The 1996 Election
When the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress halfway through Clinton's first term, his chances for reelection seemed slim. The Republican message appeared to have great appeal to voters. In the months that followed, Clinton worked hard to counter that message. The Republican nominee for President in 1996 was Bob Dole. A wounded World War II veteran, he became Senate Majority Leader and a respected member of Congress from Kansas for 35 years. As the election approached, the economy, which had been an important factor in the 1992 campaign, became strong. Again, the economy worked in Clinton's favor. On Election Day, voters returned Clinton to office with 49 percent of the popular vote. Dole received 41 percent. In the Electoral College, Clinton gathered 379 votes to 159 for Dole.
Clinton’s Second Term
Bill Clinton’s second term included both tremendous highs and devastating lows. The economy not only rebounded from the 1991 recession, it had grown to incredible levels. However, as the economy reached new heights in the late 1990s, Bill Clinton also became only the second president in American history to be impeached.
The “dot com” Boom
As the 1990s wore on, the internet found its way in to more and more American homes. At the start of the decade, most Americans had never heard the word “internet,” but by the end of the decade, half of all American households had a personal computer with internet access in their homes. This quick rise in the popularity of the internet led to what is known as the “dot com” economic boom. Thousands of new business emerged centered around the internet. Business that had already been established hired more workers to create and manage their websites. Unemployment fell, and average salaries and the stock market reached all-time highs. While Bill Clinton was not directly responsible for the boom, he, as the president, benefited. He was responsible, however, for working with Congress to balance the federal budget in 1998 and 1999.
Clinton Is Impeached
When he first ran for president in 1992, rumors circulated about Clinton’s possibly engaging in extra-marital affairs. Republicans produced several women between 1992 and 1998 who claimed to have had relationships with Clinton, but other than the word of the women, there was no evidence, and Clinton denied all allegations. But in the summer of 1998, another rumor surfaced. This one was about a romantic relationship between Clinton and a young White House intern. While under oath in a separate sexual harassment lawsuit, Clinton had denied having sexual relations with the intern. He repeated this denial again to a grand jury. Eventually, only after evidence of the affair surfaced, Clinton admitted to having had an "inappropriate relationship" and to having "misled" his family and the country.
Republicans sent a report listing numerous grounds for impeachment to the House of Representatives. This report led to a bitter debate in the House and throughout the country. Polls showed that while most Americans criticized Clinton's actions, a majority believed that he was doing a good job as President and should not be impeached. In December, the House voted to have the Senate impeach Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The Senate trial that followed opened in January 1999. Many senators believed that Clinton had committed offenses, but debate centered on whether these offenses qualified as "high crimes and misdemeanors," the constitutional requirement for conviction of a President in an impeachment trial. In February, the Senate voted to acquit the President. Most Republicans voted to impeach, most Democrats voted to acquit. Support for Clinton throughout the process was no doubt bolstered by the economic boom.
Other Events from the 1990s
The 1990s was an eventful decade both in the United States and around the world. What follows are brief descriptions of some of these events that don’t necessarily have to do with Bill Clinton, but happened just before or during his time in office.
The Los Angeles Riots
In 1991, a black motorist was pulled over by the Los Angeles Police Department for speeding and drunk driving. When Rodney King got out of his car, a group of white police officers tased him, then beat him with clubs as he lay unconscious on the side of the road. According to many black citizens, this kind of police brutality had been common in L.A. for decades. This time was different. Unbeknownst to the police, another citizen had been videoing the beating with his home movie camera. He turned the video over to the media and four police officers were arrested. However, one year later, a jury of 11 whites and one Asian found the police officers not guilty, despite seeing the videotape. The four days that followed were complete chaos in L.A. Angry black citizens began to attack police officers and white citizens. Eventually, police officers were told to stay out of neighborhoods that were primarily black, for their own safety. This led to widespread rioting in America’s second largest city. 58 people were killed, thousands were injured, and billions of dollars of property was damaged. It took military soldiers to finally stop the rioting four days later.
Conflicts in Africa demonstrated how hard it was to maintain this balance. In the early 1990s, the East African nation of Somalia suffered from a devastating famine, made worse by a civil war. President George H. W. Bush sent American troops to Somalia in 1992 to assist a United Nations (UN) relief effort. The food crisis eased, but Somalia's government remained unable to control the armed groups that ruled the countryside. The following year, after more than a dozen U.S. soldiers were killed in a battle with Somali rebels, President Clinton recalled the troops without having restored order. To this day, Somalia is considered to be in a state of civil war.
