Bill Clinton was born to modest circumstances in Hope, Arkansas. His father died before he was born. His mom went off to nursing school and left him with his grandparents. When his mom returned, she married Roger Clinton, Sr., an alcoholic gambler who apparently beat his mom and step-brother. He got a scholarship to Georgetown, then a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and then went to Yale Law School. He was sharp. While at Yale, he met Hillary.
He returned to Arkansas and became a law professor for a time. He ran unsuccessfully for Representative in 1974 but put up a good fight. In 1976, he successfully ran for Attorney General. In 1978, he was elected governor then lost again in 1980. He joked that he was the youngest ex-governor in the nation’s history. In 1982, he was re-elected and kept the job for 10 years. He became part of the Democratic Leadership Council — a group of economically more conservative Democrats who sought to move away from liberal positions they felt contributed to Reagan’s large victories.
In 1988, he considered running for President, but ultimately endorsed Dukakis. He gave the keynote address which was, as he’s known for, a bit of a stemwinder. In 1992, he got into the race. He lost the Iowa race and was behind in New Hampshire, suffering from talk about his extramarital affair. He and Hillary gave an interview after the Super Bowl that got the media talking about “momentum.” That let him hang on until Super Tuesday where he won some southern states. Jerry Brown gave him competition, but he won New York and Brown couldn’t keep up.
Initially, Bush seemed too popular to beat. But, his “no new taxes” broken pledge, the souring economy, and the lack of communism as a unifying issue caused Bush’s popularity to plummet. Then populist billionaire, Ross Perot entered the race and all bets were off. The Cold War no longer had the same strength as an energizing issue, and the Republicans – nodding to the influence of the Buchanan wing of the party – turned to Christianity as a unifying issue. This was alienating to some sectors. Meanwhile, Clinton pointed to his “New Democrat” approach in Arkansas to attract the “Reagan Democrats” who had defected in the 80s.
Ultimately, Clinton won the election by 5% and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Clinton passed a budget that reduced taxes on small businesses and most Americans but raised taxes on the wealthiest 1% of the country. A well-organized opposition from conservatives defeated Clinton’s attempt to pass universal health care legislation. Conservatives also began their persistent investigations into Clinton. These investigations amplified after 1994 when Newt Gingrich helped engineer sweeping midterm electoral success for the Republicans. The investigations were mostly a waste of time that fed the relatively new 24 hour news channels, but one of these investigations ultimately hit pay dirt in the form of discovering marital infidelity. This was used to force him into an embarrassing deposition which, in turn, was used as a pretext to move for his impeachment. On a personal note, that disingenuous abuse of power by Congressional Republicans is what started me voting for Democrats in the Presidential elections.
Clinton adopted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military, allowing gay people to serve so long as they did not talk about their sexuality. As regressive as that sounds today, it was a step forward at the time. In 1994, Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which had a mix of support and opposition. The DLC and pro-commerce Republicans supported it while it was opposed by a mix Republicans, Democrats, and Perot supporters. It has long been criticized as an important reason for the decline of manufacturing in the U.S.
The Internet, which had its roots in ARPAnet — launched in late 1969 — started to explode in the mid-90s during the Clinton administration. It was aided significantly by the development of the Mosaic browser, launched in 1993. The browser had been developed with funding by a federal initiative initiated by Al Gore when he was a Senator. Gore’s chances of becoming President in his own right would be hindered by his opponents’ false characterization of one of his statements which they argued represented him claiming to invent the Internet. The Internet would, of course, be instrumental in spreading that characterization. In any event, the Clinton White House was the first to have a web page.
Military action during the Clinton administration was generally low scale. There was conflict in Somalia which resulted in two U.S. helicopters shot down and 18 American soldiers dead as well as an operation in Yugoslavia in response to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Al Qaeda bombed U.S. embassies in East Africa which killed 12 Americans. With respect to the United States Supreme Court, Clinton appointed Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ultimately, Clinton would leave office with high approval ratings (which counterintuitively seemed to be bolstered by the impeachment proceedings.)