Born on August 19, 1946 in Hope, Arkansas, to Virginia Blythe and named for his father, who had recently died in an auto accident, William Jefferson Blythe was reared from the age of seven in Hot Springs, Ark.. He took his stepfather’s last name Clinton, after the birth of a stepbrother. After high school he went to Georgetown University, University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and Yale University Law School where he met his future wife Hillary Rodham.
Clinton then became a law professor at the University of Arkansas. He lost a 1974 bid to unseat a Republican Congressman but two years later was elected state attorney general. While serving in that office he was elected at age 32, the youngest governor in Arkansas history.
After losing a re-election bid in 1980, he came to win four more terms as governor gaining a reputation as a centrist, pragmatic ‘New Democrat.’ In October 1991, Clinton announced that he was a candidate for the democratic nomination for president. Formally nominated at the democratic convention in New York, Clinton outperformed George Bush in three television debates to emerge as the victor. Taking office in January 1993, Clinton appeared poised to restore the Democrats to national dominance. Rather than making the needs of the larger national interest his top priority, Clinton initially devoted large amounts of time and his prestige to divisive issue of gays in military and appointment of women and African-Americans to highly visible posts. His popularity tumbled and then nose-dived when he reneged on his promise to cut middle class taxes.
In 1994 Clinton prodded the Congress to enact an anti-crime bill that banned assault weapons, provided federal funds for prison construction and other crime prevention methods. Decisive initiatives to check Iraqi threat to Kuwait, to halt North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, to further the West Asia peace process and to oust Haiti’s military dictatorship briefly lifted Clinton’s poll ratings. However charges of influence-peddling by members of the cabinet, continued allegations of past wrongdoing in real estate venture called Whitewater and in his wife’s commodity trading lowered public perceptions of Clinton’s integrity. A majority of voters rejecting Clinton’s 1960s style liberalism and cynical about the government demanded a change. The Republicans gained control of the Congress. But the ‘comeback kid’ once again proved to be adept politician.
Clinton ran a cautious campaign the next time round, taking full credit for falling unemployment and lowest ‘misery index’ since 1969 and repeatedly bashing Republicans as cold, heartless champions of rich who wanted to eliminate Medicare and school loans. Although Clinton continued to be plagued by old charges of sexual and financial wrongdoing, most voters in November 1997 seemed content with the status quo. Clinton was re-elected president on November 5, 1997 with a comfortable majority, although simultaneous legislative elections left the Republicans maintaining their majority in both houses of the Congress.
Clinton headed into the New Year with an announcement that budget would be balanced and girding for a possible military confrontation with Iraq over latter’s efforts to thwart UN weapons inspections. Hanging over him, however were new allegations of sexual impropriety, which came under investigation by Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr.