Bill Clinton defeated former President George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election. Although Bush was well-liked during the beginning of his presidency, economic problems reduced his popularity. People were ready for a change and appreciated Clinton’s youth, charm, and energy. His candidacy and presidency were marred by scandal, but he achieved a balanced budget and helped restore economic growth.
- President Clinton had spent 12 years as governor of Arkansas, but he was surprised by how difficult working with Congress was. He wanted to reform the health-care system, but Congress would not approve his plan.
- Congress did approve the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which allowed Mexico, the U.S., and Canada to trade with no restrictions.
- Congress also passed Clinton’s Welfare Reform Act. This act gave control over welfare back to the states. It also said that noncitizens could not have welfare and that adults could only receive welfare for five years.
- Clinton’s greatest achievement was reducing the budget deficit, which had grown due in part to tax cuts during Ronald Reagan’s term.
- Clinton was elected to a second term, serving from 1992 to 2000. He was the first Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt to serve more than one term.
- Scandals followed Clinton through his entire presidency. Before he was elected, he admitted (after being confronted with evidence) that he had “dodged” the draft during the Vietnam War. He also admitted that he had been unfaithful to his wife. Later, Paula Jones, a former employee, said he had sexually harassed her.
- In 1998, the public learned that Clinton had had an inappropriate relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton denied under oath that he had had an affair with Lewinsky. Lying in court is a serious offense. Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to impeach him.
- Clinton was the second president to be impeached. Nixon resigned to avoid it. Andrew Johnson was impeached after the Civil War.
- In February, 1999, the Senate voted to acquit Clinton. Although he was still the president, Clinton had been deeply humiliated. He resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court bar and his Arkansas law license was suspended.
- In another scandal, Clinton and his wife, Hillary, were accused of unethical business activity. Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate Clinton’s involvement in the failed real estate development, Whitewater. Although Starr was unable to make a case against Clinton, two of Clinton’s business partners and the governor of Arkansas were found guilty.
- Deficit: to owe more than you have
- Mar: a blemish or mark
- Impeach: to formally accuse a public official of improper conduct
- Acquit: find not guilty
Questions and Answers
Question: Why did the American people vote for Clinton if they knew about his improper behavior?
Answer: Clinton said, and many Americans believed, that his mistakes weren’t as important as his goals for being president. He said that personal behavior shouldn’t be a consideration for public office. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think someone who is dishonest in their personal life will be honest in a public position?
Visit Scholastic to see a timeline of the U.S. presidents.