Burns, James Macgregor, Presidential Studies Quarterly
As the twentieth century closed, historians recorded that the president of the United States had dallied with a lover in the White House itself. A longtime philanderer, the president had assignations outside as well as inside the executive mansion. His wife, busy with official responsibilities, speech making, and a pet reform or two, knew of her husband's infidelities, but she loyally protected him. Mrs. Warren G. Harding stuck by her man, people said admiringly. Years later, John F. Kennedy had trysts in the White House while his wife was out of town, and decades later, Bill Clinton confessed to sexual encounters in the Oval Office with a much younger woman than he. And his wife stuck by him too.
These affairs differed markedly in one vital respect--the media coverage. Both Hardings's and JFK's dalliances leaked out into public awareness decades later. Neither set of revelations aroused much public interest. But Clinton's recklessness, combined with some bad luck, produced a media frenzy that lasted for months and was continuing as these articles were written. And he was still in office, fully exposed to the wave of disgust and disappointment that swept the country following his confession.
One result of the media frenzy was to shift analysis of the Clinton presidency from emphasis on the political to obsession with the personal, from a concern with public values to emphasis on private virtues. The articles in this volume are centrally concerned with moral principles without neglecting personal ethics.
Bill Clinton came to Washington in January 1993 with a determination to be a great president. And what was a "great president?" Among other things, it was a chief executive rated as a great by scholars--mainly historians and political scientists--voting in the presidential sweepstakes of the Arthur Schlesingers, father and son. The tests of greatness for most of these scholars were moral conviction, policy innovation, political skill, and executive competence.
For Clinton, being a great president meant, above all, the determination to make fundamental changes, and he was intent on that too. Aware of the difference between transformational and transactional leadership, he wanted to be more than a political broker among economic and political factions. And he knew that a transformational leader had to be a courageous initiator and a tireless "follow-up-er," willing to take risks, to fail, but to try, try again.
His first--and some would say only--act of courageous innovation was the health bill of 1993-94. Ambitious and complex, it fell to a massive onslaught by paid media and the health industry. This kind of opposition was nothing new in the history of American political and social reform. Policy innovators and social reformers were used to defeat--they simply pressed on. Thus, Franklin Roosevelt's minimum wage measure of 1937 failed in the face of business and southern opposition-- he tried again the next year and got his bill. Sometimes, great leadership is mere humdrum persistence.
But sometimes, too, nothing fails like failure. The health bill was not only strangled on Capitol Hill--it was interred for good. For months …
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Publication information: Article title: Epilogue. Contributors: Burns, James Macgregor - Author. Journal title: Presidential Studies Quarterly. Volume: 28. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 1998. Page number: 903. © 1999 Center for the Study of the Presidency. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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