Clinton, Bill 1946- (William Jefferson Clinton)

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Clinton, Bill 1946- (William Jefferson Clinton)


Born William Jefferson Blythe IV, August 19, 1946, in Hope, AR; son of William Jefferson (a traveling salesman) and Virginia (a nurse-anesthetist) Blythe, and stepfather Roger Clinton; married Hillary Rodham (a lawyer, senator, and U.S. secretary of state), October 11, 1975; children: Chelsea. Education: Georgetown University, B.S., 1968; attended University College, Oxford (Rhodes scholar), 1968-70; Yale University, J.D., 1973. Politics: Democrat.


House Judiciary Committee, Washington, DC, staff attorney, 1973; University of Arkansas School of Law, Fayetteville, AR, faculty, 1974-76; Arkansas State Attorney General, 1977-79; Governor of Arkansas, 1979-81, 1983-92; Wright, Lindsey, & Jennings, Little Rock, AR, counsel, 1981-83; chair of Education Commission of the States, Democratic Governors' Association, Democratic Leadership Council, National Governors' Association; President of the United States, 1993-2001.


National Merit scholarship, semifinalist, 1963; Jaycees' Outstanding Young Americans Award, 1979; honorary doctorate in civil law, Oxford University, 1994; Grammy Award for best spoken word album for children from the Recording Academy for Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf/Beintus: Wolf Tracks, 2004; Biography of the Year Award, 2005, for My Life.


(With Al Gore) Putting People First: How We Can All Change America, Times Books (New York, NY), 1992.

(Contributor) Jonathan Portis and others, Comeback Kid: The Life and Career of Bill Clinton, Birch Lane Press (New York, NY), 1992.

Health Security Act of 1993, Claitors (Baton Rouge, LA), 1993.

Putting Customers First: Standards for Serving the American People. Report of the National Performance Review, DIANE (Darby, PA), 1994.

My Plans for a Second Term, Carol (New York, NY), 1995.

National Security Strategy of the United States, 1994-1995: Engagement and Enlargement, Brassey's (Washington, DC), 1995.

(Author of foreword) Albert Gore, Common Sense Government: Works Better and Costs Less, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.

Preface to the Presidency: Selected Speeches of Bill Clinton, 1974-92, compiled and edited by Stephen A. Smith, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1996.

Between Hope and History: Meeting America's Challenges for the 21st Century, Times Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Reinventing Food Regulations: National Performance Review, DIANE (Darby, PA), 1996.

Yitzhak Rabin Remembered, 1922-1995, Dove (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor) The Starr Evidence: The Complete Text of the Grand Jury Testimony of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 1998.

(Coauthor) The Impeachment and Trial of President Clinton: The Official Transcripts, from the House Judiciary Committee Hearings to the Senate Trial, Times Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Clinton on Clinton: A Portrait of the President in His Own Words, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Clinton Foreign Policy Reader: Presidential Speeches with Commentary, M.E. Sharpe (Armonk, NY), 2000.

My Life (memoir), Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.

Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of the text of the Clinton-Gore Economic Conference in Little Rock, AR, on December 14-15, 1992, published as President Clinton's New Beginning, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1993.


The forty-second president of the United States, Bill Clinton has spent most of his life grooming himself for political success. He was born in the small town of Hope, Arkansas, in August of 1946, three months after his biological father, William Jefferson Blythe III, died in an automobile accident. His first years were spent in the care of his maternal grandparents, while his mother, Virginia, pursued professional study in New Orleans. She returned as a nurse-anesthetist and two years later married Roger (Dude) Clinton, a car dealer. The new family moved from Hope to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1953. They prospered materially and moved in influential circles, but home life was troubled by Roger Clinton's alcoholism and violent outbursts. Nevertheless, the future U.S. president's teenage years—during which he legally took the surname Clinton—were marked by academic excellence and a precocious political career, including membership in the Masonic youth leadership group DeMolay and the presidency of the junior class and of several student organizations. In 1963, as a participant in the Boys' Nation convention in Washington, DC, he met then president John F. Kennedy, an event reportedly crucial in solidifying his political ambitions.

