Public image of Bill Clinton

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Bill Clinton

  • Governor of Arkansas

President of the United States

First term

Second term


Signature of Bill Clinton.svg
President of the United States

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton's public image is most notably characterized by high public approval ratings, aided by his youthful appearance, as well as his charismatic, and soundbite-ready style of speech. His personal background and lifestyle led to Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison to call him the first "black president". Clinton was also dogged by investigations throughout his presidency, particularly of sexual misconduct, damaging the public's beliefs of his trustworthiness, though his approval ratings remained high, even as his impeachment trial continued.

Public approval[edit]

Clinton's approval ratings throughout his presidential career

Clinton's job approval rating ranged from 36% in mid-1993 to 64% in late 1993 and early 1994.[1] In his second term, his rating consistently ranged from the high-50s to the high-60s.[1][2] After his impeachment proceedings in 1998 and 1999, Clinton's rating reached its highest point at 73% approval.[3] He finished with a Gallup poll approval rating of 65%,[4] higher than that of every other departing president measured since Harry Truman.[5]

As he was leaving office, a CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup poll revealed 45% said they'd miss him. While 55% thought he "would have something worthwhile to contribute and should remain active in public life", 68% thought he'd be remembered for his "involvement in personal scandal", and 58% answered "No" to the question "Do you generally think Bill Clinton is honest and trustworthy?". 47% of the respondents identified themselves as being Clinton supporters. 47% said he would be remembered as either "outstanding" or "above average" as a president while 22% said he would be remembered as "below average" or "poor".[6]

The Gallup Organization published a poll in February 2007 asking respondents to name the greatest president in U.S. history; Clinton came in fourth place, capturing 13% of the vote. In a 2006 Quinnipiac University Polling Institute poll asking respondents to name the best president since World War II, Clinton ranked 3% behind Ronald Reagan to place second with 25% of the vote. However, in the same poll, when respondents were asked to name the worst president since World War II, Clinton placed 1% behind Richard Nixon and 18% behind George W. Bush to come in third with 16% of the vote.[7]

In May 2006, a CNN poll comparing Clinton's job performance with that of his successor, George W. Bush, found that a strong majority of respondents said Clinton outperformed Bush in six different areas questioned.[8] ABC News characterized public consensus on Clinton as, "You can't trust him, he's got weak morals and ethics – and he's done a heck of a good job."[9] Clinton's 65% Gallup Poll approval rating was also the highest Gallup approval rating of any Postwar President leaving office, one point ahead of Reagan.[10]

Public image[edit]

Clinton reading with a child in Chicago, September 1998.

As the first Baby Boomer president, Clinton was the first president in a half-century not to have been alive during World War II. Authors Martin Walker and Bob Woodward state Clinton's innovative use of soundbite-ready dialogue, personal charisma, and public perception-oriented campaigning was responsible for his high public approval ratings.[11][12] When Clinton played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show, Clinton was sometimes described by religious conservatives as "the MTV president."[13] Since 2000, he has frequently been referred to as "The Big Dog" or "Big Dog."[14][15] His prominent role in campaigning for President Obama during the 2012 presidential election and his widely-publicised speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, where he officially nominated Obama and criticised Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Republican policies in detail, earned him the nickname "Explainer-in-Chief".[16][17] Other nicknames include "Slick Willie",[18] "The Comeback Kid"[19] and "The First Black President".[20]

Popularity among African-Americans[edit]

Clinton drew strong support from the African American community and made improving race relations a major theme of his presidency.[21] In 1998, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison in The New Yorker called Clinton "the first Black president," saying, "Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas," and comparing Clinton's sex life, scrutinized despite his career accomplishments, to the stereotyping and double standards that blacks typically endure.[22]

In 2008, Morrison's sentiments were raised anew as Barack Obama, who would later become the country's first African-American president, ran for the presidency. After endorsing Obama, Morrison distanced herself from her 1998 remark about Clinton, saying that it was misunderstood. She alleged that she has "no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race" and claimed she was only describing the way he was being treated during the impeachment trial as an equivalent to a poor black person living in the ghetto.[23] Obama himself, when asked in a Democratic debate about Morrison's declaration of Clinton as "black", replied that Clinton had an enormous "affinity" with the black community, but joked he would need to see Clinton's dancing ability before judging him to be black.[24][25]

One measure of Clinton's popularity among African-American and other minority citizens was demonstrated in 2002, when the Compton Unified School District in Compton, California chose a name for a new primary school. The district is evenly divided between African American and Hispanic students; community leaders decided rather than name the school after an African American or Hispanic figure, potentially snubbing one of the communities, they would christen name the school after Clinton, whose popularity in both communities was enormous.

