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Bill Clinton and the Role of the Government: 1992-1996
When the Gulf War ended, President George H.W. Bush was scoring high in the opinion polls. It seemed inevitable that he would be elected to a second term. Yet, the economy entered into a downturn in the early 1990s. This led to a recession and many citizens desired to see the economy change. Bush raised taxes, something he said he would never do in his campaign. Although he experienced high popularity following the Gulf War, Bush was not able to win victory in the Election of 1992. He was defeated by a Democrat, Bill Clinton. Typically in the 20th Century, the two major parties, Democrats and Republicans, dominated the run for the Presidency. It was very difficult for a third party to run for office and defeat the two leading parties. Yet, in 1992, Ross Perot ran in the election. Perot started a company called Electronic Data Systems and was a billionaire. Perot championed conservative ideals, such as loose gun control, and many felt he pulled votes away from the Republicans. Perot received over 18% of the popular vote, a high percentage for a 3rd party candidate.
A massive dispute between Democrats and Republicans, which persists to this day, is this, should the USA have a big or small government?In the 1980s, two term President, Ronald Reagan, a Conservative Republican, asserted that the government of the USA had grown too large and that heavy taxes for social programs were burdening the economy. This was a view that gained him massive support. Many people supported George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s Vice President, assuming he would continue this trend of shrinking the government and lowering taxes. Clinton believed in government intervention funded by taxes. Yet, he was willing to take moderate approaches to reduce government involvement and spending in various areas to appeal to the desire by many Conservatives to shrink the role of the government.
While Clinton was moderate in enforcing government power, compared to past Democrats, he still pursued government intervention in various ways. For instance, George H.W. Bush vetoed the Family Medical Leave Act, a bill in which the government required businesses to allow employees to take off 12 unpaid weeks off for individual or family medical situations. When Clinton became President, the bill again arose and he signed it into law. This showed that, while Clinton was willing to shrink the government’s intervention is some ways, he was also willing to increase the government’s involvement in other matters. In the early 1990s, many Republicans supported loose gun laws and believed the 2nd amendment supported such views, while many Democrats wanted to have stricter gun laws and believed their approach did not violate the 2nd amendment. Bill Clinton favored stricter gun laws. He signed the Brady Bill into law. This law meant that citizens had to get background checks to purchase guns. The National Rifle Association and other Conservative groups opposed the bill. Yet, it still passed. Raising again the issue of gun laws in the USA, tragically, in 1999, two teenagers killed 12 students and 1 teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado. This caused the nation to reflect on school security and to pursue zero tolerance tactics toward school violence.
Early on, Clinton pursued measures to try and create a national healthcare system for the USA. This would have radically increased the role of the government. This endeavor failed. Partially as a backlash against Clinton’s attempts to expand the government’s involvement in healthcare, the Republicans strategized a political takeover. They claimed Clinton was not the moderate he claimed to be but was actually very liberal on political issues. Newt Gingrich, a Republican Congressman from Georgia, proposed what he called the Contract With America. This was a Conservative plan to limit the government’s involvement and spending. His goal was for the Republicans to gain the House of Representatives. Although the Democrats gained the Presidency in 1992, the Republicans rallied massive victories in the 1994 midterm elections. Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. While the Republicans reduced spending in various areas, they faced opposition when they tried to reduce several government programs, such as Medicare, government funded insurance for the poor. Clinton did compromise and cooperate with Gingrich’s Republican alliance. He agreed to reform welfare to encourage require recipients to seek work. Likewise, he took measures to reduce spending by balancing the government’s budget. The Republicans nominated Senator Bob Dole of Kansas to run for their party against Bill Clinton in 1996. Once again, Ross Perot entered the Presidential race as a 3rd party candidate. This time, Perot was backed by the Reform Party, a party Perot created. Despite the momentum of Republican victories in the 1994 midterm elections, Bill Clinton won a 2nd term to office in the Election of 1996. His victory was achieved partially by an incredibly strong economy that had developed in the USA during his first term.