The Clinton Presidency and the Constitutional System

The Clinton Presidency and the Constitutional System

The Clinton Presidency and the Constitutional System

The Clinton Presidency and the Constitutional System


Presidential scholars, former and current policymakers, and a former president bring varied insights and analyses to consider the impact, influence, and legacy of the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, the "'New Democrat' from Hope, Arkansas."

In the eight years between 1993 and 2001, the Clinton White House presided over a booming economy that included a budget surplus in Clinton's second term, oversaw the most significant welfare reform since the New Deal, and wrestled with the challenge of developing a foreign-policy vision for the post-Cold War era.

Structurally, the Clinton presidency expanded the office and responsibilities of the First Lady and the Vice President to an unprecedented degree, prevailed in a budget battle with Congress that included two government shutdowns, briefly employed a line-item veto until the Supreme Court declared that power unconstitutional, and endured the second impeachment of the chief executive in American history.

The evolution and consequences of the increased power held by modern presidents became sharply evident during the Clinton years. In The Clinton Presidency and the Constitutional System, based on the Eleventh Presidential Conference at Hofstra University, readers are afforded a unique combination of scholarly analysis and the perspectives of former administration officials. Students and scholars of the presidency will glean important understandings from the balanced, judicious studies of the Clinton administration and their juxtaposition with firsthand recollections of some of the participants who defined and shaped those events.


On Thursday, November 10, 2005, some three hundred scholars, journalists, elected officials, commentators, and former Clinton administration officials assembled at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, for the university’s eleventh presidential conference, entitled “William Jefferson Clinton: The ‘New Democrat’ from Hope.” Like the presidential conferences of the previous twenty years at Hofstra, the Clinton program promised three full days in which presidency scholars would present papers, often alongside the principals who had worked in the administration, journalists who had covered it, and biographers who were in the throes of placing the presidency in historical perspective.

The Clinton conference, then, shared characteristics with Hofstra conferences on every modern president, from Frankin D. Roosevelt to George H. W. Bush. It brought together not only political scientists and historians, but the administration officials they study, encouraging a spirited give-and-take between former and current public officials and the scholars who analyze their decisions.

This conference, though, had an air of particular excitement. By November 2005, Clinton supporters and former administration officials were frustrated by Democratic losses in the 2002 and 2004 elections. The Republicans had picked up additional seats in the House and Senate, and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had failed in his bid to unseat Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush. The second-term Bush administration, in turn, was showing signs of vulnerability. Mounting American casualties in Iraq, a White House scandal over the revelation of the identity of an undercover CIA operative, and the widespread criticism of the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina made leading Democrats eager to distinguish the Clinton record from that of the administration in power.

In fall 2005, then, Democrats were looking to William Jefferson Clinton for rhetorical leadership, and the former president was in the news nearly as much as he had been during his days in office. President Clinton’s memoir, My Life, had soared to the top of the best-seller list upon its publication in 2004. His William J. Clinton Foundation, with offices in nearby Harlem, had recently organized its first high-profile Clinton Global Initiative, a . . .

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