Sexual misconduct allegations[edit]

Throughout his career, Clinton has been subject to various allegations of sexual misconduct, though only his extramarital sexual relationships with Lewinsky and Flowers have been admitted by him.[26]

For alleged misconduct during his governorship Paula Jones brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton while he was president. Clinton argued that as a sitting president, he should not be vulnerable to a civil suit of this nature. The case landed in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that "Deferral of this litigation until petitioner's Presidency ends is not constitutionally required."[27]

However, Republican judge Susan Webber Wright of Arkansas dismissed the case.[28][29] Soon afterwards, Jones appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.[30]

During the deposition for the Jones lawsuit which was held at the White House,[31] Clinton denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky – a denial that became the basis for the impeachment charge of perjury.

On November 18, 1998, Clinton agreed to an out-of-court settlement, and agreed to pay Jones and her attorneys a sum of $850,000.00.[32] Clinton, however, still offered no apology to Jones and still denied ever engaging in a sexual affair with her.[32]

In 1998, Kathleen Willey alleged Clinton sexually assaulted her four years previously. In 1998, Juanita Broaddrick alleged she was raped by Clinton some twenty years previously. The independent counsel determined Willey gave "false information" to the FBI and inconsistent sworn testimony related to the Jones allegation. Broaddrick's only sworn testimony about Clinton was a previous denial of any harassment by Clinton.[33] Gennifer Flowers, Elizabeth Ward Gracen, Sally Perdue and Dolly Kyle Browning – claimed to have had adulterous sexual relations with Clinton during or before his service as governor. Gracen later apologized to Hillary Clinton for having sex with Bill.[34] After Gracen made her claim, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr issued a subpoena to have her testify in court. Gracen, however, eluded the subpoena.[35]

Dolly Kyle Browning alleged that she and Clinton engaged in a long sexual affair between the years of 1959 and 1992.[36] Browning began writing a "semi-autobiographical novel" about the affair. In the publication process, Browning claims that Clinton did everything in his power to prohibit and undermine publication. Browning sued Clinton for damages, but the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied her appeal.[37]

Arkansas Project[edit]

It has been alleged that many Republican advocates, most notably newspaper owner Richard Mellon Scaife, had organized a fundraising campaign to smear Clinton's image in the media during his time in office.[38] Leading the Arkansas Project, Scaife and other associates sought to find sources in Clinton's home state of Arkansas who would be willing to dish out negative allegations against the President.[38] New York publisher Joan Bingham noted that Scaife told her and a fellow Democrat during a luncheon in August 1994 that "We're going to get Clinton, and you'll be much happier because Al Gore will be president."[38]

Scaife would get involved in numerous anti-Clinton activities. He gave $2.3 million to the American Spectator magazine to dig up dirt on Clinton and supported other conservative groups that harassed the president and his administration.[38] The White House and its allies responded by fingering Scaife as the central figure in "a vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president," as Hillary Rodham Clinton described it.[38] James Carville, Clinton's former campaign aide and rabid defender, called Scaife "the archconservative godfather in [a] heavily funded war against the president."[38] In 1999, however, Scaife's key aide Richard Larry confessed to the Washington Post that he, not Scaife, was the mastermind behind the Arkansas Project.[38]


