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From the Center to the Edge: The Politics & Policies of the Clinton Presidency

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From the Center to the Edge: The Politics & Policies of the Clinton Presidency

By William C. Berman

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William Jefferson Clinton left a definite mark as the 42nd president.  His policies were either significant successes or blatant failures.  In addition, his personal affairs, brought to light by the media and political opponents, rocked the nation.  William C. Berman, professor emeritus of History at the University of Toronto, wrote a first historical interpretation of the politics and public policies of President Bill Clinton.

  A few questions may be addressed when reading Berman’s book “From the Center to the Edge”.  How well does Berman analyze the background and the issues of Bill Clinton’s presidency?  What is the extent of Clinton’s legacy to the US economy and as a political figure?  What do we remember about him personally?

Berman starts with the year 1992, the year of Clinton’s election to the White House.  He had beaten George H.W. Bush whose wavering popularity was at an all-time low with a net weakening of the economy after the Persian Gulf War.

  Additionally, Bill Clinton took advantage of a promise George H. W. Bush had made to secure a reelection; he had insisted that he would not raise taxes.  Clinton capitalized on that mistake, keeping voters focused on issues like the economic recession and a high unemployment rate.  He made a point of extensively touring the country, participating and dealing very closely with his supporters.  Bill Clinton’s approach of presenting his ideas directly to the American voters was a keen observation of what the average American needed.  Therefore, he presented a viable health-care reform plan, tax cuts for the middle class and tax increases for the wealthy, and reductions in defense spending.  At this point, Bush’s problems were even more serious since his supporting coalition was in complete chaos.  At the Republican convention of 1992, evangelical Christians held the power, thereby frightening more moderate Republicans who were not willing to lend their support to the ultra-conservatives.  Again, Bill Clinton quickly used this situation to highlight his position as a “New Democrat” governor, rallying the support of the moderate Republicans who could envision his political position.  Interestingly, at that time, he succeeded in gaining the votes of not only Liberal Democrats but also of Democrats who had voted for Reagan and Bush in previous years.  His election as a democratic president marked the conclusion of a Republican reign of 12 years while allowing the Democrats to gain control over both houses of Congress as well as certain areas of the Federal government.

Bill Clinton’s early president years were riddled with difficulties with well-established interest groups, recalcitrant congressional leaders, the ever-present news media, and the Republican Party.  To begin with, President Clinton had strongly featured his plans for reforms: people had elected him based on the expectation of a radical change, particularly, in domestic policies.  Clinton’s efforts catalyzed the reversal of a few Republican policies.  Additionally, he worked to place women and minorities in key government appointments.  Even though the Democratic Party held the majority in Congress, Clinton had the hardest time dealing with congressional opposition.  His proposal to end the outlawing of homosexuals in the military met with extensive resistance from Congress, the military, and the public; it had to be changed at length.  The biggest failure at that point was his comprehensive health care reform plan.  Clinton’s adversaries led a successful lobbying campaign, causing congressional support for this radical policy to fade away; this initiative had been one of the fundamental issues in his campaign.  Berman continues with the 1994 Congressional elections.  Unfortunately for Bill Clinton, the Democrats had lost control of both houses of Congress, placing the Republicans in charge.  Foreign issues involving Bosnia, Haiti, the former Soviet Union, Somalia, Cuba, North Korea, and Iraq seemed impossible to resolve.  His lack of experience in foreign affairs ended up with his inability to establish a consistent U.S. policy.  However, Bill Clinton learned to adapt.  For example, he sent troops to Kuwait when Iraq threatened to attack again.  For 2 more years, Clinton had to govern while facing the hostile political criticism of the Republican-led Congress. (Chapters 1, 2, 3)

After struggling for the first 4 years, Bill Clinton finally had developed enduring adaptation skills in order to deal with a Republican congress.  In fact, Clinton negotiated a deficit-reduction package that projected a balanced federal budget in 2002.  Moreover, he successfully implemented a number of targeted domestic plans on education, health, and the environment.  The 1998 fiscal year ended with a federal budget surplus of $70 billion, the first surplus in a long while.  Regarding his most imminent influence on foreign affairs, Clinton supported the unification of Europe and worked hard to bring peace to Northern Ireland.  In addition, he ordered the donation of weaponry to the 1999 NATO campaign against Slobodan Milosevic.

In chapter 4, Berman deals with the controversies.  Bill Clinton became a source of infamous controversies: the failed Whitewater real estate dealings with wife Hillary Rodham-Clinton, the sexual harassment suit from Paula Jones as well as the extra-marital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinski.  Independent counsel Kenneth Starr began with the Whitewater investigation against the Clintons and ended up expanding his investigation to the Lewinski case.  Since Clinton had denied any involvement with Monica Lewinski, he got caught in perjury when Starr proved that the president did have “an inappropriate relationship” with the intern.  He was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice causing an impeachment process to be initiated.  The proceedings rocked the nation until February 1999 when no charges were filed against him.

