Special Tercentennial Issue
Distinguished Graduates
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William J. Clinton

J.D. 1973


“Lincoln has always been an inspiration to me,” Bill Clinton told an interviewer during the 1992 presidential primary campaign, “because he overcame personal difficulties and public humiliations, because he had vision and conviction, and he was willing to be misunderstood until he could complete his life’s work.” Clinton’s life’s work will probably continue after his departure from the White Housepossibly, as he once commented, in the field of race relations. Also likely to continue is the historical debate about his tenure, which was marred by a sex scandal. Even Doris Kearns Goodwin, no enemy to Democratic Party leaders, has chided his presidency as the waste of a great opportunity.

Clinton commented, shortly before leaving office: “Well, first, we had a good economic policy. We started with getting the deficit down and then getting rid of it. And we had good social policies to try to bring the country together.”

By embracing the New Democratic Coalition (“the era of big government is over"; “we cut the welfare rolls in half”), he moved his party toward the center, often at his opponents’ expense. Clinton’s legacy should include progress on gun control and a balanced budget, while failures would have to include his proposed health care program. In foreign policy, Clinton took pride in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the results of his activism in Kosovo and Haiti, but his progress in helping to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict was short-lived.