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David Miller: The Legacy of William Clinton

Towards the end of his eight-year term in the White House, President Bill Clinton made it his personal mission to bring peace to the Middle East and forge a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. He invited both leaders to a summit at Camp David and launched several diplomatic initiatives, all aimed at halting the violence in the region. Unfortunately time was against him and as a result peace in the Middle East was not something he was not able to leave behind as part of his legacy. With George W. Bush having taken the oath of office, the question that arises is just how will Bill Clinton be remembered as a president. What is the legacy he has left for the American people and the history books?

The presidency of William Jefferson Clinton will always be overshadowed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent impeachment trial that followed. It began with ‘that statement’ in which Mr Clinton told reporters and the people of America that he was not involved with the young White House intern in any way that was improper but even he knew at the time was not the truth. From that moment onwards a black cloud hung over his term in office, and this was heightened by the sight of an American president live on television giving testimony over the details of his affair.

Then there where the others such as Paula Jones and Katherine Willey who appeared on the scene casting further shadows over the President with allegations of sexual harassment. There was the ongoing Whitewater property scandal, which plagued both himself and First Lady Hillary Clinton throughout his time in office and their ongoing battles with figures such as Independent Counsel Ken Starr and the ever- present threat of prosecution.

The extent to which such personal dramas overshadowed the domestic and international achievements of Mr Clinton and have tarnished his legacy is a point of view, dependant upon whether one is a Clinton supporter or opponent. Mr Clinton does appear to have come out of all this turmoil on top, adding to his reputation as the ‘Comeback Kid’. During his eight years in the White House, he enjoyed the one of the highest approval ratings throughout his term and there is no doubt that had the constitution not prevented him from running a third time he would have had little difficulty of defeating George W. Bush at the polls. He presided over the longest period of economic growth in US history, the lowest rates of unemployment and inflation in the past two decades and a low crime rate. While it would be wrong to give Mr Clinton the entire credit for this, it certainly provides his supporters with ammunition to deflect criticism over any flaws in his personal matters.

While he was unable to bring a lasting peace to the Middle East, Mr Clinton was instrumental in engineering a handshake between Palestinian President Yasser Srafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and he was a constant force for peace in Northern Ireland though his efforts in the province often got him offside with the British government for the manner with which he handled it. The change of government in the United Kingdom was certainly a bonus for the Clinton White House. While he never established a close relationship with conservative John Major, in Tony Blair he appeared to find a kindred spirit, someone who was also keen to further the cause of liberal democracy and who remained steadfast in his support, even on controversial issues such as the continued air operations over Iraq and the intervention in the Balkans.

With Mr Clintons approval rating remaining so high and the fact that President Bush lost the popular vote observers say it will be almost impossible for any major policy or ideological shifts to take place. President Bush intends to roll back some of the Clinton initiatives such as the environmental controls which right wingers say restricts business development and the contentious issue of abortion and gay rights, but primarily he must try and heal divisions caused by the election campaign.

Just what the future holds for Bill Clinton will remain to be seen, although with Hillary becoming a senator at the last election it is unlikely he will be far from the political arena. There have been suggestions that Mrs Clinton will become the running mate in a White House battle as early as 2008, having completed her term representing New York in Congress and that she will partner Al Gore in another shot at the presidency. If such plans are afoot then the world has not heard the last of Mr Clinton and whatever one may think of him, his shadow will remain cast over successor George W. Bush.

There is no denying the personal touch of the now former president. He is certainly a gifted politician, one with a talent for oratory and someone is not only charming but also possessing a sharp mind, which can grasp new ideas and concepts easily, and he has age on his side. He was not only the youngest president to take office, he is also the youngest to leave it and it is doubtful he will seek to relax in a comfortable retirement and write his memoirs. With his wife in the Senate and former vice president possibly biding his time before another presidential campaign, Bill Clinton will remain an influential figure in US political life and global affairs. Despite all the scandal that surrounded his presidency, perhaps it’s not quite time to start talking of legacies in this case just yet.


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