“It’s frustrating when I think we’re majoring in the minors, either over the budget debate, or going right back to politics as soon as the last election is over instead of getting into the grimy details where the future of America will be written.”
— Bill Clinton, on how people need to stop obsessing over Hillary’s 2016 plans or potential Presidential candidates and focus on the problems today. (Via Politico)
I think that Eisenhower and Reagan probably would have been tempted to seek a third term, if possible. They both had health problems during their Presidencies, but I could see Eisenhower seeking a third term anyway. He had a difficult time stepping away, which is one reason why he waited so long to give Richard Nixon a solid endorsement in 1960. It wasn’t necessarily a lack of confidence in Nixon’s abilities, but partly because Ike felt that he (Ike) was still the best man for the job.
Reagan, like Clinton, loved being President, too. But when Reagan left office in 1989, he was about two weeks away from his 78th birthday and, according to his official biographer, Edmund Morris, there were signs that he may have been facing the early stages of his Alzheimer’s in the last few weeks of his Administration. Since President Reagan looked relatively healthy and definitely looked fit for his age, it’s difficult for people to realize that he was almost a full eight years older than Eisenhower (70) was when Ike left office. Even if Eisenhower had served another term, Ike still would have been four years younger than Reagan at the end of that third term. I think Reagan’s age and deteriorating health would have prevented him from a third term if it was Constitutionally possible. As closely as his public image was protected by Nancy Reagan, there is no way she would have stood by while he hung on for another term and publicly started to suffer from serious Alzheimer’s symptoms.
An interesting thing is that, if they had the opportunity to run for a third term and their health allowed it, I think Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton all would have been easily elected to another term. I think George W. Bush would have had a much more difficult time with seeking a third term, if possible. However, I don’t think Bush would have run again even if he was Constitutionally eligible. In those last few months of 2008, President Bush looked SO ready to get back to Texas. Even if his chances of being re-elected were positive, I still think he would have chosen retirement instead of a third term.
As for the second part of your question, I think that Truman would have stepped away in 1952, no matter what. All Truman ever wanted to do was remain a U.S. Senator. When he was suggested as a potential Vice Presidential candidate, he was not interested, and when others reminded him that President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely wouldn’t survive the term, Truman declared that he didn’t want to be President either. Of course, he was elected Vice President and as in the case of almost every VP who succeeds to the Presidency, once Truman got to the White House he wanted to be elected to a term in his own right. Still, before Eisenhower declared that he was a Republican, Truman was suggesting that he (Truman) would be happy to step aside and be Eisenhower’s running mate if Ike wanted to run for President as a Democrat. So, Harry Truman did not mind retiring home to Missouri in 1952, and I think he would have done so, no matter what.
LBJ’s case was different. The fact that he was very nearly upset in the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary by Eugene McCarthy really shook President Johnson up and showed that he was vulnerable. If there wasn’t a serious challenge from within his own party — first from McCarthy and then from RFK — LBJ would have stayed in that race in 1968. Despite his withdrawal from the race, deep down LBJ still had a flicker of hope that the Democratic National Convention would be deadlocked, turn to the outgoing LBJ, draft him into the race, nominate him, and he’d be the conquering hero, vanquishing Nixon and bringing the Vietnam War to an end.
LBJ was also a man of contradictions, though. Throughout his life, he always said that he would die young because all of the men in his family died by the time they were 64 or 65. As much as Johnson was addicted to power and craved the love of the American people (something that he never received like JFK did, which “broke his heart” according to Richard Nixon), he was also deeply worried that another four years in the White House would kill him. Worse yet, he would suffer an incapacitating stroke like Woodrow Wilson. LBJ often had a nightmare where he fell ill like Wilson and was an invalid — a shell of a once-powerful man bedridden or feebly being rolled through the White House in a wheelchair. It was an macabre thing to think about, but it was something that frequently haunted President Johnson, especially because he had suffered a near-fatal massive heart attack in 1955 when he was Senate Majority Leader. The confident, arrogant, impetuous, strong-willed LBJ wanted to take on Nixon and serve four more years in the White House. The sensitive, insecure, depressed LBJ considered resigning, didn’t think he’d live through the next term (1969-1973), and often had to receive a pep talk from Lady Bird to get his act together and go to work. So, with LBJ, it would actually depend on which LBJ you got on decision day when it comes to whether he would have sought a third term if not for the disastrous results of the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary.