  1. ^ a b "Job Performance Ratings for President Clinton". Retrieved August 23, 2012. 
  2. ^ Bill Clinton: Job Ratings -
  3. ^ Poll: Clinton's approval rating up in wake of impeachment - CNN, December 20, 1998
  4. ^ "Clinton Leaves Office With Mixed Public Reaction". Gallup Polling. January 12, 2001. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Bush Presidency Closes With 34% Approval, 61% Disapproval". Gallup Polling. January 14, 2009. Retrieved August 23, 2012. 
  6. ^ Poll: Majority of Americans glad Clinton is leaving office - Keating Holland, CNN, January 10, 2001
  7. ^ "Presidents and History". Retrieved June 25, 2007. 
  8. ^ Poll: Clinton outperformed Bush -
  9. ^ Poll: Clinton Legacy Mixed,, January 17, 2001.
  10. ^ "Historical Presidential Approval Ratings - End Of Term Plus Current Ratings". Retrieved November 9, 2008. 
  11. ^ Martin Walker, Clinton: the President they deserve, Fourth Estate 1999
  12. ^ Bob Woodward, The choice: how Clinton won, Touchstone 1996, ISBN 0-684-81308-4
  13. ^ Bresler, Robert J. (January 2001). "The Muddled Meaning of the 2000 Election". USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education). Retrieved January 2, 2007. 
  14. ^ Dowd, Maureen (October 22, 2000). "Liberties; Dare Speak His Name". New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2012. They're going to have to let the big dog run. 
  15. ^ Rutenberg, Jim; Zernike, Kate (September 20, 2010). "Bill Clinton Stumps for Obama". New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2012. The Big Dog, as he is known among those in the tight world of Clinton associates... 
  16. ^ McDuffee, Allen (September 6, 2012). "Bill Clinton’s DNC speech as ‘explainer in chief,’ ‘it takes some brass,’ and more [AM Briefing]". The Washington Post 6 September 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  17. ^ Poniewozik, James (September 6, 2012). "The Morning After: Obama Turns to Bill Clinton, Explainer-in-Chief". Time. Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  18. ^ Cornwell, Rupert (September 23, 2009). "'Slick Willie': Clinton's untold story Recordings shed new light on the Lewinsky scandal, Boris Yeltsin's antics and Al Gore's failed presidency bid". The Independent. Retrieved February 28, 2012. 
  19. ^ Julian Borger (October 26, 2004). "Thinner and frailer, the Comeback Kid puts heart into Kerry's campaign". London: The Guardian (UK). Retrieved April 29, 2007. 
  20. ^ Morrison, Toni (October 5, 1998). "Clinton as the First Black President". The New Yorker. 
  21. ^ A Conversation With President Bill Clinton on Race in America Today - interview with Clinton, Center for American Progress, July 16, 2004.
  22. ^ Morrison, Toni (October 1998). "Clinton as the first black president". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 1, 2006. 
  23. ^ Sachs, Andrea. "10 questions for Tony Morrison", Time, May 7, 2008. Accessed May 8, 2008.
  24. ^ "The Democratic Debate in South Carolina". New York Times. January 21, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2012. 
  25. ^ Asking Barack Obama If Bill Clinton was the first "black president." Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  26. ^ Clines, Francis X. (March 14, 1998). "TESTING OF A PRESIDENT: THE ACCUSER; JONES LAWYERS ISSUE FILES ALLEGING CLINTON PATTERN OF HARASSMENT OF WOMEN". The New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2008. The Presidential deposition released today confirmed several revelations reported earlier, including Mr. Clinton's confirmation... that he had had sex with Gennifer Flowers, a one-time Arkansas worker. 
  27. ^ Clinton v. Jones, No. 95-1853
  28. ^ The Washington Post. August 26, 1999  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  29. ^ "Clinton Welcomes Jones Decision; Appeal Likely - April 2, 1998". Retrieved November 9, 2008. 
  30. ^ Baker, Peter (November 14, 1998). "Clinton Settles Paula Jones Lawsuit for $850,000". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  31. ^ Deposition of William Jefferson Clinton, January 17, 1998
  32. ^ a b "Appeals court ponders Paula Jones settlement - November 18, 1998". Retrieved November 9, 2008. 
  33. ^ "Clinton Accuser's Story Aired, Washington Post, 1999". The Washington Post. March 14, 1999. 
  34. ^ "Former Miss America Apologizes To First Lady - April 25, 1998". Archived from the original on December 15, 2006. Retrieved November 9, 2008. 
  35. ^ "Big Year for the Bad News Bearers". The Washington Post. December 24, 1998. 
  36. ^ "Legal Documents: The Dolly Kyle Browning Declaration". CNN. 
  37. ^ Browning v. Clinton No. 01-5050, June 11, 2002. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  38. ^ a b c d e f g Robert G. Kaiser, Ira Chinoy (May 2, 1999). "Scaife: Funding Father of the Right". Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2013.