W hile I was hard at work on foreign affairs, the new world of Whitewater was beginning to take shape at home. In March, Robert Fiske began his job in earnest by sending out subpoenas to several members of the White House staff, including Maggie Williams and Lisa Caputo, who worked for Hillary and were friends of Vince Fosters. Mack McLarty set up a Whitewater Response Team, led by Harold Ickes, to coordinate responses to questions from Fiske and from the press; to free the rest of the staff, and me, to do the public work we came to Washington to do; and to minimize conversations our staff might have about Whitewater among themselves or with Hillary or me. Any such conversations could only expose our young staffers to depositions, political attacks, and big legal bills. A lot of people had already acquired a vested interest in finding something wrong; if there was nothing illegal in our long-ago land deal, perhaps they could catch someone doing something wrong in the handling of it.
The system worked well enough for me. After all, I had learned how to lead parallel lives as a child: most of the time, I could shut out all the accusations and innuendo and go on with my work. I knew it would be harder to cope with for those who had never lived with the constant threat of arbitrary and destructive attacks, especially in an atmosphere in which there was a presumption of guilt attached to any charge. To be sure, there were some legal experts, like Sam Dash, who talked about how cooperative we were compared with the Reagan and Nixon administrations, because we didnt resist subpoenas and we turned all our records over to the Justice Department and then to Fiske. But the goalposts had been moved: unless Hillary and I could prove ourselves innocent of whatever charges any adversary could come up with, most of the questions would be asked, and the stories written, in a tone of intense suspicion; the underlying current was that we must have done something wrong.
For example, as our financial records found their way into the press, the New York Times reported that, starting with a $1,000 investment, Hillary had made $100,000 in the commodities market in 1979, with the help of Jim Blair. Blair was one of my closest friends; he did help Hillary and a number of his other friends in trading commodities, but she took her own risks, paid more than $18,000 in brokerage fees, and, following her own instincts, got out of the market before it dropped. Leo Melamed, the Republican former chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, on which agricultural commodities are traded, reviewed all of Hillarys trades and said there was nothing wrong with them. It didnt matter. For years, the critics would refer to Hillarys commodity profit as prima facie evidence of corruption.
The presumption of wrongdoing was reflected in a Newsweek story saying Hillary did not put up her own money for her sweet deal, with an analysis that it said was based on the expert opinion of Professor Marvin Chirelstein of Columbia Law School, one of the nations leading authorities on corporate law and contracts, who had taught me at Yale and who had been asked by our lawyer to review our tax returns for 197879, the period of the Whitewater investment. Chirelstein disputed the Newsweek story, saying, I never said anything like that, and that he was outraged and humiliated.
About the same time, Time magazine ran a cover photograph purporting to show George Stephanopoulos peering over my shoulder as I sat at my desk fretting over Whitewater. In fact, the photo captured an earlier routine scheduling meeting at which several people were present. At least two others were in the original picture. Time simply cropped them out.
In April, Hillary held a press conference to answer questions about her commodity trades and Whitewater. She did a fine job and I was proud of her. She even got a laugh from the press corps when she acknowledged that her belief in a zone of privacy might have made her less responsive to press questions about her past personal dealings than she should have been, but that after resisting for a long time, Ive been rezoned.
The presumption of guilt imposed on us was extended to others. For example, Roger Altman and Bernie Nussbaum were both heavily criticized for discussing criminal referrals issued against Madison Guaranty by the Resolution Trust Corporation, because the RTC was a part of the Treasury Department and Altman was overseeing it temporarily. Presumably, the critics thought Nussbaum could have been trying to influence the RTC proceedings. In fact, the discussions were a result of the need to answer press questions arising out of leaks about the Madison investigation, and they had been approved by the Treasury Departments ethics counsel.
Edwin Yoder, an old-fashioned progressive columnist, said Washington was being overtaken by ethical cleansers. In a column on the Nussbaum-Altman meeting, he said:
I wish someone would begin by explaining to me why it is so very wicked for White House staff to want information from elsewhere within the executive branch about charges and rumors concerning the president. . . .
Robert Fiske found the contacts between the White House and the Treasury Department to be legal, but that didnt stop the smearing of Nussbaum and Altman. Back then, all our political appointees needed to be read their Miranda warnings three times a day. Bernie Nussbaum resigned in early March; he never got over my foolish decision to ask for an independent counsel, and he didnt want to be a source of further problems. Altman would leave government service a few months later. They were both able, honest public servants.
In March, Roger Ailes, a longtime Republican operative who had become president of CNBC, accused the administration of a cover-up with regard to Whitewater that includes . . . land fraud, illegal contributions, abuse of power . . . suicide cover-uppossible murder. So much for the credible evidence of wrongdoing standard.
William Safire, the New York Times columnist who had been a speechwriter for Nixon and Agnew, and who seemed determined to prove that all their successors were just as bad as they were, was especially avid in his unsupported assertions that Vinces death was linked to illegal conduct by Hillary and me. Of course, Vinces suicide note had said exactly the reverse, that we had done nothing wrong, but that didnt prevent Safire from speculating that Vince had improperly kept records damaging to us in his office.
We now know that a lot of the so-called information that fueled the damaging but erroneous stories was fed to the press by David Hale and the right-wingers who adopted him for their own purposes. In 1993, Hale, the Republican municipal judge in Little Rock, was charged with defrauding the Small Business Administration of $900,000 in federal funds that were supposed to have been used to make loans to minority businesses through his company, Capital Management Services (a later GAO audit indicated he had defrauded the SBA of $3.4 million).
