Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton announced her intent to run for president. But I want to talk about Bill.
Bill Clinton is one of the greatest examples of a legacy being tanked by one infamous misdeed. I’m not trying to convince you that Bill Clinton was a great person (I’m not crazy). I don’t even really care if you think he was a good president. I’m not a Democrat (or a Republican, for that matter), I’m just a history major. But if my history teachers have taught me anything, it’s that there’s a lot more to consider than the starkest memory. There’s a lot more to Clinton’s presidency than misbehavior in the Oval Office.
Clinton, capitalizing on Reaganomics, rejuvenated the economy of the U.S. Through fiscal conservation, Clinton presided over the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth in the history of the United States. His administration created more than 22 million jobs, which is still the most created by a single administration. Unemployment dropped to the lowest it had been in more than 30 years, and in 2001, the nation’s unemployment rate was at four percent. In 1999, there were seven million fewer people below the poverty line than when he took office in 1993. The median of family income increased by more than $6,000, and homeownership reached nearly 68 percent, which remains the highest rate on record. In 2000, his administration posted a surplus of $237 billion — the largest surplus ever.
Clinton’s administration also revamped welfare. While working to aid Americans near and below the poverty line, Clinton reduced the number of welfare recipients by 7.5 million by designing legislation to promote employment over welfare. He provided funds to improve public transit, as well as better housing and nutrition for low-income families. By signing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Clinton expanded insurance to cover six million children who were not receiving healthcare coverage.
Clinton was also a tremendous force in restoring the image of the presidency by maintaining popularity throughout most of his term. By being elected for a second term, Clinton became the first Democrat to be elected twice since FDR. Despite the scandal that occurred near the end of his second term, Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating since World War II — yes, higher than Reagan’s. Between the assassination of JFK, Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon’s scandal and resignation, and pretty much everything about Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the U.S. hadn’t seen much reliability in the White House since Eisenhower. Clinton’s popularity, however, was undeniable and sweeping, stretching across racial, economic, and political boundaries. He was even called the first black president.
Obviously there is a lot more to the minutia of Clinton’s presidency than I can delve into in this column (like the fact that his administration launched the White House’s first official website), but that’s exactly my point. There’s often so much more to someone’s legacy than what they might ultimately be remembered by. Look at FDR: though he is now often considered one of the greatest presidents, contemporary critics accused him of being an anti-business, warmongering fascist. How would our historical context change if FDR’s legacy was defined by his seemingly-cordial relationship with Stalin rather than his role in establishing the United States as a world leader? Maybe you think Bill Clinton was a bad president, and that’s fine, but base that off the impact of his presidency.