In 1994, the government of the central African nation of Rwanda set out to exterminate a minority group. The government, run by the Hutu people, had a longstanding rivalry with the Tutsi minority. Haunted by the Somalia episode, the United States failed to intervene. Almost one million Tutsis died in the genocidal rampage by Hutu militias, soldiers, and ordinary citizens.
Russia and the Former Soviet Union
As the old Soviet empire crumbled, the United States tried to promote the move toward Western-style democracy in the former Soviet republics. For example, it applauded the election that brought Boris Yeltsin to power as president of Russia. To help Russia create a free market economy, the international community offered billions in aid, but it was far from enough. Goods remained in short supply and the Russian economy remained unstable. Yeltsin, in poor health, resigned his post. In the next presidential election, Russian voters officially elected Vladmir Putin their new president. Putin worked to strengthen Russia's ties with the international community. In general, the United States remained on friendly terms with the Russian leadership. Several factors led to conflict between the United States and Russia in the early twenty-first century however. Relations were strained when Russia opposed the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. The two countries also have sparred over the spread of nuclear technology to Iran and political events in former Soviet republics.
Just as stunning as the collapse of communism was South Africa's rejection of apartheid, the system that separated people of different racial backgrounds. South Africa's white population, which made up only about 15 percent of the population, had long denied equal rights to the black population. Apartheid was a much more severe version of the segregation that plagued the United States following the Civil War. To encourage reform, the United States and other nations had used economic sanctions, or trade restrictions intended to punish another nation. Finally, in 1990, Prime Minister F. W. de Klerk released anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela from jail. Mandela had been held prisoner for 27 years for his leadership of an equality movement. Former rivals de Klerk and Mandela worked together to end apartheid. In 1994, South Africa held its first elections in which blacks as well as whites voted. The elections produced a new government, led by President Nelson Mandela.
Section 3: George W. Bush (2001-2009)
The 2000 Election
Leading up to the election, polls showed that the Republican candidate, Texas Governor George W. Bush (son of former President George H.W. Bush), was virtually tied with the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore. On election night, the votes in several states were too close to call; neither candidate had captured the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. One undecided state, Florida, could give either candidate enough electoral votes to win the presidency. Bush won the Florida majority initially, but because the difference there was so close, state law required a recount of the ballots. Florida became a battleground for the presidency as lawyers, politicians, and the media swarmed there to monitor the recount.
After over a month of argument and legal battles, matters reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Bush v. Gore. Like the nation, the nine justices were sharply divided about how to remedy the election crisis. By a majority of five to four (each justice siding with the political party that appointed him/her), they issued a ruling that discontinued all recounts in Florida. This ruling effectively secured the presidency for George W. Bush. Although Gore won the national popular vote, Bush won 271 electoral votes to Gore's 266.
George W. Bush's First Term
After being sworn in as President in January 2001, George W. Bush faced many challenges. Early in his presidency, Bush focused on a few central issues. In particular, he succeeded in gaining congressional approval of a major tax cut, the largest in history. By 2001, many of the “dot com” boom start-up companies had failed, and a recession was on the horizon. Bush argued that by returning money to the taxpayers, he would jumpstart a faltering economy. With the wars that were to follow, this tax policy would end up drastically increasing the national debt.
Bush also pushed for the passage of a major education reform bill, No Child Left Behind. The President's plan called for increased accountability for student performance and teacher quality through increased standards. Despite these successes, domestic policy soon faded into the background. Before the end of his first year in office, President Bush would be forced to devote much of his time and energy to foreign affairs as the result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Attack on America
In the 1990s, most Americans believed that their country was immune to the kind of violence that affected Israel and other parts of the world. That opinion changed radically with an attack launched against the United States. On September 11, 2001, Americans reacted with horror when terrorists struck at targets in New York City and just outside Washington, D.C. Using hijacked commercial airplanes as their weapons, the terrorists crashed into both towers of New York City’s World Trade Center and plowed into part of the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed in a field near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A total of 266 passengers and crew on the four planes lost their lives. The attack on the Pentagon took place less than an hour after the first plane hit New York. More than 180 people in the Pentagon were killed. In New York, the impact of the fully fueled jets caused both towers to burst into flames. Debris rained down on employees evacuating the buildings and on emergency workers rushing to respond to the scene. The fires led to the collapse of both 110-story buildings as well as other buildings in the World Trade Center complex. Tragically, the speedy response to the disaster led to the deaths of hundreds of firefighters and police officers who were in and around the buildings when they collapsed. 2,999 victims died in the four attacks.
The U.S. Responds
Americans were horrified. Many schools, businesses, government offices, and professional sports remained shut down as life was put on hold and the country tried to regroup. President Bush appeared on television the night of the attacks, and for several nights after, in an attempt to calm the fears of Americans and to reassure them that anyone who helped the terrorists would be held responsible and punished harshly. Across the country, Americans donated thousands of hours and millions of dollars in a relief effort to help those affected by the tragedy.
