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The Clinton Presidency, 1995 to 1996

Back in 1993, President Clinton overturned several restrictions on abortions that had been created by Presidents Reagan and Bush, and anti-abortion demonstrations had been on the rise. On January 2, 1995, Clinton described actions his administration was taking to combat violence against abortion clinics.

In April a huge blast destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168. Clinton said there was no evidence that the attack was the work of aliens (terrorists) and he promised that whoever did it would be convicted and executed. (It had been Timothy McVeigh, retaliating against the federal government's handling of the 1993 standoff in Waco Texas.)

The War in Bosnia and the siege of its capital, Sarajevo, was dominating the news of violence in the world, and, on July 11, Bosnian Serbs pushed UN peacekeepers from an area around Srebrenica. They rounded up and killed an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys, the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II.

In late August, a Bosnian Serb mortar attacks on a marketplace in Sarajevo killed 37 people and wounded 90. It moved Europeans to support President Clinton's call for NATO air attacks against the Serb aggression. The NATO attacks encouraged negotiations, which began in Dayton, Ohio. In December, agreements made in Dayton were signed in Paris, ending three and a half years of war in Bosnia.

Whitewater, Foster Suicide, and Paula Jones (Back in time, 1977 to 1994)

In 1977, two years before becoming governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton partnered with a friend and fellow Democrat (a former political science professor) Jim McDougal, in the purchase of undeveloped land along the south bank of the White River near Flippin, Arkansas. The goal was to subdivide the site into lots for vacation homes, to hold the property for a few years and then sell the lots at a profit. McDougal entered the Savings and Loans banking business, and Hillary Clinton, an attorney at Rose Law Firm based in Little Rock, was providing legal services for McDougal. By 1989 McDougal was in financial trouble. There was the Savings and Loan crisis that year, and the Clinton's lost between $37,000 and $69,000 on their Whitewater investment.

On 20 July 1993, Vince Foster, Deputy White House counsel, was found dead in a public park with the kind of damage to his head that results from a shot fired inside the mouth. He was from Bill Clinton's hometown of Hope, Arkansas, had been a colleague of Hillary's at the Rose Law Firm. The FBI and Congress investigated the death. A joint report in August claimed that Foster had committed suicide. Foster was reported as having been frustrated by his work at the White House, as having spiraled into serious depression and as having sought treatment one day before his death.

Meanwhile there were conspiracy theories on talk-radio, in several tabloids and right-leaning newsletters. The Reverend Jerry Falwell (of Moral Majority fame) and others who disliked the Clinton administration were accusing the Clintons of involvement in Foster's murder. In 1994 their film, called The Clinton Chronicles, appeared.

Also in 1994 there had been the Paula Jones scandal. On May 6, 1994, former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit claiming that on May 8, 1991, then Governor Clinton propositioned her. A conservative month magazine Anerican Spectator had published an article in its January 1994 issue stating that an Arkansas state employee named "Paula" had offered to be Clinton's mistress. Paula Jones decided to sue the magazine. And, encouraged by lawyers, two days before expiration of a three-year statute of limitations she filed a sexual harassment suit and sought $750,000 in damages against Clinton. The question arose whether Clinton was subject to the legal proceedings while in office, and the matter was to drag on into 1996.

1996: more Whitewater

A conservative Republican, Kenneth Starr, had been appointed by a three-judge panel to be the "independent counsel" for the Whitewater Controvery. And Starr accepted a legal rationale offered by a subordinate, Brett Kavanaugh, for expanding his investigation of the Arkansas financial dealings of President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, to include the death of Foster. (In a memo to Ken Starr, Kavanaugh declared that "it is our job to make his [Clinton's] pattern of revolting behavior clear.")

On January 22, Starr subpoenaed Hillary Clinton to determine whether she intentionally withheld subpoenaed billing records from the Rose Law Firm. The first time a wife of a sitting president has been subpoenaed.

On April 3 The Whitewater trial was is underway, and, in late May, Jim and Susan McDougal (divorced since 1990) were convicted and faced prison terms for defrauding $3 million from two federally-backed financial institutions.

On June 18 the Senate Special Whitewater Committee (chaired by New York Republican Senator Al D'Amato) made public its findings. The 800-page Republican majority report found that "White House actions were highly improper; they were deliberate; and they adversely affected ongoing investigations by career law enforcement officials." The minority report by Democrats on the committee described the majority findings "a legislative travesty", "a witch hunt", and "a political game".

