The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals

By Colin Campbell; Bert A. Rockman | Go to book overview

Introduction

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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