By the way, Lyndon Johnson died on January 22, 1973. If he had served a third term, it would have ended on January 20, 1973, just two days prior to the day that he actually died.
Is there nothing on there for Clinton? I really have to update that page.
Yes, there are quite a few great books on Clinton and I’ll list more than one because any of them will do the job.
•The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris (BOOK•KINDLE) is one of my favorites. It’s not a full-fledged biography, just a history of Clinton’s Presidency, but it’s a fantastic book by a solid journalist.
•The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton by Joe Klein (BOOK•KINDLE) is another favorite of mine. It’s short and again focuses just on Clinton’s Presidency, but you’ll really like it if you’re a big Clinton supporter because it sells his legacy about as good as anything else.
•I’m a fan of all of Nigel Hamilton’s work. He’s written two books on Clinton, one on his early life and rise to power, and one on his Presidency. The first one is the best one, Bill Clinton: An American Journey: Great Expectations (BOOK•KINDLE) but it’s definitely worth checking out Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency (BOOK•KINDLE), too.
I could keep going on and on with Clinton books. You can’t go wrong with these books either:
•First In His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss (BOOK•KINDLE)
•The Agenda by Bob Woodward (BOOK•KINDLE): Great look at the early struggles of Clinton’s Presidency
•The Choice: How Bill Clinton Won by Bob Woodward (BOOK•KINDLE): An even better Woodward-style book on the 1996 election
•All Too Human: A Political Education by George Stephanopoulos (BOOK•KINDLE): One of the best insider accounts of a White House at work
And I’ll just end the list with President Clinton’s own autobiography, My Life (BOOK•KINDLE), which is one of the better memoirs written by a President. Like I said, I could go on-and-on because there are lots of good Clinton books. I’ll get that Essential Books page updated soon.
At the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in July 1988, then-Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas was asked to nominate Michael Dukakis for President and gave a rambling, Clint Eastwood-ish speech. To give you an idea of how badly-received that speech was, the arena full of Democrats erupted in cheers when Clinton said, “In conclusion…”
He’s done pretty well for himself in the 24 years since then. At the 2004 DNC, Clinton’s speech in support of John Kerry reminded us how much we miss Bill Clinton. I’m guessing we’ll be feeling something similar as he nominates Barack Obama for a second term. Here are my thoughts (also known as Smart-Ass Commentary) as I watch President Clinton’s speech from the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte:
•You know President Clinton’s on his way when you hear Fleetwood Mac. I love the fact that Clinton has recognizable entrance music like he’s Shawn Michaels.
•As much as I love Clinton, I’d love him 8 million times more if he used Shawn Michaels’ entrance music (“I think I’m cute, I know I’m sexy/I’ve got the looks, That drive the girls wild/I’ve got the moves, That really move ‘em/I send chills, Up and down their spines/I’m just a sexy boy”)
•That’s right…11 seconds in and I’ve referenced professional wrestling. Strap in, kids.
•Oh. Chelsea. (I’m doing everything I can to keep from being sexist and shallow right now.)
•I imagine that President Clinton is far healthier now that he’s lost so much weight, but I kind of miss the Clinton that Phil Hartman played.
•I miss Phil Hartman, too.
•I just miss the 90’s. Can I go back?
•The Democrats did a far better job at capturing the crowd noise in the arena than the Republicans did. Mic’ing the crowd properly makes a difference.
•Clinton: “We’re here to nominate a President. And I’ve got one in mind!” — I’m guessing he has three in mind. And two of them are named “Clinton”.
•Listen, this isn’t going to be as smart-assed as usual — not because it’s a Democratic gathering instead of a Republican gathering, but because I love Bill Clinton. I love Bill Clinton like I love family. I’m going to try to be a smart-ass, but just understand this right now — Bill Clinton is a fucking God in my world.
•It’s amazing how much better of a speaker Bill Clinton is than anybody else in American politics.
•It’s always funny when Clinton does something like mention how Barack “had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama” because you immediately think, “Bill wants to hit that.”
•Seriously, how the hell is Clinton so goddamn natural? The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution sucks.
•Oh. Chelsea. Um…how about we show Michelle more often?
•Clinton makes statistics sound awesome.
•Clinton never learned to hate the far right — I don’t know about that. He hated the shit out of those Republicans who targeted him.
•George W. Bush just got complimented by Clinton for PEPFAR and 18,000 Democrats in Charlotte didn’t know what to do.