After graduating fourth in his class the following year, Clinton moved on to Georgetown University, where he was twice class president and worked in the office of Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright. Leaving Georgetown with a degree in international studies in 1968, he went to Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship. There Clinton took two actions that were to have political repercussions in his presidential bid decades later: he experimented with marijuana, and he contrived to avoid the risk of service in the Vietnam War. After receiving a draft exemption through the end of his first academic year at Oxford, Clinton agreed to an ROTC package whereby he would attend law school at the University of Arkansas after completing his Oxford studies and would then serve in the Army reserves. But as the war and the chances of conscription began to taper off, Clinton reconsidered. Having received several critical months of protection from the draft, he voided the University of Arkansas deal and instead enrolled at Yale Law School.

At Yale, Clinton met fellow law student and future wife Hillary Rodham (they married in October of 1975) and kept involved in politics, working on Democrat George McGovern's failed 1972 presidential campaign. But it was upon his return to Arkansas in 1973 that Clinton's political star began to rise in earnest. While practicing and teaching law in Fayetteville, Clinton ran in a close congressional race against incumbent Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt. Though unsuccessful, Clinton won considerable support and established himself as an up-and-comer in the Arkansas Democratic fold, a reputation he enhanced further as director of presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter's Arkansas campaign in 1976. Clinton ran for state attorney general the same year and won. As attorney general, his energies were directed primarily toward consumer advocacy, especially opposition to monopolistic utility companies.

The voters of Arkansas elected Clinton governor—the youngest ever—two years later. Clinton pursued a populist agenda, championing education and continuing the crusade against the utilities, but he made some unpopular choices. He financed infrastructure improvements with higher gasoline taxes and failed to oppose President Carter's indefinite detention of thousands of Cuban refugees at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Moreover, his anti-big-business stance alienated some of the state's most powerful individuals and corporations. In 1980, the year his daughter Chelsea was born, he lost reelection to an unheralded but well-funded opponent, banker Frank White.

Working in a Little Rock law firm, Clinton absorbed the lessons of his defeat. When the governor's seat next came up for election, he ran on his record as defender of the average citizen but cultivated warmer relations with the business community, raising over one million dollars in campaign money. He returned to office in a decisive reversal of the results of the previous race.

Clinton remained governor for the next ten years, winning reelection in 1984 and 1988. Having learned to choose his battles carefully, he scaled back his efforts on some public-interest issues, focusing instead on a problem that business and the public could agree on: education. He vastly increased the state's education spending (while maintaining a balanced budget) and instituted several important reforms. The most controversial of these was a policy of mandatory competency testing for teachers. Teachers' groups bitterly opposed the tests but were more receptive to salary increases and other aspects of Clinton's education plan, which succeeded in boosting student performance, lowering the dropout rate, and increasing the number of college-bound graduates.

At the same time, the governor became increasingly visible in national politics. He chaired the National Governors' Association and the Democratic Leadership Council and spoke at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, nominating Michael Dukakis for president. In 1992, reversing a pledge made during the prior gubernatorial campaign, he launched his own campaign for the Oval Office.

Clinton ran as a self-styled "New Democrat," on a centrist platform carefully designed to capitalize on the public perception of GOP as the party of the rich, while avoiding the taint of "tax and spend" liberalism with which the Democrats had become associated. Turning again to the populist approach that had served him well in Arkansas, he vowed to help the "forgotten middle class" by raising taxes on the wealthy, creating jobs, and trimming government waste.

Clinton's campaign manifesto, Putting People First: How We Can All Change America (written with running mate Al Gore), highlights Republican failures while pledging to "end welfare as we know it," fund welfare-to-work and other employment programs, improve education and health care, and change tax laws in ways favorable to workers and families. The book is written in a pared-down, summary-like style that allows readers to reference the candidates' positions on various issues and to grasp basic ideas quickly. An introductory section laying out the key themes of the campaign is followed by thirty-one brief (two- to six-page), alphabetically arranged chapters on matters of (primarily domestic) policy, from agriculture to women. An avalanche of subheads and bullet points divides the longer sections into short, easily digested chunks of text. A glowing overview of "the Clinton-Gore record," the candidates' announcement, and Democratic National Convention speeches are included as appendices.