Instead, he gave the money to himself through a series of dummy corporations. Hale discussed his plight with Justice Jim Johnson, the old Arkansas racist who had run against Win Rockefeller for governor in 1966 and against Senator Fulbright in 1968. Johnson took Hale under his wing, and in August put him in contact with a conservative group called Citizens United, whose principals were Floyd Brown and David Bossie. Brown had produced the infamous Willie Horton ads against Mike Dukakis in 1988. Bossie had helped him write a book for the 1992 campaign entitled Slick Willie: Why America Cannot Trust Bill Clinton, in which the authors gave special thanks to Justice Jim Johnson.
Hale claimed that I had pressed him to lend $300,000 from Capital Management to a company owned by Susan McDougal, for the purpose of giving it out to leading Arkansas Democrats. In return, McDougal would lend Hale more than $800,000 from Madison Guaranty, enabling him to get another million dollars from the Small Business Administration. It was an absurd and untrue story, but Brown and Bossie peddled it hard. Apparently, Sheffield Nelson also helped, by pushing it to his contact at the New York Times, Jeff Gerth.
By March 1994, the media was wringing its hands about some documents shredded by the Rose firm; one of the boxes that held the papers had Vince Fosters initials on it. The firm explained that the shredding involved material unrelated to Whitewater and was a normal procedure involving papers that were no longer needed. No one in our White House knew about the routine destruction of unneeded records unrelated to Whitewater at the Rose firm. Moreover, we had nothing to cover up, and there still wasnt a bit of evidence to indicate that we did.
It got so bad that even the highly respected journalist David Broder referred to Bernie Nussbaum as unfortunate for allegedly tolerating arrogance and abuse of power that led to the all-too-familiar wordsinvestigation, subpoena, grand jury, resignation that had echoed through Washington again this past week. Broder even compared the war rooms that managed our campaigns for the economic plan and NAFTA to Nixons enemies list.
Nussbaum was unfortunate, all right; there would have been no investigation, subpoenas, or grand jury if I had listened to him and refused to give in to the demands for an independent counsel to clear the air. Bernies real offense was that he thought I should abide by the rule of law and accepted standards of propriety, rather than the constantly shifting standards of the Whitewater media, which were designed to produce the very results they professed to deplore. Nussbaums successor, longtime Washington attorney Lloyd Cutler, had a justifiably good reputation in the Washington establishment. In the coming months, his presence and advice would help a great deal, but he couldnt turn the Whitewater tide.
Rush Limbaugh was having a field day on his show, wallowing in the Whitewater mud. He claimed that Vince had been murdered in an apartment Hillary owned, and that his body had been moved to Fort Marcy Park. I could not imagine how that made Vinces wife and kids feel. Later, Limbaugh falsely charged that journalists and others working on or involved in Whitewatergate have been beaten and harassed in Little Rock. Some have died.
Not to be outdone by Limbaugh, former Republican congressman Bill Dannemeyer called for congressional hearings on the frightening number of people connected to me who had died under other than natural circumstances. Dannemeyers grisly list included my campaign finance co-chairman, Vic Raiser, and his son, who had died tragically in a plane crash on a trip to Alaska in 1992, and Paul Tully, the political director of the Democratic Party who had died of a heart attack while working on the campaign in Little Rock. I had delivered eulogies at both funerals, and later appointed Vics widow, Molly, as chief of protocol.
Jerry Falwell outdid Dannemeyer by releasing Circle of Power, a video about countless people who mysteriously died in Arkansas; the film implied that I was somehow responsible. Then came Falwells sequel, The Clinton Chronicles, which he promoted on his television show, The Old Time Gospel Hour. The video featured Dannemeyer and Justice Jim Johnson, and accused me of being involved with cocaine smuggling, having witnesses killed, and arranging the murders of a private investigator and the wife of a state trooper. A lot of the witnesses were paid for their testimonials, and Falwell sold a great many videos.
As Whitewater unfolded, I tried to keep some perspective, and to remember that not everyone was caught up in the hysteria. For example, USA Today ran a fair story on Whitewater that included interviews with Jim McDougal, who said Hillary and I didnt do anything wrong, and Chris Wade, the real estate agent in north Arkansas who supervised the Whitewater land, who also said we were telling the truth about our limited involvement with the property.
I could understand why right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh, Bill Dannemeyer, Jerry Falwell, and a paper like the Washington Times would say such things. The Washington Times was avowedly right-wing, financed by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and edited by Wes Pruden Jr., whose father, the Reverend Wesley Pruden, had been chaplain of the White Citizens Council in Arkansas and an ally of Justice Jim Johnsons in their lost crusade against civil rights for blacks. What I couldnt believe was that the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others in the media I had always respected and trusted had been sucker punched by the likes of Floyd Brown, David Bossie, David Hale, and Jim Johnson.
Around this time I hosted a dinner at the White House to observe Black History Month. Among the attendees were my old law school professor Burke Marshall and his friend Nicholas Katzenbach, who had done so much to advance civil rights in the Kennedy Justice Department. Nick came up to me and told me that he was on the board of the Washington Post and that he was ashamed of the papers coverage of Whitewater and the terrible damage that had been done to me and the presidency over charges that didnt amount to a hill of beans: What is this about? he asked. It sure isnt about the public interest.
Whatever it was about, it was working. A poll in March said that half the people thought Hillary and I were lying about Whitewater, and a third of them thought we had done something illegal. I have to confess that Whitewater, especially the attacks on Hillary, took a bigger toll on me than I thought it would. The charges were baseless and unsupported by any reliable evidence. I had other problems, but except for occasionally being hardheaded, Hillary was above reproach. It killed me to see her hurt by one false charge after another, all the more so because I had made things worse by giving in to the nave notion that an independent counsel would clear the air. I had to work hard to keep my anger in check, and I didnt always succeed. The cabinet and staff seemed to understand and tolerate my occasional flare-ups, and Al Gore helped me get through them. Though I kept working hard and continued to love my job, my normally sunny disposition and innate optimism would be put to one severe test after another.