•Do Clinton’s long-ass fingers have three knuckles?
•Shout-out for Vice President Biden!
•”Heck, he even appointed Hillary!” — Bill Clinton fucking rules.
•Now Clinton is just talking about Hillary. He might turn around and just nominate her.
•I’m watching this on ABC and they switch camera shots so much that I’ve had about six epileptic seizures since Clinton started. And I don’t even have epilepsy.
•Do you think Jimmy Carter is bitter that nobody asks him to be their Bill Clinton?
•Why do all Democratic political aides wear jeans with suit jackets and white dress shirts but no ties? Is that the uniform?
•Half of these delegates with their stupid hats are just smiling goofily without understanding what is being said. They are like the people who listen to music and only hear the beat without realizing that there are lyrics.
•Have I mentioned how good Bill Clinton is?
•With that said, he is a little wordy, isn’t he?
•(Look who’s talking, Anthony.)
•You know how people wonder how the German people could blindly follow Hitler just because of how he spoke and what he said? Well, after a Bill Clinton speech, I don’t wonder about that so much.
•The director for ABC News really needs to stop switching cameras. Just show the fucking stage. I’m tired of seeing these clowns in the audience with their glittery hats and dumb buttons.
•Has anybody noticed that there are a lot more black people at the Democratic Convention? I wonder why that is?
•Clinton is just straight breaking down everything that’s happened from 2009 until today, why it has happened, and what it means for you. If he can’t be President anymore, can we just have him explain everything that our government does? Would anyone have an issue with that?
•Even if nothing that Clinton was saying was accurate, I’d still believe him.
•Seriously. I’d just blindly believe him. He’s the only person in the world who I can say that about.
•”It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.” — I’m just bowing to Clinton. WE’RE NOT WORTHY!
•I can’t tell if Clinton is going off a prepared speech or just freestyling. Seems like he’s looking at the teleprompter, but his delivery is so natural.
•I’m telling you, Clinton should be the national “Here’s What Happened” guy.
•Okay, Bubba, I love you, but we’re at 40 minutes now.
•By the time Clinton’s done speaking, it will be time to start the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
•I hate crowd reaction shots — everyone is just awkward and makes me feel weird.
•Oh, he’s ramping up…grand finale time!
•Clinton is on fucking fire. Perfect ending.
•And a Presidential hug at the end — Clinton is either shrinking with age or Obama has some lifts in his shoes because Clinton used to be a good two inches taller than Obama.
•FOUR MORE YEARS! FOUR MORE YEARS! And not for Obama — for Bill Clinton. Come on, let’s stop fucking around. Clinton’s 66 years old and won’t be around forever, so let’s hurry up and revoke the stupid 22nd Amendment and get Bill back in the White House. I mean, really. The 22nd was put in place because of FDR’s lengthy term…because…you know…FDR was so terrible for our country. Get rid of the 22nd Amendment and bring back Bill Clinton!
I promise that I’ll be able to be a bigger smart-ass with Vice President Biden and President Obama’s speeches tonight. That commentary will be posted tomorrow morning. Until then, let’s all think about either revoking the 22nd Amendment or just making Bill Clinton the national “Here’s What Happened” czar.
42nd President of the United States (1993-2001)
Full Name: William Jefferson Clinton (Born William Jefferson Blythe III)
Born: August 19, 1946, Julia Chester Hospital, Hope, Arkansas
Term: January 20, 1993-January 20, 2001
Political Party: Democratic
Vice President: Al Gore
Ask many of those Republicans who called for Bill Clinton’s impeachment or fought against so many of the Clinton Administration’s achievements whether they miss Bill Clinton today and I think they’ll tell you “Yes!”. Were we better off during the Clinton Administration? Absolutely. Was Bill Clinton a talented political leader? Definitely. If not for the Twenty-Fifth Amendment would Bill Clinton either still be President or running for President today? I would hope so. Many Americans would have to look up the definition of a “budget surplus” to understand what it is. We enjoyed three straight budget surpluses during the Clinton Administration. Even when he was being impeached, his approval ratings were high, and no President’s approval ratings were higher upon leaving office. A decade without Clinton in the White House has done more than anything to make us miss having Clinton in the White House.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: Not Ranked
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: Not Ranked
1990: Siena Institute: Not Ranked
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 20 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 21 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 36 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 22 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 15 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 13 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 19 of 40
Anonymous asked: Well, what were some of Clinton’s domestic accomplishments then? (Also, thanks for reminding me of Ike’s accomplishments!)
