From Watergate to Whitewater: The Public Integrity War

By Robert N. Roberts; Marion T. Doss Jr. | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
The Clinton Scandals

The Clinton presidency will go down as one of the more unusual in American history. Few observers in 1991 gave William Jefferson Clinton, governor of a poor southern state, any chance of winning the 1992 Democratic nomination, let alone the presidency. Few pundits, following the mid-term congressional election in 1994, gave him any chance of winning reelection. But by the beginning of May 1996, Clinton held a twenty-point lead over Republican challenger Bob Dole.

Political observers search to explain why Bill Clinton has faced such strong criticism throughout his presidency.1 It has become clear that Clinton failed to understand how the public integrity war has ended any hope of privacy for a president or his family. For reasons impossible to understand, Clinton and his closest associates apparently believed that, once the campaign ended, the character issues that almost destroyed his candidacy would be forgotten. However, the new rules of public integrity warfare require full investigation of even the smallest allegation of wrongdoing. It may take historians and political scientists decades to determine why the Clinton camp believed that he was above the rules. This miscalculation has cost them dearly.

In the end, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his contingent of movement conservatives saved Clinton from political oblivion. Gingrich had misread the 1994 election results as a mandate to dismantle the administrative state. But many Americans had second thoughts about his "revolution" when it became clear that he honestly intended to codify his reform agenda. As Americans compared Clinton with Gingrich, Clinton's standing rose.

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