It helped to laugh about it. Every spring there are three press dinners, hosted by the Gridiron Club, the White House correspondents, and the radio and television correspondents. They give the press an opportunity to poke fun at the President and other politicians, and the President gets a chance to reply. I looked forward to these occasions because they allowed all of us to let our guards down a little, and because they reminded me that the press was not a monolith and was made up mostly of good people trying to be fair. Also, as Proverbs says, A happy heart doeth good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
I was in pretty good spirits on April 12 at the Radio and Television Correspondents dinner, and I got off some good lines, like I really am delighted to be here. If you believe that Ive got some land in northwest Arkansas Id like to show you; Some say my relations with the press have been marked by self-pity. I like to think of it as the outer limits of my empathy. I feel my pain; Its three days before April fifteenth, and most of you have to spend more time on my taxes than your own; and I still believe in a place called Help!
The work of what Hillary would later call the vast right-wing conspiracy has been chronicled in great detail by Sidney Blumenthal in The Clinton Wars and by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons in The Hunting of the President. As far as I know, none of their factual assertions have been refuted. When those books were published, the people in the mainstream media who had been part of the Whitewater mania ignored their charges, dismissed the authors as being too sympathetic to Hillary and me, or blamed us for the way we handled the Whitewater problem and for complaining. Im sure we could have handled it better, but so could they.
In the early days of Whitewater, one of my friends was forced to resign his government post because of something he had done wrong before he came to Washington. The Rose Law Firm filed a complaint against Webb Hubbell with the Arkansas Bar Association for allegedly overcharging his clients and padding his expenses. Webb resigned from the Justice Department, but assured Hillary there was nothing to the charges, saying that the whole problem arose because his wealthy but irascible father-in-law, Seth Ward, had refused to pay the Rose firm for the costs of a patent infringement case they had lost. It seemed plausible, but it wasnt true.
It turned out that Webb had overcharged his clients, and in so doing, had injured the Rose firm and reduced the income of all his partners, including Hillary. If his case had played out normally, he probably would have reached an agreement with the law firm to repay it for the cost of reimbursing its clients and would have lost his license for a year or two. The bar association might or might not have referred him to the state prosecuting attorney; if it had, Hubbell probably would have been able to avoid going to prison by reimbursing the firm. Instead, Webb was caught up in the independent counsels net.
When the facts first came out, I was stunned. Webb and I had been friends and golfing partners for years, and I thought I knew him well. I still think hes a good man who made a bad mistake, one he had to pay too high a price for, because he refused to become a pawn in Starrs game.
While all this was going on, I stayed on the other track of my parallel lives, the one I came to Washington to pursue. In March, I devoted considerable time to pushing two bills that I thought would help workers without college degrees. Most people could no longer keep one job or even stay with one employer for their entire working lives, and the churning job market treated them in markedly different ways. Our 6.5 percent unemployment rate was misleading; it was 3.5 percent for college graduates, more than 5 percent for those with two years of college, over 7 percent for high school graduates, and more than 11 percent for high school dropouts. At events in Nashua and Keene, New Hampshire, I said I wanted to convert the program of unemployment benefits into a reemployment system with a broader range of better-designed training programs. And I wanted Congress to approve a school-to-work program, to provide one or two years of high-quality training for young people who didnt want to get a four-year college degree. By the end of the month, I was able to sign the Goals 2000 bill. Finally, we had a congressional commitment to meet the national education goals I had worked on back in 1989, to measure students progress toward them, and to encourage local school districts to adopt the most promising reforms. It was a good day for Secretary Dick Riley.
On March 18, Presidents Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia were at the White House to sign an agreement negotiated with the help of my special envoy, Charles Redman, that established a federation in the areas of Bosnia in which their populations were in a majority, and set up a process to move toward a confederation with Croatia. The fighting between Muslims and Croatians had not been as severe as that in which both sides had engaged with the Bosnian Serbs, but the agreement was still an important step toward peace.
The last days of March marked the beginning of a serious crisis with North Korea. After agreeing in February to let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) check their declared nuclear sites on March 15, North Korea blocked them from completing their work. The reactor they were studying operated on fuel rods. Once the rods had been exhausted for their original purpose, the spent fuel could be reprocessed into plutonium in sufficient quantities to make nuclear weapons. North Korea also was planning to build two larger reactors, which would have produced many more spent fuel rods. The rods were a dangerous asset in the hands of the most isolated country in the world, a poor one that could not even feed its own people and might feel the temptation to sell the plutonium to the wrong buyer. Within a week I had decided to send Patriot missiles to South Korea and to ask the UN to impose economic sanctions against North Korea. As Bill Perry told a group of editors and reporters on March 30, I was determined to stop North Korea from developing a nuclear arsenal, even at the risk of war. In order to make absolutely certain that the North Koreans knew we were serious, Perry continued the tough talk over the next three days, even saying that we would not rule out a preemptive military strike.
Meanwhile, Warren Christopher made sure our message had the right balance. The State Department said we preferred a peaceful solution, and our ambassador to South Korea, Jim Laney, described our position as one of watchfulness, firmness, and patience. I believed that if North Korea really understood our position, as well as the economic and political benefits it could realize by abandoning its nuclear program in favor of cooperation with its neighbors and the United States, we could work it out. If we didnt, Whitewater would soon look like the sideshow it was.
On March 26, I was in Dallas for a happy weekend off, to serve as best man in my brothers wedding to Molly Martin, a beautiful woman hed met when, after spending a few years in Nashville, hed moved to Los Angeles in the hope of reviving his singing career. I was really happy for Roger.
