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Politics, 1997 to 2001

In 1997 the Clinton Administration was concerned with Saddam Hussein, who was not complying with 1991 Gulf War cease-fire agreements. And there was Osama bin Laden's declaration of holy war against the US, bin Laden complaining that the US "wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose on us agents to rule us."

In August 1997 the attention of Americans swung to the tragic death of Princess Diana. And in December there was the Kyoto Protocol Agreement to reduce greenhouse gasses — reductions that were supposed to start in 2005. President Clinton described the agreement as "historic" and said "no nation is more committed to this effort than the United States."

Also in 1997 (in September), President's Clinton told Monica Lewinsky (age 25) that their affair had reached its end. It was in September that Lewinsky talked with her friend, Linda Tripp, about the affair. (Tripp was a career civil servant, age 48, working in the Pentagon's public affairs office where Lewinsky had been working.)

Meanwhile, lawyers for Paula Jones were interested in evidence of Clinton's sexual contacts with women other than their client. Linda Tripp began secretly recording Lewinsky, and on January 12 she offered 20 hours of taped conversations to Kenneth Starr, famous for his investigations of the Clintons. The next day, Tripp was wired by the FBI for further conversations with Lewinsky. And, on the 16th, Starr gained approval from the Attorney General, Janet Reno, to expand his inquiries to include the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Starr was interested in the possibility of Clinton having persuaded someone to commit perjury in the Jones case.

(Joe Conason has a book online for free on Starr's effort titled "Hunting for Hillary". The book on Amazon is titled The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. See Amazon comments here.)

Perhaps feeling the heat, Clinton had his last telephone conversation with Lewinsky on 7 January 1998. Ten days later, Clinton was testifying under oath regarding the Paula Jones lawsuit. He acknowledged having had an affair with Gennifer Flowers, a charge he had previously denied. But he denied having had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. On 21 January an internet journalist, Matt Drudge, described the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, and two days later the Washington Post picked up the story. At a White House press conference on the 26th, Clinton said, "I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." (Clinton's definition of "sexual relations" was intercourse that can cause impregnation.)

In April a federal judge dismissed the Paula Jones lawsuit. Clinton would give Paula Jones the entire amount of her claim — $850,000 — in exchange for her agreement to drop her case. (All but $151,000 of it would pay for her legal expenses.)

Republicans expected the Clinton scandal would give them much gain in the November congressional elections — elections that have been described as a referendum on the President. Private polling had led House Speaker Newt Gingrich to expect that Republicans would gain as many as thirty House seats. But voters were not as moved by the Clinton scandal as much as Gingrich and his fellow Republicans had hoped. The November 1998 elections gave the Democrats five additional seats — 45 for the Democrats and 55 for the Republicans. (The Senate was unchanged). Republican disappointment is described as having created a "rebellion within the Republican Party" with Gingrich as its target. Three days after the elections Gingrich spoke of the need for Republicans to be unified, and he announced that he would be stepping down, not only from the speakership but also from Congress. (He would continue involvement in Republicans politics without holding public office, including interest in running for President in 2000 and 2012.)

Clinton Impeachment Proceedings

On 19 November 1998 the House Judiciary Committee, led by Republicans and armed with Kenneth Starr's papers, began impeachment hearings against President Clinton. The charges were lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Starr delivered as 132-minute address and alleged that Clinton had engaged in "an unlawful effort to thwart the judicial process". Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Mr Clinton is harangued on Japanese television for his infidelity by a Japanese housewife.

On December 11 the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment on a 21-16 party line vote. On the 19th the House voted for impeachment 228 to 206, Republicans for, Democrats against. The mater was sent to the Senate. There a two-thirds vote was necessary to remove the President from office. On the perjury charge, 55 voted not guilty, 45 guilty. On obstruction of justice it was 50–50. Republicans Collins of Maine, Chafee of Rhode Island, and Jeffords of Vermont voted not guilty on both accounts. The result: acquittal for President Clinton.

1999: Kosovo and Columbine

By 1999, the Clinton administration was concerned about the war in Kosovo. The UN Security Council demanded a cease-fire in Kosovo and had warned Yugoslavia (by now just Serbia and Montenegro) that "additional measures" would be applied if it (the Milosevic regime) failed to comply. In Kosovo, Serbs had been conducting brutalities against the majority Muslim population, to be described as more ethnic cleansing. NATO sent two senior military officers to Belgrade to warn Milosevic's regime that Serbia faced air strikes if it persisted in violence.

On 23 March, Yugoslavia mobilized for war, and the Secretary General of NATO, Javier Solana, directed the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Army General Wesley Clark, to "initiate air operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." On 24 March, Clinton spoke to the nation.

A few in the US assumed that Clinton was trying to be heroic as a distraction as in the 1998 movie "Wag the Dog." They were thinking that they had insight in Clinton's motives (something good journalists shy away from, real motives capable of being hidden.) Some who were pacifist-oriented asked why we should be bombing Yugoslavia although we had not bombed elsewhere, in Africa for example or against the Chinese in Tibet. Most politicians, however, including Republicans, spoke of Clinton as having done the right thing.

