25 Years After Bill Clinton’s Election as President

by Lanny Davis – 11/20/17

Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 17, 2017: I am here, along with hundreds of others, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the election of William Jefferson Clinton as the 42nd president of the United States in November 1992.

There is much that could be written about the great achievements of Clinton’s presidency. But it’s as simple as this: During his two terms, Bill Clinton gave America peace and prosperity, helped create nearly 23 million new jobs, turned an inherited budget deficit of several billion dollars into a budget surplus, and left office with the United States as the respected leader of the post-Soviet Union free world.

For me, as a lifelong Democrat, one of Bill Clinton’s most important legacies is his reshaping of the Democratic Party to make it competitive again as a national party that could win the presidency.

It’s too easy to forget the mindset of defeatism among Democrats at the beginning of the 1992 presidential campaign. The almost unanimous consensus in the party, and among political pundits as well, was that the Republicans had an “electoral” lock on the presidency. Republican presidential candidates had not only won five out of six of the previous presidential elections over the 24 years back to 1968, but of those victories, four out of six (1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988) were by monumental landslides.

But then came this young six-term governor from a small, Southern border state who was not only true to the progressive values of our party but also brought us a new set of words and themes quite different from years past – what he called the “New Democrat” approach to governing. A documentary movie has been made about that “New Democrat” movement, called “Crashing the Party.”

Gov. Clinton spoke of the need for individual responsibility, accountability and a smaller, more efficient government. He spoke about how private enterprise could be the partner, not the adversary, of government, an engine of growth and job creation but still in need of reasonable regulation. He taught us that government needed to spend more to help level the playing field for middle-class and working families and the poor and the dispossessed. But he also talked about the need for fiscal responsibility and working toward a balanced budget, rather than using government credit cards to spend public money and then leaving our kids and grandkids to pay off the debt.

He confused ideologues on both sides, and especially in the pundit class. His positions seemed to reflect a new political alloy not seen before — mixing social liberalism with cultural moderation and fiscal conservatism.
He saw the electoral map as a national one, not the one that divided the country into left vs. right, or — as came to be depicted in the 2000 election, and thereafter, on electoral maps on TV screens — as “Blue States” vs. “Red States.”

He proved such a Democrat could win in the Deep South, such as Georgia and Louisiana, as well as in Arizona, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Yes, Bill Clinton made a number of mistakes in his personal life, causing hurt and pain. But let us not forget that Bill Clinton — albeit, in his own words at the time, way too late — apologized to the nation publicly, to his wife and family and friends, and to those whom he had hurt, for those mistakes.

In December 1998, a narrow and almost entirely partisan Republican majority of the House of Representatives, including lame ducks who had been defeated for reelection in the 1998 congressional races, voted in favor of three articles of impeachment. Yet, despite there being a substantial majority of 55 Republican senators, the House Republicans managing the impeachment trial could not obtain a majority, or 51 votes, to support a single one of those three House impeachment articles. Not one.
I have known Bill Clinton for more than 47 years. I know him to be a good man, a good friend, with a good heart. When he left office on Jan. 20, 2001, after serving eight years, I was certain that he would be regarded by historians as a very good president and that the American people would approve of the job he had done for them and their families as president. And I had proof I was right.

On his last day in office, on Jan. 19, 2001, Bill Clinton had the highest approval rating — 65 percent — of any two-term sitting president since modern polling was invented. Bill Clinton left office with the American people having greater faith in government and optimism for the future, with almost two-thirds approving of the job he had done as president of the United States.

On this, the 25th anniversary of Bill Clinton’s first election as president, that is an America and that is presidential leadership worth remembering — and worth trying to restore some day, I hope, in the not-too-distant future.

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Davis, a weekly columnist for The Hill newspaper, is co-founder of both the Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC and Trident DMG, a strategic media firm specializing in crisis management. He served as special counsel to President Clinton in 1996-98 and a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created on the recommendation of the “9/11 Commission.” Davis is the author of a forthcoming book to be published early next year: “The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency” (Scribner Books).

To read the column on The Hill, click here.

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