On the day after the wedding, we all went to see the Arkansas Razorbacks defeat the University of Michigan in the NCAA Basketball Tournament quarterfinals. That week Sports Illustrated had me on the cover in a Razorback jogging suit; the article inside included a picture of me palming a basketball. After the kind of coverage Id been getting, the piece was manna from heaven. A week later I was in the arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, when Arkansas won the national championship, defeating Duke 7672.
On April 6, Justice Harry Blackmun announced his retirement from the Supreme Court. Hillary and I had become friends of Justice Blackmun and his wife, Dotty, through Renaissance Weekend. He was a fine man, an excellent justice, and a sorely needed moderate voice on the Rehnquist Court. I knew I owed the country a worthy replacement. My first choice was Senator George Mitchell, who had announced his retirement from the Senate a month earlier. He was a good majority leader, he had been loyal and extremely helpful to me, and it was far from certain that we could hold on to his seat in the November election. I didnt want him to leave the Senate but was excited by the prospect of appointing George to the Supreme Court. He had been a federal judge before coming to the Senate, and would be a big personality on the Court, someone who could move votes and whose voice would be heard, even in dissent. For the second time in five weeks, Mitchell turned me down. He said that if he were to leave the Senate at this time, whatever chance we had to pass health care would evaporate, hurting the American people, the Democrats up for reelection, and my presidency.
I quickly settled on two other prospects: Judge Stephen Breyer, who had already been vetted; and Judge Richard Arnold, chief judge of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in St. Louis and includes Arkansas within its jurisdiction. Arnold was a former aide to Dale Bumpers who came from a long line of distinguished Arkansas lawyers. He was probably the most brilliant man on the federal bench. He graduated at the top of his class at Yale and at Harvard Law School, and had learned Latin and Greek, in part so that he could read early biblical texts. I probably would have appointed him, except for the fact that he had been treated for cancer and his prognosis was not clear. My Republican predecessors had filled the federal courts with young conservatives who would be around a long time, and I didnt want to risk giving them another position. In May, I made the decision to nominate Judge Breyer. He was equally qualified, and I had been impressed with him in our earlier interview after Justice White resigned. Breyer would be confirmed easily. Richard Arnold, Im happy to say, is still serving on the Eighth Circuit and still plays an occasional round of golf with me.
Early in April, NATO bombed in Bosnia again, this time to stop the Serbs siege of Gorazde. On the same day, mass violence raged in Rwanda. A plane crash killing the Rwandan president and the president of Burundi sparked the beginning of a horrendous slaughter inflicted by leaders of the majority Hutu on the Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers. The Tutsis constituted only 15 percent of the population but were thought to have disproportionate economic and political power. I ordered the evacuation of all Americans and sent troops to guarantee their safety.
Within one hundred days, more than 800,000 people in a country of only 8 million would be murdered, most of them with machetes. We were so preoccupied with Bosnia, with the memory of Somalia just six months old, and with opposition in Congress to military deployments in faraway places not vital to our national interests that neither I nor anyone on my foreign policy team adequately focused on sending troops to stop the slaughter. With a few thousand troops and help from our allies, even making allowances for the time it would have taken to deploy them, we could have saved lives. The failure to try to stop Rwandas tragedies became one of the greatest regrets of my presidency.
In my second term, and after I left office, I did what I could to help the Rwandans put their country and their lives back together. Today, at the invitation of President Paul Kagame, Rwanda is one of the countries in which my foundation is working to stem the tide of AIDS.
On April 22, Richard Nixon died, one month and a day after writing a remarkable seven-page letter to me about his recent trip to Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and England. Nixon said I had earned the respect of the leaders he visited and could not let Whitewater or any other domestic issue divert attention from our major foreign policy prioritythe survival of political and economic freedom in Russia. He was worried about Yeltsins political position and the rise of anti-Americanism in the Duma, and he urged me to keep my close relationship with Yeltsin, but also to reach out to other democrats into Russia; to improve the design and administration of our foreign aid program; and to put a leading businessman in charge of getting more private investment into Russia. Nixon said the ultra-nationalist Zhirinovsky should be exposed for the fraud he is, rather than suppressed, and that we should seek to keep the bad guysZhirinovsky, Rutskoi, and the Communistsdivided, and to try to get the good guysChernomyrdin, Yavlinski, Shahrai, Travkinto coalesce if possible in a united front for responsible reform. Finally, Nixon said I should not spread directed aid dollars all over the former Soviet Union, but concentrate our resources beyond Russia on Ukraine: It is indispensable. The letter was a tour de force, Nixon at his best in the eighth decade of his life.
All the living former Presidents came to President Nixons funeral on the grounds of his presidential library and birthplace. I was somewhat surprised when his family asked me to speak, along with Bob Dole, Henry Kissinger, and California governor Pete Wilson, who as a young man had worked for Nixon. In my remarks, I expressed appreciation for his wise counsel, especially with regard to Russia, and I remarked on his continuing vigorous and clearheaded interest in America and the world, mentioning his call and letter to me a month before his death. I referred to Watergate only by indirection, with a plea for reconciliation: Today is a day for his family, his friends, and his nation to remember President Nixons life in totality . . . may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to an end. Some of my partys Nixon-haters didnt like what I said. Nixon had done a lot more than Watergate with which I disagreedthe enemies list, the prolongation of the Vietnam War and the expanded bombing, the Red-baiting of his opponents for the House and Senate in California. But he had also opened the door to China, signed bills establishing the Environmental Protection Agency, the Legal Services Corporation, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and had supported affirmative action. Compared with the Republicans who took over the party in the 1980s and 1990s, President Nixon was a wild-eyed liberal.
On the day after the funeral, I called in to the Larry King show because he was interviewing Dick Kelley and James Morgan about Mothers book, Leading with My Heart, which was just coming out. I told Larry that when I got back from the foreign trip I had taken after her funeral, I found myself halfway to the phone in our kitchen before I realized I couldnt call her on Sunday night anymore. It would be months before the urge to make that call stopped coming over me.