In chapter 5, Berman focuses largely on the last two years of the Clinton presidency, in particular, foreign policy as well as economic issues and finished the book with a summary of the 2000 elections.  In his final year, President Clinton made a rather striking move; he ordered the release of oil from the nation’s strategic oil reserve to help lower home heating bills.  Clinton justified his decision as essential in view of a high increase in oil prices; the Republican opponents accused him of helping Al Gore’s chances in the 2000 elections. (Chapter 5)

Berman’s book is based on a chronological review of the events that marked the Clinton presidency, starting in 1992.  However, the origin of Clinton’s key political adaptability in his pre-presidential years as governor of Arkansas was not really covered[1].  Most of Clinton’s ideas, choices, and political skills probably came from his humble background, an uncommon situation for most politicians who come from well-off families.  Clinton was born in Arkansas, dealing with an alcoholic stepfather who abused his mother.  After much hard work, he earned a scholarship to Oxford and got his law degree from Yale[2].  His drive and ambition were strong and supported by his wife’s (Hillary Rodham) own drive and political ambition.  Clinton was elected as the youngest Governor of Arkansas in 1978.  His “boyish” charming personality and his enthusiasm came in handy. Still, the first 2 years of his office were filled with popular discontent with some of his choices.  Subsequently, he lost his office in 1980 but came back in 1982, after learning how to skillfully steer away from conservative criticism.  He then successfully developed the economy in his state, gaining popularity.  In some way, his years as governor mirrored his presidential years in the cycle of victories and defeats[3].

Berman attempts to analyze the Clinton legacy but he does not bring out any new insights in understanding Clinton’s presidential years[4].  Furthermore, since Bill Clinton’s legacy is multi-faceted, Berman needed to talk about his origins, his governor years and his post-presidential years as well so his readers can get a thorough view of the man, the political figure, and how he affected the economy and the place the US held in the world.  From the middle-class or poor American’s point of view, Clinton’s memorable policies are the social reforms aimed at aiding the average American like the universal health care plan that was so hated among the Republicans.  Perhaps, his humble origin had something to do with it.  His foreign policy showed a concern about how the US should handle critical situations either by diplomacy or by force as the last option.  As to his political mistakes, they are currently overshadowed in people’s minds by the Lewinsky scandal and his trial for impeachment.  Finally, Clinton’s present charitable activities, either to help AIDS victims in Africa or bring relief to victims of natural disasters, may indicate a genuine desire to help people; his “chameleon” politics could have been motivated to bring long-lasting social reforms using “a back door” approach to keep away the destructive criticism of his opponents and stay in power through the support of the average American.

In conclusion, Berman’s review should have been written much later in the future to get a larger fuller picture of Bill Clinton’s presidential legacy.

Works Cited Page

Berman W C. From the Center to the Edge: The Politics and Policies of the Clinton’s Presidency. Rowman and Littlefield, 2001.

Wayne S J. “Clinton’s Legacy: The Clinton’s Persona.” Political Science & Politics. Vol 32, No. 3. (Sep., 1999). pp. 558-561.

Dewhirst R. “From the Center to the Edge: The Politics and Policies of the Clinton Presidency.” White House Studies Version (n.a.) (2002): 1 page. November 8 2006

[1] However, Berman states with respect to his presidential years that Bill Clinton was “politically skilled and ideology ambidextrous.” but did not explore the origins of this skill, much needed to survive in Washington.
[2] Clinton’s life was marked by the death of his father who drowned after a car crash in a ditch.  He idealized his father who was known to be a hard working man coming from a poor family in Texas (Bill Clinton. My Life. Random House, May 2005, Chapter 1)
[3] The cycles of victories and defeats were from the analysis of Stephen J Wayne, presidency scholar, who proposes that Clinton’s life in elected office corresponded to cycles of political victory, messy policy compromise, public rejection, rehabilitation, finally a return to political victory. (Wayne, 561)
[4] Robert Dewhirst’s review in the 2002 Whitehouse studies finds that Berman’s book is more descriptive than analytical. (Dewhirst, on Berman’s From the Center to the Edge)

Cite this From the Center to the Edge: The Politics & Policies of the Clinton Presidency

From the Center to the Edge: The Politics & Policies of the Clinton Presidency. (2016, Sep 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/from-the-center-to-the-edge-the-politics-policies-of-the-clinton-presidency/

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