The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals

The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals

The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals

The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals

Synopsis

Colin Campbell and Bert A. Rockman lead a distinguished panel of political observers in analyzing the significant events of the Clinton administration's first two years and defining its catalog of successes and failures. The Clinton Presidency brings together trenchant commentary by these experts in areas including governing, management, and leadership styles; dealing with Congress, the legal system, and the federal executive; the influence of parties, interest groups, and polls; developments in domestic and foreign policy; and the outlook for the future. Recognizing the discrepancy between Clinton's policy ambitions and the constraints of his political environment, the Campbell and Rockman team generally agree that the Clinton White House has failed to meet the high expectations that many people shared upon its inauguration. As the experts provide a complex portrait of the considerable assets and equally weighty liabilities this unique politician has displayed in the early years of his presidency, their separate and occasionally contradictory appraisals do cohere to offer some more significant consensual judgments: the Clinton presidency has suffered most from lack of definition, inconsistency in decision-making processes, and wavering fidelity to the New Democrat identity established in the 1992 campaign; the lack of a strong electoral mandate, resistance by a frequently adversarial Congress, and persistent reminders of Clinton's personal character flaws have thus far thwarted his bright political potential; and the problems Clinton has incurred in managing his political resources may carry deeper implications for the American political system itself, perhaps even suggesting thatfrustration and divisiveness have become the norm in a climate of domestic policy polarization and global uncertainty.

Excerpt

Colin Campbell and Bert A. Rockman

This volume follows on one we published in 1991 assessing the Bush presidency at midterm. a great deal has happened in the intervening four years, the most surprising being that George Bush is no longer president. Bush's failure to win reelection seemed unlikely at the time and so should sober anyone inclined to write off Bill Clinton in 1996. When our volume on his presidency was going to press, Bush was reaping the benefits of a huge rally effect based on the ousting of Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait through Operation Desert Storm. Although he had given a lackluster performance in domestic policy, the public seemed to expect not much more than this. It seemed that Bush had called it right. in an age of fiscal constraint, the public would excuse the president for focusing on his commander-in-chief role at the expense of his chief legislator role. in fact, the ink had hardly dried on the Bush volume when the public mood soured in the midst of an economic downturn and began to view Bush less charitably for his lack of attention to domestic matters. Among other issues that he was especially criticized for neglecting was the future of health care. Public opinion and political fate can both be fickle.

Rivaling the demise of the Bush administration for surprise value was the ascendancy of Bill Clinton to the Oval Office. When Clinton announced his candidacy in the fall of 1991, Campbell was approached by his university's student newspaper to offer his views. Throwing caution to the winds, he proclaimed that "most Democrats will view Bill Clinton as a Republican in Democrat's clothing, so he doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell in the [Democratic Party] primaries." There was a kernel of truth in this assessment; we are still, after all, debating Clinton's true political colors. Nevertheless, Bill Clinton is very much president. Chastened by experience, neither of us wants to count him out before the final bell in November 1996.

When comparing this volume with the earlier one assessing Bush, the . . .

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