Jim McDougal, meanwhile, was cooperating with the Whitewater prosecutors. Susan McDougal refused to go along. Although described by the court as only a minor player in the Whitewater criminal transaction, she was charged with contempt of court for not testifying against the Clintons to a grand jury. She did not trust Kenneth Starr and was afraid of being falsely convicted of perjury for contradicting someone's testimony. She was to spend the maximum possible sentence for civil contempt: 18 months. Eight months of it was to be spent in solitary confinement. (Kenneth Starr had a sweet expression, probably held when selling bibles door to door to pay for college, but he could be tough as a prosecutor.

More Legislation

In August, Bill Clinton signed a bill that raised the first minimum wage increase in five years, from $4.25 to $5.15 per hour, which may have helped him with Democratic voters. Also, on August 22 he signed a welfare reform law, legislation he had negotiated in private meetings with Gingrich. The result had been a little to the right of what Clinton wanted, with Gingrich persuading enough conservative Republicans for passage — a compromise that worked. The legislation required welfare recipients to work, limited the time they can stay on welfare, provided childcare and healthcare that was supposed to help recipients begin work, and it included new child support enforcement measures.

The Republicans versus Clinton

It was in early August that the Republicans held their national convention, in San Diego. Convention delegates adopted the Party Platform, its preamble expressing their purpose:

A new century beckons, and Americans are more than equal to its challenges. But there is a problem. The Clinton administration has proven unequal to the heritage of our past, the promise of our times, and the character of the American people. They [the American people] require more and demand better. With them, we raise our voices and raise our sights. We are the heirs of world leadership that was earned by bravery and sacrifice on half a thousand battlefields.

Americans are right to say we are on the wrong track. Our prestige in the world is declining. Economic growth here at home is anemic. Our society grows more violent and less decent. The only way the Clinton administration can magnify its questionable accomplishments is to lower our expectations. Those who lead the Democrat party call America to smaller tasks and downsized dreams.

Today's Democrat leaders do not understand leadership. They reduce principles to tactics. They talk endlessly and confront nothing. They offer, not convictions, but alibis. They are paralyzed by indecision, weakened by scandal and guided only by the perpetuation of their own power.

We asked for change. We worked for reform. We offered cooperation and consensus. Now, the asking is over. The Clinton administration cannot be reinvented, it must be replaced.

With the backing of the anti-abortion crusader and conservative icon Phylis Schlafly, Pat Buchanan had mobilized opinion against what he saw as the bland Washington establishment, personified by Dole. (He was also against NAFTA). He had won in Alaska, Louisiana and New Hampshire, Delaware and Arizona. But Buchanan's campaign hit a wall on Super Tuesday, March 12. Bob Dole swept all ten Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses and celebrated with the Republican establishment, including Newt Gingrich. Buchanan suspended his campaign, Lamar Alexander, Steve Forbes, Richard Lugar, dropped out. Alan Keyes, a devout traditional Catholic and anti-abortion crusader, perennial candidate, who had served in the Reagan administration, was not the kind who gave up, and he stayed in to the bitter end.

The first debate between Dole and Clinton occurred on October 7. Clinton spoke of more jobs, rising incomings, falling crime rates, declining welfare rolls, a strong America at peace and the nation "bettter off than we were four years ago." Dole said, "I trust the people. The President trusts the Government." Dole spoke of a tax plan that Clinton complained would "blow a hole in the deficit." Polls described Clinton as winning the debates.

At election time in November, President Clinton's approval rating had been at 57 percent and his disapproval at 34 percent, and the economy for the year was growing at a rate of 3.8 percent (accounting for inflation). Dole had not excited a lot of voters. Voter turnout was the lowest since 1924: only 49 percent of those of voting age.

Monica Lewinsky was already spending time in the Oval Office but was not yet in the news, and efforts by Republicans to exploit scandal and to put themselves above Clinton had not prevented him from winning the election handily (electoral map). The Clinton-Gore ticket won 49.2 percent of the vote against 40.7 for Dole-Kemp. Perot in his second attempt at the presidency won 8.4 percent. Ralph Nader won 0.71 percent. Nader had told his supporters on August 20 that he did not expect to win. "What we are doing," he had said, "is building for the future."

CONTINUE READING: Clinton and US Politics, 1997 to 2001

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