Law-enforcement agencies immediately began an intensive investigation. Countries around the world pledged to support to the effort to hunt down the criminals responsible for the attacks. Within days, government officials named Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi who had a history of organizing terrorist attacks against the U.S., as "a prime suspect" for masterminding the plot. Bin Laden, the head of a terrorist network of Muslim extremists known as Al Qaeda, was believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. Soon, al Qaeda publicly claimed responsibility for the attack, and bin Laden released videos praising the sacrifice of the hijackers.
The War on Terrorism
During one of Bush’s televised addresses, he made clear that the U.S. would begin to hunt anti-American organizations like Al Qaeda all over the world to prevent any future terrorist attacks against the U.S., its military, or its allies. His administration called this tactic "The War on Terrorism." Bush added that the U.S. was not declaring war on any particular country or government, but that the American military would search any country for signs of terrorism, and if found, would fight it.
War in Afghanistan
President Bush's War on Terrorism began three weeks after 9/11 in Afghanistan. Not only was al Qaeda active in Afghanistan, but a group of Islamic radicals called the Taliban had taken over the government there. Taliban leaders sought to set up their version of a pure Islamic state, banning such things as television and music. The Taliban also provided sanctuary for Osama bin Laden, who established terrorist training camps in the countryside. After the attacks of September 11, the United States demanded that the Taliban shut down the training camps and turn over bin Laden and other terrorist leaders. The Taliban refused to meet those demands. As a result, President Bush vowed that they would "pay a price."
The United States, along with Great Britain, launched a bombing campaign known as "Operation Enduring Freedom" on Taliban military and communications bases in Afghanistan. After just two months, United States and rebel Afghan forces defeated the Taliban, ending their five-year rule. By the end of the year, those forces had established an interim government in Kabul, the capital. This war, according to Bush, would not be limited to "instant retaliation and isolated strikes" but would be "a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have seen." The President stressed the importance of global cooperation in this campaign. "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make," Bush warned. "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." However, bin Laden escaped from Afghanistan and the Taliban ended up rallying to continue the war. The U.S. continued to fight for the people of Afghanistan against the Taliban. Still today, the government of Afghanistan is unstable.
War With Iraq
As part of the War on Terrorism, President Bush sent a warning to hostile nations to stop developing weapons of mass destruction. He classified these "WMDs" as nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. "The United States of America," Bush said, "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
With the conflict in Afghanistan seemingly winding down, President Bush turned his attention to Iraq, where he claimed U.S. intelligence had provided him evidence of WMDs. Despite Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein continued his brutal oppression of the Iraqi people. Congress passed a resolution authorizing the President to use force against Iraq. However, UN weapons inspectors reported that they had found no banned chemical or biological weapons or any sign of a nuclear weapons program. Bush continued to argue that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He also prepared the country for war. Few American allies agreed to help, with only Great Britain, Poland, and a handful other nations providing soldiers and other support.
Without UN approval, the war, called "Operation Iraqi Freedom," started in March 2003. U.S. missiles and bombs struck key targets, paving the way for ground troops. Those troops moved toward Baghdad. Tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled north out of Kuwait, while U.S. Special Operations forces slipped quietly into Iraq from the west. The Iraqi military put up only slight resistance. Three weeks after the start of the fighting, U.S. tanks arrived in Baghdad. Hussein's regime had fallen. Hussein initially escaped from Baghdad, but was captured hiding in the Iraqi desert in December 2003.
Peace, however, had not come to Iraq. Insurgents made frequent attacks. Insurgents were fighters who opposed the U.S., including religious militants and foreign fighters (including al Qaeda). The year following President Bush's announcement of "Mission Accomplished in Iraq", the end of official combat operations, thousands of Americans and Iraqis were killed. Meanwhile, the U.S. worked with the Iraqi people to establish a new democratic government and to rebuild the nation. In June 2004, the Americans handed governing authority to a new Iraqi government. This was followed in January 2005 by a national election in which citizens chose members of an assembly that would write a new constitution. But the insurgent attacks continued. In the United States, President Bush urged ongoing support for the mission in Iraq, but there was growing criticism of his handling of the war from the media and the American people. The criticism grew when the U.S. failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, raising questions about the decision to go to war.
