Love him or hate him, Bill Clinton has been one of the most influential presidents and politicians on the world stage during the last two decades. Now, Clinton uses his savvy to attack one of the country’s most pressing problems—the economy. His latest book, Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy, focuses on fixing the current economic crisis, job creation and building a sound financial future. Here, we’ve assembled a list of 10 key moments from Clinton’s presidency, some good, some bad, but all reminders of why this guy usually has something to say.
Chris Matthews talks to us about his new bio on JFK.
1. The 1992 election. After winning a hotly contested three-way race with George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot, Clinton took office in January 1993 at the age of 46. He was the youngest president since his hero John F. Kennedy, who was 44 when he entered office.
2. China’s admission to the WTO. There are plenty of reasons to dislike the World Trade Organization, at least if you’re an American trade unionist. Nonetheless, China was going to enter the world market anyway, and Clinton helped secure it a seat in the WTO, encouraging the growth of both exports and imports.
3. Gennifer Flowers. In 1992, while Clinton was running for the presidency, an Arkansas woman named Gennifer Flowers alleged that she and Clinton had had an affair. After years of back and forth, Clinton finally admitted, in his memoir My Life, that he had had an “encounter” with her. The Flowers affair had scarcely cooled down when the scandalous news of a second encounter, this time with an intern named Monica Lewinsky, consumed Washington.
4. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It took superhuman effort to pull representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to the conference table to discuss peace in the Middle East, but Bill Clinton did at several points during the '90s. The negotiations eventually stalled, but getting the sworn enemies to shake hands was at least a start.
5. Workfare. Although Tea Party mouthpieces are fond of saying that America is on an endless binge of entitlements, the fact is that entitlements have steadily fallen in the last dozen years. Some of that owes to Clinton’s championing of “workfare” in the place of welfare.
6. Passage of the Balanced Budget Act. In 1995, an antigovernment Republican Congress shut the federal government down, backing off only when public sentiment rose against it. Clinton soon pushed through the Balanced Budget Act, which, he writes in his new book Back to Work, “produced the first of four surplus budgets in a row for the first time in seventy years.”
7. Peace in Northern Ireland. In 1995, Clinton became the first U.S. president to visit Northern Ireland, pressing for an end to armed sectarian conflict there. It took a few more years for the appropriate treaties to be concluded, but today the province is largely at peace.
8. Whitewater. In 1994, following up on years of investigation at lower levels, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered an investigation into business dealings by Bill and Hillary Clinton with an Arkansas housing development company called Whitewater. The investigation, led by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, cost more than $50 million but failed to prove any wrongdoing by the Clintons.
9. Impeachment. In 1998, Clinton found himself the second president in U.S. history to be impeached. The House of Representatives introduced the impeachment on two charges, perjury and obstruction of justice, all relative to the Lewinsky affair (see “Gennifer Flowers” above.) The following year, the Senate dismissed the charges.
10. Forecasting the 2007 financial meltdown. In 2000, Clinton recalls in Back to Work, he sent his economic team to Capitol Hill to warn Congress that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the “quasi-public mortgage agencies,” were overextended and trading in junk. The warning was ignored—and we’re paying for it today.
Bill Clinton's Back to Work is out today.