•Longest economic expansion in American History; 116 consecutive months of economic growth
•Lowest unemployment rate in 30 years
•Turned significant budget deficits into three straight budget surpluses
•2000 budget surplus was the largest in American History
•First balanced budgets since 1969
•COPS Program: 10,000 more police officers on the streets
•Lowest violent crime rates in a quarter-century
•Welfare reform; 53% reduction in welfare recipients
•Children’s Health Insurance Program
•Family and Medical Leave Act
•The Brady Bill (Handgun violence prevention)
•Record low poverty rates; lowest poverty rates ever for single mothers, African-Americans, and the elderly
•More jobs created than in any other Presidential Administration
•Lowest inflation rate since JFK was President
•Established drug czar; reduced drug use in children and overall; drug-related murders decreased by nearly 50% in the Clinton Administration
•Highest home-ownership rate in American History
•90% increase in funding for Head Start and ECE programs
•Minimum wage increase
•Adoption and Safe Families Act
•Increased Title-I funding; reduced classroom size; expanded Pell Grants and Work Study Program; Lifetime Learning Tax Credit; HOPE scholarships
•Hate Crimes Enhancement Act
•Crackdown on deadbeat dads; Reduced number of children reported abused or neglected
•Lowest rate of teen births in the 60 years since records started being kept
•Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Care Portability Act
•Medicare/Medicaid reform and security
•Increased numbers of children receiving immunizations and vaccinations
•Increase in preservation and conservation of forests, rivers, coastlines, and prairies; tens of millions of acres of forests preserved; 9 new national monuments created;
•Safe Drinking Water Act
•Reinventing Government Initiative to streamline the federal government
•Smallest federal workforce in 40 years
•Lowest percentage of GDP spending since the Johnson Administration
•21st Century Community Learning Centers/After-school programs (Your humble Presidential historian wrote one of these after-school program grants and funded a program for over 100 kids in Sacramento for 6 years, so I’ll always appreciate President Clinton for this)
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve watched PBS’s new, four-hour-long documentary of Bill Clinton twice in the past week. Because it was so good, it reminded how good the other PBS American Experience documentaries about Presidents are, so I started watching some of the other editions that I have on DVD, thanks to the awesome The Presidents Collection boxed set.
The Presidents Collection is a boxed set of feature-length documentaries on some of the most influential 20th Century Presidents from PBS’s American Experience. It contains 15 DVDs and over 35 hours of documentary goodness on Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, The Kennedys, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.
I spent most of the evening watching the Woodrow Wilson documentary (2 discs/165 minutes long) and almost halfway into the 194-minute-long documentary on George H.W. Bush. I’ve watched these before, but I always forget how good they are. They are detailed and definitive, rich with historic video footage and photographs, and accompanied by commentary from our finest historians and historic figures. Even the reenactments aren’t cheesy like reenactments can so frequently be.
I highly recommend checking out The Presidents Collection, and the boxed set of 5 DVDs from the 2000 series, The American President, which features shorter documentaries on every single President up to Bill Clinton.
(By the way, do you know what is a really amazing piece of historic footage? The grainy video of the U.S. Navy submarine Finback pulling a 20-year-old George H.W. Bush from the Pacific Ocean a few hours after he was forced to parachute into the water from his crippled plane when it was shot down by the Japanese. It’s unbelievable that was caught on film. Oh, and that’s another reason why I include George H.W. Bush near the top of the list when people ask me which Presidents were badasses.)
I’m watching the entire new four-hour PBS American Experience DVD on Bill Clinton…again. I rarely watch something twice, and certainly not twice in the same week. If you haven’t seen the Clinton documentary, it’s a must-see — as all of PBS’s American Experience documentaries tend to be.
If you haven’t seen it, go order it right now.
That’s so tough to say because it’s impossible to measure and we’ve covered so much time. There’s no way to compare recent Presidents with early Presidents like Thomas Jefferson or John Quincy Adams who had classical educations and spoke or read numerous languages.
If you go by university degrees, Woodrow Wilson is the only President to achieve a doctorate. Personally, I think the two most intelligent Presidents have been the two Presidents who have done a couple of the dumbest things: Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. They just seem to have had an unbelievable understanding of nearly everything that they tackled, whether it was in their wheelhouse or not. We haven’t seen too many leaders who operated on that intellectual level.