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Battling extremism

Clinton was just in time to get tough on crime. In 1993, Muslim extremists took their first shot at the World Trade Center in New York with a bomb that killed 6 people. A couple of years later, home-grown American terrorist Timothy McVeigh blew up 168 people along with the federal building in Oklahoma City. Shootouts with extremists and in schools shocked the nation. Although the hundreds of deaths involved in these events were better than the thousands that happen in a war, domestic violence frightened Americans all the more for the very reason that overall violence has been declining in the world for at least 200 years.

People upset with the United States government were often members of the Moral Majority, who saw the country being swept by the devil's work of abortion, drugs, welfare, and religious apathy. They joined a Republican counterattack called the Contract with America (1994), which promised welfare and budget reform. The Republicans swept to victory, controlling both the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years.

Reforming welfare

When Republicans gained control of both the House and the Senate, Bill Clinton got to see what it had felt like to be a president with an opposing Congress, something that Republican presidents had put up with for years. Clinton survived by working with the Republicans; after all, he was a moderate Democrat. Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Bill (1996). Over the wails of old-school

Democrats, the bill forced welfare recipients to work when they could and restricted benefits for new immigrants. Despite angry opposition from social conservatives and Republicans, Clinton had most of the country with him when he breezed to reelection in 1996.

Politics of the possible

Clinton was unable to expand health care coverage, but he added loans for college students and modest tax breaks for poor people and raised the minimum wage. His greatest political advantage was a robust U.S. economy that enjoyed the longest period of sustained growth in American history. Clinton supported international trade with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (1993) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) (1994); these agreements made exporting American manufacturing jobs easier but brought down the cost of goods in the United States to bargain levels. Clinton fought against tobacco and guns, both of which caused far more deaths in the U.S. than terrorism.

In international affairs, Clinton intervened without getting America stuck in any big wars. He failed to offer effective help when millions of people died in tribal violence in Africa, but he sent in troops to stabilize Haiti and to stop years of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. Clinton took some missile shots at terrorists in Afghanistan and Sudan, but limited U.S. involvement in the Middle East to the ever-elusive goal of encouraging peace talks between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

Personal politics

Like most presidents, Clinton's administration wasn't without controversy. He staunchly denied having an affair with a 20-something White House intern, but DNA evidence later forced him to backpedal. The Republican-controlled Congress brought Clinton up on impeachment charges for lying to a grand jury about his involvement, invoking that extreme Constitutional mechanism for only the second time in U.S. history .

The Republicans clearly took it more seriously than the American people; the Democrats actually gained seats in Congress during the run-up to the Congressional trial. Impeachment requires a two-thirds vote to pass; Clinton's charges couldn't even get a majority vote. Clinton's wife, Hillary, said that ongoing investigations of the Clintons during most of their time in the White House were a right-wing tactic to stall social legislation. After years of public investigation, the Clintons were never convicted of anything, and Clinton left office with the highest approval ratings of any post-World War II president.

Clinton held off Republican attacks on most social programs and modestly improved the lives of regular people by protecting wilderness land, hiring new teachers, and increasing opportunities for higher education through grants and loans. The economy offered nearly full employment, and real income for working people crept up after decades of inflation-adjusted doldrums. As he was leaving office, the issue of global warming was heating up, and Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, promised to do something about it if only he could get elected president.

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