Bill Clinton Pros and Cons
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Was Bill Clinton a Good President?
President Bill Clinton
William Jefferson Clinton, known as Bill Clinton, served as the 42nd President of the United States from Jan. 20, 1993 to Jan. 19, 2001.

His proponents contend that under his presidency the US enjoyed the lowest unemployment and inflation rates in recent history, high home ownership, low crime rates, and a budget surplus. They give him credit for eliminating the federal deficit and reforming welfare, despite being forced to deal with a Republican-controlled Congress.

His opponents say that Clinton cannot take credit for the economic prosperity experienced during his scandal-plagued presidency because it was the result of other factors. In fact, they blame his policies for the financial crisis that began in 2007. They point to his impeachment by Congress and his failure to pass universal health care coverage as further evidence that he was not a good president. Read more...


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Clinton ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents research, studies, and pro and con statements on whether or not Bill Clinton was a good president.

Did You Know?
  1. Clinton, age 46 when he was elected, was the youngest US president since John F. Kennedy and the third-youngest ever. [1]

  2. During Clinton's presidency, 22.5 million new jobs were created and unemployment dropped from 7.5% when he took office to 4.0% by the end of his second term, the lowest in 30 years. [2]

  3. When Paula Jones sued him for sexual harassment, Clinton became the first sitting president to testify before a grand jury investigating his own conduct. [3]

  4. Clinton was the second president in US history to be impeached. The first was Andrew Johnson in 1868. [4]

  5. A Sep. 22, 2010 poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal found that Clinton was more popular than President Obama. Clinton had a 55 percent approval rating compared to Obama's 46 percent approval rating. [5]
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Pro & Con Arguments: "Was Bill Clinton a Good President?"
PRO Bill Clinton a Good President

  1. Character: Clinton was deeply religious from a young age and regularly attended a Baptist church as an adult. He once said, "Religious faith has permitted me to believe in the continuing possibility of becoming a better person every day, to believe in the search for complete integrity in life." [6] Clinton's private marital issues were unrelated to his ability to govern the US. Even after the news of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky broke in early 1998, his approval rating was 63 percent according to a Washington Post poll. [7]


  2. Crime: The crime rate fell every year that Clinton was president and was at a 26-year low by the end of his two terms. He got funding for 100,000 new police officers nationwide. He signed the 1993 Brady Bill requiring a waiting period and background check to purchase handguns. Clinton's 1994 Crime Bill included a ban on assault weapons, and there was a 40 percent decline in gun crime by 2001. [8]


  3. Defense: Clinton presided over a modernization of the US military which led to increased readiness and efficiency. His administration focused on precision weapons and the use of GPS (Global Positioning System) technology. The result of his focus was lower collateral damage, lower casualty rates, and advanced communications. He also increased pay and benefits for military personnel. [9][10]


  4. Economy: The US went from having the largest budget deficit in American history ($290 billion) in 1992 when Clinton was elected to having a budget surplus of $127 billion when he left office in 2001. 22.5 million new jobs were created and unemployment dropped from 7.5% when Clinton took office to 4.0% by the end of his second term, the lowest in 30 years. The poverty rate dropped to 11.8% in 1999, which was the lowest it had been since 1979. [2] [11]


  5. Education: Clinton's Goals 2000 program distributed two billion dollars between 1994 and 1999 to set uniform standards in US schools. His 1994 Improving America's School Act (IASA) received support from Republicans and Democrats and from the education and business communities. IASA required that standards and accountability be the same for economically disadvantaged students as for other students. [12]


  6. Environment: Clinton's pro-environmental policies included preserving 4.6 million acres of land in national monuments, strengthening the Safe Drinking Water Act, and enacting tougher emissions and energy efficiency standards. The communities of more than 44 million Americans were brought up to clean air standards during his presidency. The Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department prosecuted 241 environmental-related crimes in 1999, more than twice as many as in 1992, the year before Clinton took office. [13]


  7. Foreign Policy: Clinton played an instrumental role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, which culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. [14] He helped to get former Soviet nations to give up their nuclear arsenals and improve their control of nuclear materials. [15] Clinton worked with NATO, a military alliance between Europe and North America, to bomb Serbia to end Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing campaign. Clinton then sent 20,000 American troops to enforce peace in the region, a mission with no American casualties. [16] He nearly orchestrated a historic Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement at Camp David in 2001.


  8. Health: Clinton sought to bring attention and action to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Funding for AIDS-related programs increased 150 percent during his presidency, and he was a leader in developing international initiatives to search for a vaccine. [17] He signed the Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act of 1996, allowing women to stay in the hospital for 48 to 96 hours after giving birth instead of being kicked out in less than 24 hours. [18]


  9. Science/Technology: Clinton's instructions to NASA in 1993 led to productivity gains and reduced overhead for the International Space Station program, as well as a better research relationship with Russia. [19] Clinton fought to bridge the "digital divide," an inequality of access to technology that would make poor people even more disadvantaged in education and employment opportunities. His policies helped schools and libraries introduce computers and the internet to people who wouldn't otherwise have had access. [20]


  10. Social Policy: In 1996, Clinton fulfilled his campaign promise to reform welfare by creating new rules that required recipients to work within two years of getting benefits and limited the time most people could spend on welfare to five years. [21] As proof that the reform was successful, 10 years after he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, welfare rolls had dropped from 12.2 million to 4.5 million. [22]


  11. Taxes: The $290 billion national deficit of 1992 became a $124 billion surplus by 1999 because Clinton's Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 raised taxes on the top income rate from 28 percent to 39.6 percent, thus increasing tax revenues. [23] [24] Just as the 1980s economic boom followed a tax increase by Reagan, the economy likewise improved after Clinton raised taxes in 1993. [25] He also limited the ability of corporations to claim deductions for entertainment expenses. [26]


  12. Other: Clinton was aware of the threat of Al Qaeda and authorized the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden. He sought to hunt down bin Laden after the Oct. 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but the CIA and FBI refused to certify bin Laden's involvement in the terrorist act. "I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since," Clinton said in a Sep. 24, 2006 interview with Chris Wallace. [27]
CON Bill Clinton a Good President

  1. Character: Constant scandals took Clinton's focus off running the country. When Paula Jones sued Clinton for sexual harassment, he became the first sitting president to testify before a grand jury investigating his own conduct. [3] An affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky culminated in Clinton's impeachment by the House of Representatives on Dec. 19, 1998 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The only other president in US history to be impeached was Andrew Johnson in 1868. [4] Some blame Clinton's moral shortcomings for disenfranchising Democratic Party members and Independents, and causing Al Gore to lose the 2000 presidential election. [28]


  2. Crime: The number of federal prisoners doubled under Clinton, and 58 percent of them were serving time for drug-related offenses. Resources were geared towards incarceration instead of rehabilitation or crime prevention. [29] Clinton's 1994 Crime Bill was filled with "pork spending" that distributed $10 billion to states and special interest groups. [30]


  3. Defense: Clinton was unable to fulfill his campaign promise to repeal the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Faced with strong opposition from conservatives early in his presidency, Clinton settled on a compromise policy referred to as "don't ask, don't tell," which allowed gays to serve in the military if they did not disclose their sexual orientation. Neither conservatives nor liberals were satisfied by the outcome. [24]


  4. Economy: Clinton gets too much credit for the good economy of the 1990s, which was already growing when he took office. The Republican-controlled Congress helped improve the economy by exercising fiscal restraint. [31] Clinton's failure to regulate the financial-services markets enabled the bad lending and Wall Street scams that led to the 2007 banking crisis. [32]


  5. Education: Clinton's Goals 2000 program did not ensure uniform quality of standards among all the states because he compromised on oversight to get the program passed. The impact therefore varied by state and Clinton never fulfilled his goal of equalizing education standards and improving results for all students. By 2000, six years after IASA was implemented, only 17 states were in full compliance with the standards. [12]