On April 29, with virtually the entire cabinet in attendance, I hosted Native American and Native Alaskan tribal leaders on the South Lawn, apparently bringing them to the White House for the first time since the 1820s. Some of them were so wealthy from Indian gaming that they flew to Washington in their own planes. Others, who lived on isolated reservations, were so poor they had to pass the hat among their tribes to collect enough money for a plane ticket. I pledged to respect their rights of self-determination, tribal sovereignty, and religious freedom, and to work hard to improve the federal governments relations with them. And I signed executive orders to guarantee that our commitments would be kept. Finally, I pledged to do more to support education, health care, and economic development for the poorest tribes.
By the end of April, it was clear that we had lost the health-care communications battle. A Wall Street Journal article on April 29 described the $300 million misinformation campaign that had been run against us:
The babys scream is anguished, the mothers voice desperate. Please, she pleads into the phone as she seeks help for her sick child.
Were sorry; the government health center is closed now, says the recording on the other end of the line. However, if this is an emergency, you may call 1-800-GOVERNMENT. She tries it, only to be greeted by another recording: Were sorry, all health-care representatives are busy now. Please stay on the line and our first available . . .
Why did they let the government take over? she asks plaintively. I need my family doctor back.
The story goes on to say that the only problem with the radio spot, produced by a Washington-based group called Americans for Tax Reform, is that it isnt true.
Another massive campaign of direct mail, by a group called the American Council for Health Reform, maintained that under the Clinton plan people would face five years in jail if they bought extra health care. In fact, our plan explicitly stated that people were free to purchase any health-care services they wanted.
The ad campaign was false, but it was working. In fact, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, published March 10 in an article titled Many Dont Realize Its the Clinton Plan They Like, showed that when people were asked about our health plan, a majority opposed it. But when asked about what they wanted in a health plan, the major provisions that were actually in our plan were all supported by more than 60 percent of the people. The article said, When the group is read a description of the Clinton bill without identifying it as the Presidents plan and of the four other leading proposals in Congress, the Clinton plan is the first choice of everyone in the room.
The poll authors, one Republican and one Democrat, are quoted as saying, The White House should find this both satisfying and sobering. Satisfying because the basic ideas which they have drawn up are the right ideas in the view of many people. But sobering because they clearly have communicated very little to the public and in that respect have ceded too much to the interest groups.
Despite this, Congress was moving forward. The bill had been referred to five committees in Congress, three in the House and two in the Senate. The House Labor committee voted out a health-care bill in April that was actually more comprehensive than our bill. The other four committees were hard at work trying to forge consensus.
The first week of May was another example of everything happening at once. I answered the questions of international journalists in a global forum sponsored by President Carters center at CNNs headquarters in Atlanta; signed the School-to-Work bill; congratulated Rabin and Arafat for their agreement on handling the handover of Gaza and Jericho; lobbied the House of Representatives to pass a ban on deadly assault weapons; cheered its passage by two votes, in the face of fierce opposition from the NRA; announced that the United States would increase its assistance to South Africa in the aftermath of its first full and fair election, and that Al and Tipper Gore, Hillary, Ron Brown, and Mike Espy would head our delegation to President Mandelas inauguration; held a White House event to highlight the special problems of women without health insurance; tightened sanctions on Haiti because of the continued killing and mutilation of Aristide supporters by Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras; appointed Bill Gray, head of the United Negro College Fund and former chairman of the House Budget Committee, to be special advisor to me and Warren Christopher on Haiti; and got sued by Paula Jones. It was just another week at the office.
Paula Jones had first appeared in public the previous February at the Conservative Political Action Committee convention in Washington, D.C., where Cliff Jackson introduced her, allegedly for the purpose of clearing her name. In David Brocks American Spectator article based on the allegations of the Arkansas state troopers, one of their charges was that I had met with a woman in a Little Rock hotel suite who later told the trooper who had taken her there that she wanted to be my regular girlfriend. Though she was identified in the article only as Paula, Jones claimed her family and friends recognized her when they read the article. She said she wanted to clear her name, but instead of suing the Spectator for libel, she accused me of sexually harassing her and said that, after she rebuffed my unwanted advances, she was denied the annual pay raises normally given to state employees. At the time she was a clerical employee of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. Initially, Joness debut with Cliff Jackson didnt get much publicity, but on May 6, two days before the statute of limitations expired, she filed suit against me, seeking $700,000 for my alleged harassment.
Before she filed the suit, Joness first lawyer had made contact with a man in Little Rock who got in touch with my office, telling us that the lawyer had said that her case was weak and that if I would pay her $50,000 and help her and her husband, Steve, who turned out to be a conservative Clinton hater, get jobs in Hollywood, she wouldnt sue me. I didnt pay because I hadnt sexually harassed her, and contrary to her other allegation, she had received her annual pay increases. Now I had to hire another lawyer to defend myself, Washington attorney Bob Bennett.
I spent most of the rest of May campaigning for the health-care and crime bills across the country, but there were always other things going on as well. By far the best of them was the birth of our first nephew, Tyler Cassidy Clinton, whom Roger and Molly brought into the world on May 12.
On the eighteenth, I signed an important Head Start reform bill, on which Secretaries Shalala and Riley had worked hard; it increased the number of poor children served by the preschool program, improved its quality, and provided services for children under three for the first time with our new Early Head Start initiative.
The next day I welcomed Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao of India to the White House. The Cold War and clumsy diplomacy had kept India and the United States apart for too long. With a population of nearly one billion, India was the worlds largest democracy. Over the previous three decades, tensions with China had driven it closer to the Soviet Union, and the Cold War had pushed the United States closer to Indias neighbor Pakistan. Since becoming independent, the two nations had been involved in a bitter, seemingly endless dispute over Kashmir, the predominantly Muslim region in northern India. With the Cold War over, I thought I had an opportunity, as well as an obligation, to improve U.S.-India relations.