The campaign was a difficult one for Clinton. Allegations of marijuana use and draft-dodging from his Oxford days were aired in the national media, as were reports of a long-term extramarital relationship with nightclub performer Gennifer Flowers. The continued weak economy, however, had voters hungry for change, as did the perception that the Republican incumbent, George Bush, lacked a vision for the future. Many observers also felt that independent candidate Ross Perot siphoned off more potential Bush votes than Clinton votes. On November 3, 1992, Clinton won the general election by a comfortable margin, but, with only forty-three percent of the vote in a three-way race, was denied the clear popular mandate he had hoped for.

Clinton's first term got off to a rocky start. His executive order ending the ban on gays in the military had to be tempered in the face of fierce opposition, several of his nominations were thwarted by Congress, and he soon developed a reputation for waffling on issues. Meanwhile, potential scandals continued to dog him. Questions were raised about suspiciously lucrative commodities investments his wife had made in 1978-79, and a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against him by a former Arkansas state employee, Paula Jones. Clinton was a vocal proponent of universal health care during his campaign, but his ambitious and highly touted Health Security Act died in Congress. Unhappiness with the Clinton administration was partly responsible for midterm congressional election results that brought Republicans to power.

Clinton was successful in fulfilling other campaign promises, however—reducing the federal budget deficit and expanding Head Start and other educational programs. Interestingly, some of Clinton's greatest victories involved legislation more consistent with traditional Republican objectives than Democratic ones. He worked hard to open foreign markets to U.S. products, passing the NAFTA and GATT free-trade agreements. In signing the Welfare Reform Act, which largely delegated responsibility for administering welfare to the states, Clinton disappointed some in his own party who saw him as cooperating with Republicans to gut the program. His anticrime package combined liberal and conservative ideas, imposing firearm restrictions while expanding the death penalty.

With his first term drawing to a close, Clinton's popularity was buoyed by good economic news. Unemployment declined without stoking inflation, productivity was up, and the stock market was faring quite well. As expected, Clinton again received the Democratic nomination for president. He published a second campaign book, Between Hope and History: Meeting America's Challenges for the 21st Century, just prior to the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. While Putting People First is policy-oriented and written in fragmented, point-by-point prose, Between Hope and History takes a more philosophical approach, with three broad chapters on the themes of opportunity, responsibility, and community. The book trumpets the administration's successes and attempts to position Clinton in the tradition of Progressive Era giants like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The heavy rhetoric, in the spirit of campaign-trail offerings, was not to everyone's taste. Jonathan Yardley, in a Washington Post Book World review, lamented the volume's "mixture of blue-sky self-congratulation and partisan nit-picking," amounting to "a mountain of banalities." Still, Clinton does offer some substantive comments on his foreign policy and the need for investment in technology.

After a relatively easy victory over aging challenger Robert Dole, Clinton began his second term with the popular mandate he had lacked four years earlier. Contrary to speculation that, with reelection prospects no longer an issue, he would revert to more traditional liberal positions, Clinton's policies remained consistent. He continued to work toward a balanced budget and to advocate worker-training programs and some forms of affirmative action. Foreign policy took a somewhat higher profile in Clinton's second term, as the administration attempted to broker or enforce peace deals in such troubled areas as Bosnia, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, and the Korean Peninsula. Though known abroad as a well-informed consensus-builder, Clinton faced criticism over U.S. unwillingness to pay United Nations membership dues and suffered a setback when he failed to win significant international support for proposed punitive strikes against Gulf War adversary Iraq. At home, he was again beset by "character issues," with ongoing investigations into his alleged prior involvement with questionable real-estate developers and new accusations of sexual improprieties with a former White House intern and a campaign worker. Nonetheless, Clinton remained popular in a time of relative economic prosperity, pursuing social goals through incentives and "public/private partnerships" rather than government regulation.

Clinton's autobiography, My Life, was the most eagerly awaited book of 2004, and instantly broke sales records upon publication. Unusual because of its length (just shy of a thousand pages) and because of its author's dedicated seriousness in writing it, the book itself became the focus of much critical commentary, rather than the literary worth of its contents. For the most part, though, reviewers recognized the author as a competent chronicler of his own story, even if they felt the book was laden with details and short on contemplation of Clinton's more tragic moments. When it comes to his impeachment, for example, Clinton acknowledges his mistakes but directs his venom toward special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Background information on nearly every person in Clinton's circle is duly given, but extensive rumination about his marriage and other details of his private life are missing. The book's greatest praise, perhaps, came from Larry McMurtry, who in his New York Times Book Review essay called My Life "by a generous measure, the richest American presidential autobiography," and hailed the story as "a galloping, reckless, political picaresque, a sort of pilgrim's progress." Though McMurtry favored the book's chapters on Clinton's childhood, particularly the details concerning the young Clinton's bittersweet relationship with his stepfather, he also admired the tome's unabashed focus on politics. "I may not know Bill Clinton any better than I did when I started," McMurtry explained, "but I know recent history better, which surely can't hurt." In Booklist, Ilene Cooper noted that Clinton's "personality shines from every page," and, echoing McMurtry's opinion, stated the book's strength is its opening chapters, which detail "both the boy and the segregated southern society in which he came of age." Ultimately, Cooper characterized My Life as a "supersized Rorschach test [in which] readers will find just what they're looking for." Novelist Frank McCourt, reviewing the book for Entertainment Weekly, called it "a massive book, more than memoir, more than history. It is, with all due respect to the Pope, the journey of a soul, many-layered, complex, tantalizing."

In Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, published in 2007, Clinton offers readers advice on how to help make the world a better place through the donation of time, effort, and money to important causes. Clinton bases his advice on his own experiences, first in government as the governor of Arkansas and president of the United States, and then his more recent experiences as the head of a charitable foundation. He discusses the various individuals known for their commitment to improving the world around them, and for their generosity of both spirit and the more tangible interests of time and money. While Clinton makes a point of including some well-known individuals famous for giving and volunteering at an extremely high level, such as Oprah Winfrey with her Angel Network, and Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation, he also explores the idea of funds designed purely for social consciousness and the improvements they provide, particularly in nations where the very basics necessary to sustain life are difficult to come by, including medicine and rudimentary health-care services. He also relates several stories of unknown individuals—regular citizens—who have made extraordinary efforts. Vanessa Bush, writing for Booklist, declared Clinton's work to be "a challenge to everyone to find a way to give to some worthy cause." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews considered the book to be "an important message conveyed with a light touch."



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Campbell, Colin, and Bert A. Rockman, editors, The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals, Chatham House (Chatham, NJ), 1996.

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Carpozi, George, Jr., Clinton Confidential: The Climb to Power, Emery Dalton (Del Mar, CA), 1995.

Clinton, Roger, with Jim Moore, Growing up Clinton: The Lives, Times, and Tragedies of America's Presidential Family, Summit Publishing (Arlington, TX), 1995.

Clinton, Bill, My Life, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.

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Eidsmoe, John, Loyal Opposition: A Christian Response to the Clinton Agenda, Huntington House (Lafayette, LA), 1993.

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Lyons, Gene, The Great Whitewater Hoax: On the Waywardness of the Media and the Foolishness of the "New York Times," Franklin Square Press (New York, NY), 1995.

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O'Clery, Conor, America: A Place Called Hope?, O'Brien Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1993.

Odom, Richmond, Circle of Death: Clinton's Climb to the Presidency, Huntington House (Lafayette, LA), 1995.

Reed, Terry, and John Cummings, Compromised: Clinton, Bush, and the CIA, S.P.I. Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Reeves, Richard, Running in Place: How Bill Clinton Disappointed America, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1996.

Renshon, Stanley A., editor, The Clinton Presidency: Campaigning, Governing, and the Psychology of Leadership, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 1995.

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Woodward, Bob, The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.


Booklist, August, 2004, Ilene Cooper, a review of My Life, p. 1866; September 15, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, p. 4.

Entertainment Weekly, July 9, 2004, Frank McCourt, "Bill of Writes," p. 92.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2007, review of Giving.

New York Times Book Review, September 22, 1996, review of Between Hope and History: Meeting America's Challenges for the 21st Century, p. 24; July 4, 2004, Larry McMurtry, "His True Love Is Politics," p. 1.

Washington Post Book World, August 25, 1996, Jonathan Yardley, review of Between Hope and History, p. 3.

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Clinton, Bill 1946- (William Jefferson Clinton)

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