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Ranking the Presidents: Bill Clinton

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you grade Bill Clinton, based on the performance of his duties as President? You can go to this link to vote. They called him the Comeback Kid. He proved to be a political Lazarus. Bill Clinton's presidential campaign was almost dead on arrival, when soon after announcing his candidacy, reports surfaced that Clinton had engaged in an extramarital affair with a woman named Gennifer Flowers. He met the allegations head on in an interview on 60 Minutes, a risky move that paid off. Clinton went on not only to win his party's nomination, but to defeat an incumbent President who had recently enjoyed record high approval ratings. He would go on to serve two terms in office in an era that would usher in the internet and the dot-com revolution. Clinton would be the last President to give the nation surplus budgets, and his presidency would have a number of other accomplishments. But his legacy would be forever tarnished because of a sexual addiction, a whopper of a lie to the nation, and a stained blue dress.

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He was born as William Jefferson Blythe III, but in a background similar to Gerald Ford, he would change his name from that of his abusive biological father to that of a loving stepfather. Clinton was born and raised in rural Arkansas. He scored a rare opportunity to become a Boys Nation senator and visited the White House where he met President John F. Kennedy. Clinton went on to attend Georgetown University, and later attended Oxford, and finally Yale Law School. He met Hillary Rodham at Yale and married her in 1975. After graduating from Yale, Clinton returned to Arkansas and won election as the Attorney General of Arkansas, a post he held from 1977 to 1979. Clinton was elected as Governor of Arkansas, serving in that role from 1979 to 1981, and from 1983 to 1992. He was only 32 when first elected as Governor. His priority was an overhaul of the state's education system. Clinton also served as chairman of the National Governors Association.

In 1992 Clinton ran for President. Many of the leading lights of the Democratic Party concluded that incumbent President George H. Bush was too popular to be defeated. Clinton disagreed. He overcame a number of obstacles including allegations of an extramarital affair. Clinton ran a masterful campaign, taking the spotlight off of Bush's exemplary record in foreign affairs and turning the spotlight on a sluggish economy. With a little help from the third party candidacy of Ross Perot, Clinton was able to win the election and at age 46, he became the third-youngest president and the first from the Baby Boomer generation.

Clinton presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. He also signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement. But he failed to realize his biggest coal, that of national health care reform. In the 1994 elections, the Republican Party won control of both Houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, forcing Clinton into a more conservative agenda. In 1996, Clinton became the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected to a second full term. He signed legislation for welfare reform as well as financial deregulation measures.

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An investigation by an independent counsel into a business transaction called Whitewater led investigators down another path, one which uncovered an affair that Clinton was having with a 22 year old White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. When news of the affair broke, Clinto famously told a national audience "I did not have sexual relations with that woman". It was proven to be a monumental lie. In 1998, Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice following allegations that he had lid in a civil deposition to conceal the affair that he had with Lewinsky. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate in 1999 and completed his term in office. He became the second U.S. president to ever be impeached. The impeachment left the nation polarized, with a majority still giving Clinton a positive approval rating. During the last three years of Clinton's presidency, the Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus, the first such surplus since 1969.

In foreign policy, Clinton ordered U.S. military intervention in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, signed the Iraq Liberation Act in opposition to Saddam Hussein, participated in the 2000 Camp David Summit to advance the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, and assisted the Northern Ireland peace process.

Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II. He has continually scored high in the historical rankings of U.S. presidents, consistently placing in the top third. A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Clinton as the 13th best president. A 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Clinton as the 15th best president. Since leaving office, he has been involved in public speaking and created the William J. Clinton Foundation to address international causes such as AIDS prevention and global warming. In 2004, Clinton published his autobiography, My Life and in 2009, he was named the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, he teamed with George W. Bush to form the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. In addition, he negotiated the release of two American journalists imprisoned by North Korea, visiting the capital Pyongyang and negotiating their release with Kim Jong-il.

Clinton's personal misconduct always muddies the waters in assessments of the Clinton presidency. His impeachment can be argued to be the beginning of an age of polarization in politics that seemed to worsen with every president, hibernating only during the time after the September 11th attacks. As leader of the Democratic Party however, Clinton managed to rebuild the image and operations of the party such that it was able to meet and counter the effects of the Reagan Revolution. He tried to co-opt the conservative appeal to law and order, individualism, and welfare reform, making the party more appealing to white middle-class Americans, while at the same time retaining traditional Democratic support from many of its traditional demographic groups. His performance in managing the economy was also beneficial not only to Clinton's reputation personally, but also to his party, which had previously been given the "tax and spend" label. This branding was now inconsistent with the first surpluses in recent memory. Clinton's personal shortcomings did not drive female support from the party.

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Nevertheless, Clinton's claim to a lasting, positive legacy has been severely undermined by his affair with Lewinsky, which continues to be the first thing most people associate with him. In subsequent presidential campaigns, it became unclear whether Clinton was a benefit or a liability to Democratic Party candidates. In 2000, his would-be successor, Vice President Al Gore, chose to distance himself from Clinton, something Clinton himself believed to be a huge mistake on Gore's part. Debate will continue on how much of a liability Clinton was to his wife's candidacy in 2016, even though her opponent had his own character issues to address. For the foreseeable future, Clinton's legacy will continue to be a controversial one, with his personal failing overshadowing the accomplishments of his presidency.

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