The main sticking point was the conflict between our efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and Indias drive to develop them, which the Indians saw as a necessary deterrent to Chinas nuclear arsenal and a prerequisite to its becoming a world power. Pakistan had developed a nuclear program, too, creating a dangerous situation on the Indian subcontinent. I believed that their nuclear arsenals made both India and Pakistan less secure, but the Indians didnt see it that way and were determined not to let the United States interfere with what they saw as their legitimate prerogative to proceed with their nuclear program. Even so, the Indians wanted to improve our relations as much as I did.
While we didnt resolve our differences, Prime Minister Rao and I broke the ice and began a new chapter in Indo-U.S. relations, which continued to warm throughout my two terms and afterward.
On the day I met with Prime Minister Rao, Jackie Kennedy Onassis died after a battle with cancer. She was only sixty-four. Jackie was the most private of our great public icons, to most people an indelible image of elegance, grace, and grieving. To those lucky enough to know her, she was what she seemed to be, but much morea bright woman full of life, a fine mother and good friend. I knew how much her children, John and Caroline, and her companion, Maurice Tempelsman, would miss her. Hillary would miss her, too; she had been a source of constant encouragement, sound advice, and genuine friendship.
At the end of May, I had to decide whether to extend most-favored-nation status to China. MFN was actually a slightly misleading term for normal trade relations without any extra tariffs or other barriers. America already had a sizable trade deficit with China, one that would grow over the years as the United States purchased between 35 and 40 percent of Chinese exports annually. After the violence in Tiananmen Square and the crackdown on dissidents that followed, Americans from across the political spectrum felt the Bush administration had been too quick to reestablish normal relations with Beijing. During the election campaign I had been critical of President Bushs policy, and in 1993 I had issued an executive order requiring progress on a range of issues from emigration to human rights to forced prison labor before I would extend MFN to China. In May, Warren Christopher sent me a report saying that all the emigration cases had been resolved; that we had signed a memorandum of understanding on how to deal with the prison labor issue; and that for the first time China had said that it would adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, Christopher said, there were still human rights abuses in the arrest and detention of peaceful political dissidents and the repression of Tibets religious and cultural traditions.
China was extremely sensitive to other nations interfering in its political affairs. The Chinese leaders also felt that they were managing all the change they could handle with their economic modernization program and attendant huge population shifts from inland provinces to booming coastal cities. Because our engagement had produced some positive results, I decided, with the unanimous support of my foreign policy and economic advisors, to extend MFN and, for the future, to delink our human rights efforts from trade. The United States had a big stake in bringing China into the global community. Greater trade and involvement would bring more prosperity to Chinese citizens; more contacts with the outside world; more cooperation on problems like North Korea, where we needed it; greater adherence to the rules of international law; and, we hoped, the advance of personal freedom and human rights.
In the first week of June, Hillary and I went to Europe to honor the fiftieth anniversary of D-day, June 6, 1944, when the United States and its allies crossed the English Channel and stormed the beaches of Normandy. It was the largest naval invasion in history and marked the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.
The trip began in Rome, with a visit to the Vatican to see the pope and Italys new prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, the countrys biggest media owner and a political novice, who had put together an interesting coalition that included an extreme right-wing party that evoked comparisons with fascism. Despite his incomplete recovery from a broken leg, His Holiness Pope John Paul II was vigorous in discussing world issues, ranging from whether religious liberty could be secured in China to the possibilities of cooperation with moderate Muslim countries to our differences over how best to limit population explosion and promote sustainable development in poor nations.
Berlusconi was, in some ways, Italys first television-age politician: charismatic, strong-willed, and determined to bring his own brand of discipline and direction to Italys notoriously unstable political life. His critics accused him of trying to impose a neo-fascist order on Italy, a charge he strongly denied. I was pleased with Berlusconis assurances that he was committed to preserving democracy and human rights, maintaining Italys historic partnership with the United States, and fulfilling Italys NATO responsibilities in Bosnia.
On June 3, I spoke at the American cemetery at Nettuno, once scarred by battle, now lush with pine and cypress trees. Row after row of marble headstones display the names of the 7,862 soldiers buried there. The names of another 3,000 Americans whose bodies were never found are inscribed in the chapel nearby. All of them died too young, in the liberation of Italy. This was the battle theater in which my father had served.
The next day we were in England, at Mildenhall Air Force Base near Cambridge, where we went to another American cemetery, this one with the names of 3,812 airmen, soldiers, and sailors who had been based there, and another Wall of the Missing with more than 5,000 names on it, including two who never returned from their flights over the English Channel: Joe Kennedy Jr., the oldest of the Kennedy children, who everyone thought would become the politician in the family; and Glenn Miller, the American bandleader whose music was all the rage in the 1940s. At the event the Air Force Band played Millers theme song, Moonlight Serenade.
After a meeting with John Major at Chequers, the fifteenth-century country residence of the British prime minister, Hillary and I attended a mammoth dinner in Portsmouth, where I was seated next to the queen. I was taken with her grace and intelligence and the clever manner in which she discussed public issues, probing me for information and insights without venturing too far into expressing her own political views, which was taboo for the British head of state. Her Majesty impressed me as someone who, but for the circumstance of her birth, might have become a successful politician or diplomat. As it was, she had to be both, without quite seeming to be either.