  6. Environment: Clinton passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) despite the fact that it traded lower environmental standards for increased free trade. [33] NAFTA resulted in more air pollution on the US/Mexico border, which experts estimated would cost $15 billion to clean up. [34] Clinton also signed a 1995 measure to allow logging in national forests which suspended environmental laws protecting those forests. [35]


  7. Foreign Policy: A year after 18 American troops were killed in a failed 1993 mission to capture a warlord in Somalia, Clinton was hesitant to take action to stop a genocide in Rwanda. While he failed to act, more than half a million Tutsis were murdered. Critics accused Clinton of appeasement when he gave China Most Favored Nation (MFN) status despite their terrible human rights record and when he granted North Korea concessions in exchange for a promise to discontinue their nuclear weapons program. [36]


  8. Health: Health care reform was Clinton's major goal when he took office but his administration was ill-prepared for such a large task and made several missteps. Republican opposition was insurmountable and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME) declared on Sep. 26, 1994 that Clinton's plan would never pass. The failure is considered the biggest of his administration in part because it led to the Republicans regaining control of Congress in the next election but also because he expended a lot of political capital without getting anything in return. [24] [37] [38]


  9. Science/Technology: Clinton cut NASA's budget by $715 million in 1995 (about 5%) and did not restore the bulk of the money until three months before he left office. The result was a space program struggling to operate with less money for most of Clinton's time in office. Some blame the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion on Clinton's decision to slash NASA's budget by an aggregate of $56 million over his presidency. [39]


  10. Social Policy: Clinton neglected to take to steps to restructure Social Security and Medicare. In anticipation of the upcoming Baby Boom generation retiring and drawing heavily on those social services, Clinton should have worked to secure those programs. In a June 20, 2004 interview with 60 Minutes, he admitted "I'm sorry on the home front that we didn't get healthcare and that we didn't reform Social Security." [40][41]


  11. Taxes: The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 increased the gasoline tax by 4.3 cents per gallon, which directly impacted the middle class. [42] The 1993 tax hikes cannot be credited with the economic boom of the 1990s: it was after the Republican Congress passed tax cuts in 1997 that the economy really became stronger and the budget was balanced. [43] Clinton designed his tax plans to place an unfair burden on the wealthy, punishing the most productive members of the US economy while cutting taxes for the least productive. [44]


  12. Other: Clinton failed to deal with the threat of Osama bin Laden, whose terrorist acts escalated and culminated in the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks that killed 2,973 people. Clinton was too distracted by scandals such as the threat of impeachment to take action against Al Qaeda. [45] A former CIA station chief in Pakistan said Clinton ordered the CIA to capture bin Laden alive, which resulted in a missed opportunity to kill him at an al-Qaida training camp in 2000. [46]
Comment Comment
Background: "Was Bill Clinton a Good President?"
President Bill Clinton 1993 Inauguration
(Click to enlarge)
Clinton being sworn into office on Jan. 20, 1993 at age 46.
Source: History Channel, history.com (accessed Oct. 4, 2010)
William Jefferson Clinton, known as Bill Clinton, served as the 42nd President of the United States from Jan. 20, 1993 to Jan. 19, 2001.

His proponents contend that under his presidency the US enjoyed the lowest unemployment and inflation rates in recent history, high home ownership, low crime rates, and a budget surplus. They give him credit for eliminating the federal deficit and reforming welfare, despite being forced to deal with a Republican-controlled Congress.

His opponents say that Clinton cannot take credit for the economic prosperity experienced during his scandal-plagued presidency because it was the result of other factors. In fact, they blame his policies for the financial crisis that began in 2007. They point to his impeachment by Congress and his failure to pass universal health care coverage as further evidence that he was not a good president.

Bill Clinton was born on Aug. 19, 1946 in Hope, Arkansas. He graduated with a BS from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 1968, then attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, then earned his JD from Yale Law School in 1973. He married Hillary Rodham in 1975, and was first elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978. After serving five terms (12 years) as Governor, Clinton announced his candidacy for US president on Oct. 3, 1991. Despite scandals involving accusations of draft dodging and cheating on his wife, Clinton and his running mate, then-Senator Al Gore (D-TN), won the Nov. 3, 1992 election with 370 electoral votes and 43 percent of the popular vote. [47] By defeating incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush and independent Ross Perot, Clinton became the first Democratic president in 12 years. [48].