That same month, April, on the 20th, two students at Columbine High School, in Colorado, murdered 12 fellow students and a teacher, giving rise to a debate about gun control.

The Bush-Cheney Nomination, August 3rd

George W Bush, Governor of Texas since 1995, was talked into running for President by his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush. In January 2000 the polls showed that around 60 percent of Republicans favored him as a candidate for the presidency. John McCain was favored by around 20 percent and Alan Keyes was favored by 2 percent. In the New Hampshire primary on the first of February, McCain beat Bush by 18 percentage points. The Bush campaign struck back with what some describe as a dirty campaign that left McCain angry and disgusted, and Bush beat McCain in the South Carolina primary on February 53.39 percent to 41.87. After Super Tuesday (March 7) it was clear that Bush would win the nomination. Alan Keyes had received 4.5 percent in the South Carolina primary but he stayed in the race to the convention in late July, talking about God, principles concerning abortion and government spending, the last Bush opponent to end his campaign.

In his acceptance speech (transcript), Bush said "We will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country." He criticized the Clinton Administration for being weak on defense, said that taxes were too high, complained about underperforming schools, and he swore "to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."

Reform Party candidates, including Donald Trump

Also running for president were numerous third-party candidate. One of them was Donald Trump, who joined others interested in leading what remained of Perot Reform Party, the only third party entitled to matching funds (based on Perot's 8 percent showing in 1996). Buchanan had jumped to the Reform Party, declaring that the Republican Party had become "the New World-order party... intervening all over the world."

Trump joined the Reform Party on October 25, 1999, and briefly appeared to be a credible alternative to Buchanan. Trump gained media attention and said that if nominated he thought he could "beat that Democrat-Republican apparatus." Trump focused his campaign on fair trade, eliminating the national debt, and universal healthcare. He named media proprietor Oprah Winfrey as his ideal running mate and said he would instantly marry his girlfriend, Melania Knauss, to make her First Lady. Jesse Ventura, Governor of Minnesota (1999-2003) supported Trump, and Trump was calling Buchanan a "Hitler-lover."

A poll matching Trump against Bush and Al Gore as competitors showed Trump support at only 7 percent. On the Today Show (February 14) Trump announced the withdrawal of his candidacy, declaring:

The Reform Party is a total mess. You have Buchanan, a right winger, and you have Fulani, a Communist, and they have merged.

Nader and the Green Party

In late July the Green Party tried its hand at educating the public again by nominating again Ralph Nader. Having won only 0.71 percent in the 1996 race, the Green Party candidate was not scheduled for any matching funds or inclusion in the presidential debates. Supporters were slow to acknowledge electoral structural realities and demonstrated noisily for Nader's inclusion in the presidential debates.

Nader had some association with the party of reform, the Democrats, and he could have run as a Democrat in the primaries, but he chose to pose as untainted. During his campaign he sounded like a good Democrat, calling for universal health care, affordable housing, free education including college, workers' rights and increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, and he spoke up regarding crime and prisoner issues.

Election Results and Tumult

The Democratic candidate was Vice President Al Gore, who easily defeated (former basketball star and Senator) Bill Bradley. The voting on November 7 gave Gore the popular vote, 48.4 percent to 47.9 percent for Bush. Bush won with 271 electoral votes to Gore's 266. Nader won 2.74 percent and Buchanan 0.43. The results in Florida were close. Bush was counted as leading Gore by 537 votes. State law required a recount for a result that close. (Nader in Florida won 97,421 votes.) If Bush lost Florida his electoral votes would be 246 to Gore's 291. Republicans were impassioned, afraid they might have their victory snatched away by a nefarious manipulation. The issue went to the Florida Supreme Court and eventually to the US Supreme Court, and on December 12 the more conservative judges (considering with objectivity, of course) won a 5-4 decision in favor of Bush.

Al Gore was to blame Bill Clinton for his defeat — Clinton's tryst with Monica Lewinsky in the oval office.

Clinton to January 2001

Clinton signed the Financial Services Modernization Act or GLBA in 1999, which allowed banks, insurance companies and investment houses to merge and thus repealed the Glass-Steagall Act which had been in place since 1932. It also prevented further regulation of risky financial derivatives.

During Clinton's last months in office the dot-com stocks were collapsing, from a peak of around 7000 on the NASDAQ composite index down to around 3500 at election times and continuing to fall. The economy would go into recession during the first quarter of 2001. Clinton left office with a budget surplus of 2.4 percent of GDP – after having cut military spending by that same amount. Real economic growth for the year 2000 ended as 2.9 percent — 3.9 percent for his entire presidency (compare). The national debt was down to from around 63 percent of GDP when he took office to 55 percent. He left office with a job approval rating of 66 percent, disapproval 29 percent.

CONTINUE READING: Bin Landen, September 11, and the Invasion of Afghanistan

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Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.