After the dinner we were guests of the royal family on their yacht, the HMS Britannia, where we had the pleasure of spending time with the Queen Mother, who at ninety-three was still lively and lovely, with luminous, piercing eyes. The following morning, the day before D-day, we all attended the Drumhead Service, the religious ceremony for the Forces Committed to battle. Princess Diana, who was separated but not divorced from Prince Charles, also came. After saying hello to Hillary and me, she went out into the crowd to shake hands with her fellow countrymen, who were obviously happy to see her. During the little time I had spent with Charles and Diana, I liked them both and wished that life had dealt them a different hand.
When the service was over, we boarded the Britannia for lunch and sailed out into the English Channel, to begin the crossing among a huge fleet of ships. After a short sail, we said good-bye to the royal family and boarded a small boat crewed by U.S. Navy SEALs, which took us to the aircraft carrier George Washington for the rest of the voyage. Hillary and I enjoyed dinner with some of the six thousand sailors and marines who manned the ship, and I worked on my speeches.
On D-day, I spoke at Pointe du Hoc, Utah Beach, and the U.S. cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. Each site was filled with veterans from World War II.
I also took a walk on Utah Beach with three veterans, one of whom had won the Medal of Honor for heroism on that fateful day fifty years earlier. This was his first trip back. He told me we were standing almost exactly where he had landed in 1944. Then he pointed up the beach and told me his brother had landed a few hundred yards in that direction. He said, Its funny how life works out. I won the Medal of Honor and my brother was killed. You still miss him, dont you? I asked. Ill never forget his reply: Every day, for fifty years.
At the ceremony, I was introduced by Joe Dawson of Corpus Christi, Texas, who, as a young captain, was credited as being the first officer to successfully reach the top of the forbidding bluffs of Normandy under withering German fire. Almost 9,400 Americans died on D-day, including thirty-three pairs of brothers, a father and his son, and eleven men from tiny Bedford, Virginia. I acknowledged that those who survived and had returned to the scene of their triumph may walk with a little less spring in their step and their ranks are growing thinner. But let us never forget, when they were young, these men saved the world.
The next day I was in Paris to meet with Mayor Jacques Chirac, speak to the French National Assembly in the Palais Bourbon, and attend a dinner hosted by President Franois Mitterrand at the Elyse Palace. Mitterrands dinner ended about midnight, and I was surprised when he asked me if Hillary and I would like to see the New Louvre, the magnificent creation of Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. Mitterrand was seventy-seven and in ill health, but he was eager to show off Frances latest masterpiece. When Franois, U.S. ambassador Pamela Harriman, Hillary, and I arrived, we found that our tour guide was none other than Pei himself. We looked at the magnificent glass pyramid, the restored and adapted old buildings, and the excavated Roman ruins for more than an hour and a half. Mitterrands energy never flagged as he supplemented Peis narrative to make sure we didnt miss anything.
The final day of the trip was a personal one, a return to Oxford to receive an honorary degree. It was one of those perfect English spring days. The sun was shining, a breeze was blowing, and the trees, wisteria, and flowers were all in bloom. In brief remarks, I referred to the D-day commemoration, then said, History does not always give us grand crusades, but it always gives us opportunities. We had plenty of them, at home and abroad: restoring economic growth, extending the reach of democracy, ending environmental destruction, building a new security in Europe, and halting the spread of nuclear weapons and terrorism. Hillary and I had had an unforgettable week, but it was time to get back to those opportunities.
The day after I returned, Senator Kennedys Labor and Human Resources Committee reported out a health-care reform bill. It was the first time legislation providing universal coverage had ever even made it out of a full congressional committee. One Republican, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, had voted for it. Jeffords encouraged me to keep reaching out to Republicans. He said that with a couple of amendments that wouldnt gut the bill we could pick up a few more votes.
Our euphoria was short-lived. Two days later, Bob Dole, after having told me earlier that we would work out a compromise on the issue, announced that he would block any health-care legislation and make my program a major issue in the November congressional elections. A few days later, Newt Gingrich was quoted as saying the Republican strategy was to make health-care reform unpassable by voting against improving amendments. He was as good as his word. On June 30, the House Ways and Means Committee voted out a universal coverage bill without a single Republican vote.
The Republican leaders had received a memorandum from William Kristol, former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, urging them to kill health-care reform. Kristol said the Republicans couldnt afford to allow anything to pass; a success on health care would present a serious political threat to the Republican Party, while its demise would be a monumental setback for the President. At the end of May, at a Memorial Day retreat, the Republican congressional leaders decided to adopt Kristols position. I wasnt surprised that Gingrich would follow Kristols hard line; his goal was to win the House and push the country to the right. Dole, on the other hand, was genuinely interested in health care and knew we needed to reform the system. But he was running for President. All he had to do was to hold forty-one of his fellow Republicans for a filibuster and we were sunk.
On June 21, I transmitted to Congress a welfare reform bill designed by Donna Shalala, Bruce Reed, and their topflight policy people to make welfare a second chance, not a way of life. The bill was the product of months of consultations with every affected interest group, from governors to people on welfare. The legislation required able-bodied people to go to work after two years on welfare, during which time the government would provide education and training for them. If there was no private-sector job available, the welfare recipient would be required to take a government-subsidized one.
Other provisions were designed to make sure recipients wouldnt be worse off economically in the workforce than they had been on welfare, including more money for child-support enforcement, and continuing health and nutritional coverage for a transition period under Medicaid and the food stamp program. These changes, plus the large EITC tax cut for low-wage workers enacted in 1993, would be more than enough to make even low-wage jobs more attractive than welfare. Of course, if we passed health-care reform, lower-income workers would have permanent, not just temporary, health coverage, and welfare reform would be even more successful.
I also proposed to end the perverse incentive in the present system under which young teen mothers received more aid if they moved out of their homes than if they continued to live with their parents and stayed in school. And I urged Congress to toughen the child-support enforcement law, to force absent parents to come up with more of the startling $34 billion worth of court-ordered, but still unpaid, child support. Secretary Shalala had already granted several states waivers from existing federal rules to pursue many of these reforms, and they were producing results: the welfare rolls were already dropping sharply.