At the age of 46, Clinton was the youngest president since John F. Kennedy and the third-youngest ever. [1] His campaign staff was also considered young and inexperienced at dealing with the challenges of transitioning from the campaign trail to the White House. This led to some alleged missteps early in his presidency, which were compounded by the inheritance of problems such as the annual deficit being $60 billion worse than the first Bush administration originally admitted. [49]

Although Clinton had intended to "focus like a laser beam" on improving the economy at the beginning of his first term [50], his campaign promise to end the ban on gays in the military was unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, forcing the administration to address the divisive issue earlier than it would have liked. On Jan. 29, 1993 Clinton settled on a compromise known as "don't ask, don't tell:" the military would not ask about sexual orientation and service members would not divulge it. The solution was unsatisfying to the conservatives opposed to gays in the military as well as the liberals seeking to have the ban on gays lifted. [24]

Clinton, determined to overhaul health care in the US, made his wife Hillary the chair of the President's Task Force on National Health Care Reform on Jan. 25, 1993. [49] Her resulting 1,342-page plan presented to Congress sought to offer universal coverage, regulate the private market, and require employers to provide insurance, among other changes. Facing strong opposition to this ambitious plan and lacking Democratic support, this reform effort finally ended in Sep. 1994. [38] The Clinton Administration's attempt to reform health care is seen as one of its greatest failures. [51]

The fallout from the health care failure, in part, enabled the Republican Party to gain control of Congress by winning seven Senate seats and 52 House seats in the Nov. 8, 1994 midterm elections. [52] They used their control to make it difficult for Clinton to pass legislation in other areas. [53]

Albert P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City
(Click to enlarge)
A truck bomb made with explosive-grade ammonium nitrate fertilizer blasted the Albert P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on Apr. 19, 1995.
Source: TIME, time.com (accessed Oct. 4, 2010)
Clinton did successfully pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a treaty that eliminated tariffs and trade restrictions between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Labor unions were bitterly opposed to the treaty because they feared it would result in thousands of US jobs moving to Mexico, but Clinton believed expanding trade would actually create more jobs. [54] NAFTA was signed on Dec. 8, 1993, and received more support from Republicans than Democrats (Republicans comprised 56% of the votes to pass it in both the House and Senate). [55]

After the Apr. 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, an act of domestic terrorism that killed 168 people (including 19 children), the country rallied behind their president as he comforted them and acted decisively to deal with the tragedy. [56]

The Nov. 1995 government shutdowns, caused by an impasse over the federal budget between the Republican-controlled congress and Clinton, put 800,000 federal employees on furlough and cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars. A comment by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich implied he caused the impasse to punish Clinton for making him sit at the back of Air Force One on a flight to a funeral in Israel. Clinton emerged from the conflict with much higher approval ratings, while the Republicans were perceived as petty and partisan. [57] [58]
Bill Clinton denied affair with Monica Lewinsky January 26, 1998
(Click to enlarge)
Clinton denied having an affair with Monica Lewinsky at a Jan. 26, 1998 press conference.
Source: Independent,
www.independent.co.uk (accessed Oct. 4, 2010)

On Aug. 22, 1996, Clinton signed a welfare reform bill, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, in fulfillment of a major campaign policy. The reform included time limits on receiving benefits and new requirements for most recipients to work within two years of receiving assistance. [21] On the back of this success, Clinton defeated then-Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) in the 1996 US presidential election to win a second term with 49 percent of the popular vote and 379 electoral votes. [59] He was the first Democrat elected to a second term since Franklin D. Roosevelt [60].

