was unable to increase revenue through higher property or income taxes. Critics charged that this placed an unfair burden on the poor. Clinton also received criticism for failing to challenge some of the ecologically damaging practices of the state's timber and chicken industries.
Clinton's crusade to improve education continued with the creation of more programs, including the nation's first program to test teacher competency. In addition, parents who did not attend parent-teacher conferences were fined 50 dollars for each missed conference. Students who dropped out of school risked having their driver's licenses suspended. One measurable result of his efforts was that, from 1982 to 1992, the percentage of Arkansas high schoolers who went on to college increased from 39 to 52 percent. In 1986 he served as chairman of the Education Commission of the States.
By the late 1980s he had introduced economic development programs to improve his state's competitive position in the race for more and better jobs. In 1988 he signed an agreement with the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana to improve conditions in their states' counties bordering the Mississippi River, one of the poorest regions in the United States. Among the issues covered by the agreement were foreign investment, highway construction, health care, and education.
National recognition increased with Clinton's chairmanship of the National Governors' Association from 1986 to 1987. Three years later he cofounded and chaired the Democratic Leadership Council, a coalition of moderate-to-conservative political leaders. The council was determined to shift the party from the left to the center in an effort to regain such voters as the so-called "Reagan Democrats" who had been alienated by the liberal leanings of the party leadership for several years.
In 1990 Clinton became the second person in Arkansas history to be reelected to a fifth gubernatorial term. A 1991 poll of governors named him the most effective governor in the nation.
The White House Years
On Oct. 3, 1991, Clinton announced that he was a candidate for the presidency. His campaign was nearly sunk by charges of marital infidelity, published in tabloid newspapers, and of unethical conduct in legally avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War. The nickname "Slick Willie," given to him by an Arkansas journalist, was used by those critical of him. He survived, however, to make a second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary behind former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas and ahead of former California Governor Jerry Brown. Clinton slowly gained support through the rough-and-tumble New York primary. A solid victory in the Illinois primary seemed to assure him of the nomination. Finally, on June 2, primary victories in six states gave him the necessary number of convention delegates. Shortly before the party convention in July Clinton chose Tennessee Senator Albert A. Gore, Jr., as his vice-presidential running mate.
The Democratic National Convention was held in New York City in mid-July. The withdrawal from the race of Texan H. Ross Perot immediately improved Clinton's standing. As soon as the convention was over Clinton and Gore left New York City and headed west for a series of campaign bus trips reminiscent of the whistle-stop train trips of decades before. The strategy of identifying with middle-class America and emphasizing concern for jobs and health care paid off. Although Perot reentered the race in October, he could not eclipse Clinton's effectiveness. On Tuesday, November 3, Clinton was elected president, and he took office on Jan. 20, 1993.
Clinton entered office with a wide-ranging agenda. He immediately appointed his wife to head a task force to deal with health-care reform. His insistence on ending the ban against homosexuals in the military was delayed because of popular opposition. Some of his appointments ran into difficulty, for a variety of reasons, and were never confirmed. He did appoint one justice to the Supreme Court, former appeals court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In foreign policy, he failed to get a European consensus for action in the Bosnian civil war but did hold a successful summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In August Congress passed his 500-billion-dollar deficit-reduction tax bill by a thin margin.
Text courtesy of Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, 1995 Edition