June was a big month for international affairs: I tightened sanctions on Haiti; Hillary and I hosted a state dinner for the emperor and empress of Japan, both highly intelligent, gentle people who spread goodwill for their country wherever they went; and I met with King Hussein of Jordan, and the presidents of Hungary, Slovakia, and Chile. By far the biggest foreign policy issue, however, was North Korea.
As I mentioned earlier, North Korea had prevented inspections by the IAEA to make sure their spent fuel rods were not being reprocessed into plutonium for nuclear weapons. In March, when the inspections were stopped, I had pledged to seek UN sanctions against North Korea and refused to rule out military action. It got worse after that. In May, North Korea began to discharge fuel from a reactor in a way that prevented the inspectors from adequately monitoring its operation and determining what use was being made of the spent fuel.
President Carter called me on June 1 and said he would like to go to North Korea to try to resolve the problem. I sent Ambassador Bob Gallucci, who was handling the matter for us, down to Plains, Georgia, to brief Carter on the seriousness of the North Korean violations. He still wanted to go, and after consulting with Al Gore and my national security team, I decided it was worth trying. About three weeks earlier, I had received a sobering estimate of the staggering losses both sides would suffer if war broke out. I was in Europe for D-day, so Al Gore called Carter and told him that I had no objection to his going to North Korea as long as President Kim Il Sung understood that I would not agree to a suspension of the sanctions unless North Korea let the inspectors do their jobs, agreed to freeze its nuclear program, and committed to a new round of talks with the United States on building a non-nuclear future.
On June 16, President Carter called from Pyongyang and then did a live interview on CNN saying that Kim would not expel the inspectors from its nuclear complex as long as good-faith efforts were made to resolve the differences over international inspections. Carter then said that because of this very positive step, our administration should ease its sanction efforts and start high-level negotiations with North Korea. I replied that if North Korea was prepared to freeze its nuclear program, we would return to talks, but it wasnt clear to me that North Korea had agreed to that.
Based on previous experience, I was unwilling to trust North Korea and would leave the sanctions hanging until we received official confirmation of North Koreas change in policy. Within a week we got it, when President Kim sent me a letter confirming what he had told Carter and accepting our other preconditions for talks. I thanked President Carter for his efforts and announced that North Korea had agreed to all our conditions, and that North and South Korea had agreed to discuss a possible meeting between their presidents. In return, I said that the United States was willing to start talks with North Korea in Geneva the following month, and that while they were taking place we would suspend our sanctions efforts.
At the end of June, I announced several staff changes that I hoped would better equip us to deal with our large legislative agenda and the elections just four months away. A few weeks earlier Mack McLarty had told me he thought it was time for him to change jobs. He had taken a lot of hits for the Travel Office and had endured countless press stories criticizing our decision-making process. Mack suggested that I appoint Leon Panetta chief of staff, because he had a good understanding of Congress and the press and would run a tight ship. When word got out about Mack, others also favored Leon for the job. Mack said he would like to try to build bridges to moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress, and to oversee our preparations for the Summit of the Americas, to be held in Miami in December.
I thought Mack had done a better job than he had gotten credit for, managing a much smaller White House with a much heavier workload, and playing a pivotal role in our victories on the economic plan and NAFTA. As Bob Rubin often said, Mack had established a collegial atmosphere within the White House and with the cabinet that many previous administrations never achieved. This environment had helped us to get a lot done, both in Congress and with the government agencies. It had also encouraged the kind of free and open debate that led to criticism of our decision-making process, but that, given the complexity and novelty of many of our challenges, led to better decisions.
Moreover, I doubted there was much we could do, apart from reducing the leaks, to avoid the negative press coverage. Professor Thomas Patterson, an authority on the medias role in elections, had recently published an important book, Out of Order, which helped me to better understand what was going on, and to take it less personally. Pattersons thesis was that press coverage of presidential campaigns had become steadily more negative over the past twenty years or so, as the press had come to see itself as the mediator between candidates and the public, with the responsibility to tell the voters how they should view the candidates and what was wrong with them. In 1992, Bush, Perot, and I had all received more negative than positive coverage.
In his postscript to the 1994 edition of Out of Order, Patterson said that, after the 92 election, the media for the first time had taken its negative bias from the campaign straight into its coverage of the administration. Now, he said, a Presidents news coverage depends less on his actual performance in office than on the medias cynical bias. The press nearly always magnifies the bad and underplays the good. For example, the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs said that, on my handling of domestic policy issues, the coverage was 60 percent negative, mostly focusing on broken campaign commitments, even though, as Patterson said, I had kept dozens of my campaign commitments and that I was a President who should have acquired a reputation for fulfilling his promises, in part by prevailing in Congress on 88 percent of contested votes, a mark bettered only by Eisenhower in 1953 and Johnson in 1965. Patterson concluded that the negative coverage drove down not only my approval rating but also public support for my programs, including health care, and thus imposed extraordinary costs on the Clinton presidency and the national interest.
In the summer of 1994, Thomas Pattersons book helped me to see that there might be nothing I could do to change the press coverage. If that was true, I had to learn to handle it better. Mack McLarty had never sought the chief of staffs job, and Leon Panetta was willing to take on the challenge. He had already built a record at OMB that would be hard to improve onour first two budgets were the first in seventeen years to be adopted by Congress on time; the budgets guaranteed three years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since Truman was President; and perhaps most impressive, they brought the first reduction in discretionary domestic spending in twenty-five years, while still providing increases for education, Head Start, job training, and new technologies. Perhaps as chief of staff, Leon could more clearly communicate what we had done and were trying to accomplish for America. I named him, and appointed Mack counselor to the President, with the job description he had recommended.