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By Pfiffner, James P.; Whicker, Marcia Lynn | Presidential Studies Quarterly, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview
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About This Issue

Pfiffner, James P., Whicker, Marcia Lynn, Presidential Studies Quarterly

The Clinton Presidency in Crisis

In the spring of 1998, it became clear that the Clinton presidency was deeply enmeshed in scandal. There was a crisis in the sense that important issues were at stake and that the future of his presidency was in question. Impeachment, even though unlikely, was seriously being discussed in Congress and public debate. The most visible of the scandals was the Monica Lewinsky affair, although other alleged misconduct had still not been resolved, for example, Whitewater, White House use of FBI files, and the financing of the 1996 election. There were also other pressing issues facing the administration and the presidency. The item veto was being challenged in the Supreme Court, judicial nominations were lagging in the Senate, and Clinton's policy leadership was being attacked and defended.

The Editorial Board of Presidential Studies Quarterly decided that the issues raised were important enough to be addressed by presidency scholars sooner rather than later. That is, most presidency scholarship comes out well after events have taken place and when sources (such as interviews, archives, memoirs, etc.) are available and scholars have had time to digest them. The usual approach of scholars is a careful evaluation of the issues after the facts are known and judgments about issues in question are relatively safe.

But we thought that the issues facing the Clinton presidency and the United States were important enough that it would be useful to have the judgments of scholars before all the facts were in. Thus, we invited a number of presidency scholars to write brief articles on any aspect of the Clinton presidency they wished. We specified that these did not have to be scholarly articles in the sense of carefully documented studies taking into account secondary scholarship or based on primary documents. Rather, we wanted thoughtful articles about the issues from the perspective of those who had studied the presidency for most of their careers. In effect, we asked for in-depth op-ed pieces by scholars rather than journalists.

We have organized the articles into three general sections: public and policy leadership, constitutional status and responsibilities, and presidential character and scandal.

In the first section, authors address general issues of the Clinton presidency, from the changing nature of the media to the nature of Clinton's political adversaries. The Clinton presidency is criticized and given credit for its policy agenda, its reelection campaign, and White House organization. Clinton's second term is put into the broader context of second terms in the twentieth century.

In the section on the constitutional status and responsibilities of the president, articles address constitutional issues such as the item veto, executive privilege, and impeachment.

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