Democrat Bill Clinton—former Arkansas governor—beat incumbent Republican President George Bush in the 1992 election because people were dissatisfied with the state of the economy. The rebound of the economy during his Presidency made him popular.
Clinton and his wife—a politician in her own right, Hillary Rodham Clinton (who later became a Senator, Presidential hopeful and Barack Obama’s Secretary of State)—tackled a mounting problem for the United States: health care. Clinton appointed the First Lady to head a taskforce to investigate the issue.
In recent years, the cost of health care coverage has been an increasing concern for businesses (most people receive health care as a benefit from their employer). But access was another major issue, as many Americans don’t have any health insurance. The Clintons tried to create a government-run health care system, but failed.
Another issue that began to present itself was the stability of Social Security and associated social welfare programs for the elderly. As the Baby Boomer—the people born in the period just after World War II—started to reach the age of 65, more and more people began collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits. With less people paying in and more people collecting, the system is in danger of being overtaxed and possibly collapsing.
During the Clinton years, an effort was made for the federal government to balance the budget. That means that the government spends the same amount of money a year as it collects in taxes, breaking even. By the middle of Clinton’s second term, the budget was balanced and budget surpluses were recorded in succeeding years. A budget surplus is when more money is taken in than spent. This surplus revenue was used to reduce the national debt (a little).
Another hot button topic in the 1990’s was campaign finance reform. Modern political campaigns cost a staggering amount of money. Television advertising, in particular, is a major expense for candidates. Vast amounts of money are collected by politicians to fund their campaigns and concerns have been raised about how fair this is to the democratic process. To attempt to deal with this, Congress has passed laws capping the amount that can be spent on federal elections, for instance.
The Clinton administration was marred by some political scandals, the most enduring being the President’s impeachment in 1998. Many Americans misunderstand the actual cause of this though. Bill Clinton was impeached by the House not because he had sexual involvement with women other than his wife, but because he lied about it under oath. While being sued for sexual harassment by another woman, President Clinton was questioned in a deposition about an alleged sexual encounter with an intern in the White House. In his videotaped testimony, he denied having had “sexual relations with a that woman.” When evidence showed he was lying, he was under fire for perjury and obstruction of justice. The House voted to impeach and the trial took place in the Senate with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. Clinton was not removed from office, though. In a close vote, he was acquitted and the Senate chose to vote to censure him instead.
One success of the Clinton era was the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA is a trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Negotiations began under the Bush administration, but it was completed by Bill Clinton in 1994. The agreement made trade easier between the three countries by reducing or eliminating tariffs on goods moving between the three countries. It is similar to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a trade agreement made after World War II to make trade between countries easier. In 1995, it was changed to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO is an international organization, like the United Nations, that settles trade disputes and even punishes countries for violating its rulings.
During the 1990’s the United States opened and expanded trade with communist China. This was a major shift. For instance, when Wal-Mart came to Rochester in the early 1990’s, all goods in the store were made in America. Goods made in the People’s Republic of China were rare—to non-existent compared to today—in the United States. But since then, this has obviously changed in a major way. Now, the United States imports vast quantities of goods from the Chinese.
The U. S. was involved in international politics throughout the 1990’s. For instance, Clinton, as with all the modern Presidents because of the importance of Middle East due to its stores of oil, tried to help push peace plans for the Israelis and the Palestinians—the Arab people who live in modern day Israel. The Palestinians demands for a homeland have motivated terrorist activity in Israel and harsh government crackdowns. During the Clinton years, negotiations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israeli government led to some progress, but there is still a long way to go to settle the issues between the Israeli’s and Palestinians.
During the Clinton years, U.S. troops—often in conjunction with the United Nations—were sent to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo to try and prevent civil wars and human rights abuses in these countries. The results of these interventions were mixed. But U. S. intervention in foreign countries for humanitarian reasons was a hallmark of the foreign policy of Clinton.
Clinton left office with a high approval rating, thanks to a era of prosperity. His Vice-President, Al Gore, ran in the 2000 election. The election would turn out to be the closest in United States history and would be the center of controversy.