After years of conflict with Republicans, Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 on Aug. 5, which committed the government to balance the budget by 2002. He achieved several goals with the legislation, including extending health insurance to five million children, restoring welfare benefits for some legal immigrants, and bolstering Medicare. He also signed the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, cutting $152 billion in taxes. [61] [62]

The last few years of Clinton's presidency were marked by several scandals related to his personal life. A sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones on May 6, 1994 picked up steam on May 27, 1997 after the US Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that Clinton could not postpone the trial while serving as President. [63] Depositions from that case exposed the news that Clinton may have had a sexual relationship with then-22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky between 1995 and 1997. He initially denied the allegations under oath, in a deposition and in front of a grand jury, and in a press conference, claiming "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." [61] Seven months later, the president admitted there had been a relationship that was "not appropriate." [64] On Dec. 19, 1998 the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton, only the second time in US history that a president was impeached. The charges were perjury (lying under oath) and obstruction of justice. The Senate needed to convict Clinton with a two-thirds vote to remove him from office. The Senate vote was 45-55 to convict on the perjury charge and 50-50 on the obstruction of justice charge, so Clinton was acquitted and remained in office. [65]

Having helped Northern Ireland achieve peace, Clinton spent time trying to mediate peace in the Middle East. [66] He brought the leaders from Israel and Palestine, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat respectively, to the Camp David presidential retreat from July 11-25, 2000 to push for a peace agreement, but none was reached. [67]

Bill Clinton and Kim Jong-il in North Korea August 2009
(Click to enlarge)
Clinton posed for a photo with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il while on a 2009 diplomatic mission to secure the release of two US journalists.
Source: Reuters, reuters.com, Aug. 4, 2009

In Sep. 2000, a six-year $50 million investigation into the Clinton's Whitewater real estate deal ended when an independent counsel was unable to find sufficient evidence to file criminal charges. [68] Two months later, Hillary Clinton was elected as a US Senator representing the state of New York. [61]

Clinton created the final scandal of his presidency when he issued 140 pardons and 36 commutations on his last day in office, Jan. 19, 2001. Even Democrats and people close to Clinton spoke out against some of his pardons, especially when it was discovered that Hillary's brother was paid $400,000 for his help in securing a presidential pardon. [69] [70]

By the end of Clinton's second term, 22.5 million jobs were created, the home ownership rate was the highest ever recorded at 67.7 percent, and crime was at a 26-year low. [2] Gallup lists Clinton as having the highest final job approval rating of any US President in recent history (since the end of World War II), with 66 percent approval at the end of his second term. [71] A CBS poll put him equal to Ronald Reagan, with both men scoring 68 percent final approval ratings. [72] Clinton was known as a charismatic leader who paid close attention to public opinion and let it influence his decisions. [73]

Post-presidency, Clinton has devoted much of his time to philanthropy and diplomacy. A Sep. 22, 2010 poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal [74] found that Clinton was the most popular living political figure in the US at the time of the poll. His 55 percent approval rating topped President Barack Obama (46 percent), former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin (30 percent), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (22 percent). [5]

Bill Clinton stumped heavily for President Obama's reelection in 2012, making as many 16 campaign stops in the week before the election. [75] His wife's position as US Secretary of State from Jan. 2012 to Feb. 2013 required him to disclose details about private earnings. President Clinton received over $106 million in speaking fees in the first 12 years after he left the White House, including $17 million for 73 speeches given in 2012. When she resigned her Secretary of State post in 2013, Mrs. Clinton gave no indication of returning to politics. However, there is speculation among pundits and in the media that Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016, which would put Bill Clinton back into the public spotlight. [76]
Video Gallery  


Video of Bill Clinton explaining his views on the economy during a 1992 presidential debate vs. incumbent George H. W. Bush.
Source: "Clinton's Debate Moment," www.youtube.com (accessed Oct. 14, 2010) 
Video of President Clinton comforting the nation after the Oklahoma City Bombings at the Time for Healing Ceremony on Apr. 23, 1995. 
Source: "Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia," www.millercenter.org (accessed Oct. 4, 2010) 


Video of President Clinton on Jan. 26, 1998 denying allegations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky. 
Source: YouTube.com, Sep. 27, 2011 
Video of President Clinton on Aug. 17, 1998 admitting that he had a relationship with Monica Lewinsky. 
Source: "Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia," www.millercenter.org (accessed Oct. 4, 2010) 

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