The Clinton Legacy

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

Introduction

COLIN CAMPBELL AND BERT A. ROCKMAN

In a book we edited and published in 1995 dealing with the initial two years of President Bill Clinton's first term, we observed that despite the Republican landslide victory of 1994 and Clinton's less than soaring public standing, he could bounce back and be reelected. 1 And he did. His approval ratings for the job he has been doing as president have remained buoyant through most of his second term. Now the authors of this volume have a different task--less to assess what happened and its short- to medium-term implications and more to focus on what Clinton's presidency might mean over the longer run. What, in other words, is Clinton's legacy? The authors of this volume try to assess his legacy--and, indeed, whether he will actually leave one--from a variety of angles, among them politics, policy, institutions, as well as leadership and societal context.

Legacies are a complicated business to deal with. How long a period of time are we talking about? To whom is the legacy bequeathed? And by whom is it interpreted? The more distant the time period, the less a presidency will stand out unless it has been associated with disastrous turns of fortune or with perceptions of strong and effective leadership, which are sporadically made possible by the presence of crises or, more rarely, by big congressional majorities associated with the president's party. Crises force presidents to do things; big congressional majorities allow them to do things. But these conditions are uncommon.

Except for the scarlet letter of impeachment, Clinton's presidency is not particularly likely to stand out because the times in which he governed denied much opportunity to make a bold mark. Politically he began with shrunken majorities that soon thereafter turned into minorities. And economic good times carried with them no sense of urgency for government to do much of anything. Thus, his

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