The 2004 Election
The 2004 presidential campaign took place during two wars and an uncertain economy at home. President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, stayed locked in a close campaign. Neither candidate enjoyed a clear lead in the polls in the weeks leading up to the election. Senator Kerry pointed to Iraq and the shaky economy as areas where he could improve on Bush's performance. Election night in November 2004 closely resembled election night in 2000. People in the United States and around the world intently watched televisions and the internet, eagerly awaiting the outcome. In another close election, Bush gained the electoral votes he needed to win. By a narrow margin, the voters had decided to send Bush back to the White House for a second term. Despite seeing his approval rating decline and the economy get worse during his first term, George W. Bush won reelection.
Second Term Issues
In addition to the ongoing issues from his first term, Bush would face new challenges after the election. As Bush's second term continued, the American economy again struggled. His tax relief strategy from the 2001 recession had offered a short-term solution, ending the recession. However, the increase in government spending due to the War on Terror had added a tremendous amount to the American debt, harming consumer confidence and starting a second recession in 2007. This second recession led to a serious collapse in the American real estate market, harming the economy even further.
In August of 2005, a major tropical storm struck the Gulf coast of the United States. Hurricane Katrina struck Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, killing almost 2,000 Americans and causing over $100 billion in damage. Much of the damage and death occurred in the city of New Orleans, directly in the center of the storm's path. President Bush was criticized by many in the media and the city for what they saw as a slow response to use the federal government to help those affected by Katrina.
The two hotspots for the War on Terrorism also proved difficult for President Bush in his second term. While Iraq received democracy and was ridded of its dictator, insurgents continued to target American troops and members of the new government, and no WMDs were found. As of 2014, almost 5,000 Americans have been killed and over 30,000 have been wounded fighting in Iraq. Afghanistan too, was a struggle for the President. The Taliban remained strong, and Osama bin Laden, the primary target for the War on Terrorism, would not be captured until after Bush left office. Almost 2,500 U.S. troops have died there.
Bush holds two distinctions of note: 1. The highest approval rating in U.S. history, and 2. The lowest approval rating in U.S. history. While he was highly regarded for his immediate handling of the September 11th attacks, most Americans criticized his long-term management of the War on Terrorism and the economy. This attitude was shown in the 2006 midterm elections, when Democrats won a majority of seats in both the House and Senate for the first time since 1994. When he left office, only about 25% of the American people responded that he had been a “good” president.
Section 4: Barrack Obama (2009-2017)
The Campaign of 2008
In 2007 a major financial crisis developed. Millions of Americans found themselves unable to make payments on their home mortgages due to the recession. As the 2008 election approached, the economy had replaced the war in Iraq as the most important issue for most Americans. Senator John McCain of Arizona, a widely admired hero of the Vietnam War, won the Republican nomination for president. He chose Sarah Palin, the conservative governor of Alaska, as his running mate. Illinois senator Barack Obama bested New York senator Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination. Obama had delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. His speech impressed Democrats and made him a national political figure. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware was his running mate. Biden's 35 years in the Senate helped balance criticism of Obama's relative inexperience.
With the approval ratings of the president and Congress at all-time lows, McCain and Obama both promised change. Obama made good use of the internet and formed a strong network of young supporters. On Election Day, Obama won 53 percent of the popular vote and 364 electoral votes. It was the biggest victory for a Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964. Obama, the first African American to win the presidency, said after his win:
"This is our moment…to open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream. Here we are met with those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can."
- Barack Obama, November 4, 2008
Before he left office, President Bush authorized billions of dollars in bailouts to failing businesses. Bailouts are government funds given to companies to stay in business. Despite the Bush administration's efforts to end the recession, the American economy continued to weaken into 2009. More Americans lost their homes, and banks closed. Many large companies reported record losses. They laid-off workers, contributing to a spike in unemployment. With fewer workers, less tax money was collected, adding to the country's already growing debt. As the economic crisis spread across the world, global trade lessened and the world economy shrank. When Americans voted President Obama into office, many expected him to improve the shaky economy. Obama's domestic agenda included proposals to create jobs, relieve families suffering from unemployment, assist home owners in paying their mortgages, and ease the financial crisis.
In response to the failing economy, President Obama signed the American Recovery Act in February 2009. The act aimed to stimulate the economy by providing tax cuts to working families and small businesses. It provided billions in federal funds for growth and investment as well as for education, health, and other entitlement programs. Yet as the economy worsened, Obama's specific plans to solve the nation's problems drew criticism. Some people believed he was not doing enough, while others argued that he was misusing government authority by doing too much.
By the end of 2009, there were signs that some of Obama's measures were working. The nation's gross domestic product (GDP) had climbed throughout that year, his first in office. Most large businesses were reporting gains. The unemployment rate, however, continued to rise, as did the federal deficit. And many Americans were uncomfortable with what they viewed as a rapidly growing role for the federal government in the economy.