"Supporters, Detractors Sound Off About Ex-President"



During former President Bill Clinton's eight years in office, either he guided the United States into an unprecedented age of economic expansion and international stability in spite of an unfair, illegitimate and partisan attempt to oust him from office, or ...

Peace and prosperity were not the product of a tenure unremarkable at best, criminal at worst and justifiably subject to the highest sanction the Constitution allows: impeachment and removal from office.

These statements effectively sum up the dominant popular attitudes regarding the 42nd president of the United States, scheduled to speak Wednesday at Alumni Arena.

While the Arkansas Democrat's achievements and failures will be debated by pundits and historians for decades to come, one thing is unmistakable: his ability to cleave opinions of him into the "yea" or "nay" category.

Jason Litwak, former candidate for Student Association president and an Erie County Democratic Committee member, places himself firmly in the "yea" category, giving the ex-president high marks for his time in office.

"He's done more for the American people in the past 50 years than any other president," said Litwak. "America really flourished under President Clinton."

Republican James Campbell, professor of political science, finds himself firmly ensconced on the "nay" side.

"He disgraced the presidency in so many ways in a time when people are cynical about politics and turnout is low ... when you can least afford major scandals in public office," said Campbell.

Any discussion of Clinton's presidency centers around two hotly debated points: the economy and his impeachment. Supporters point to record-low unemployment, unprecedented economic growth and hundreds of thousands of jobs created.

"I don't think you can really trump that," said Matthew Schrantz, former president of the now-defunct College Democrats. "When the economy is good, society seems to function a little better."

Jim Twombly, visiting assistant professor of political science and New York State Democratic Committeeman, also highlights the healthy economy as Clinton's greatest achievement. Specifically, he pointed to keeping Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chairman and appointing former Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen followed by Robert Rubin as Treasury secretaries.

"Those appointments were the key in keeping a handle on the economy, making it grow at a time when it didn't necessarily have to," said Twombly.

Others view the good economic times as the product of forces beyond Clinton's control.

"The economy travels in cycles. [President Jimmy] Carter caught it badly and [President Ronald] Reagan rode it well. Clinton just rode it well also," said Michael Dobies, president of the College Republicans.

Jason Wesolowski, a sophomore aerospace engineering major, holds a similar view. "The economy is more controlled by the Congress than the president."

For the ex-president's detractors, his impeachment by the House of Representatives in late 1998 represents the epitome of the Clinton White House. Clinton foes believe that the Senate failed in its duty to convict him for committing what many viewed as high crimes and misdemeanors.

"There's little doubt he knew what 'is' is. He was sworn to uphold the Constitution and he knowingly gave false testimony under oath," said Campbell.

Not surprisingly, Clinton's supporters see the House's action differently. "The Republicans spent $70 million in independent counsels for Bill Clinton and for what? To find no wrongdoing was done," said Litwak. "The impeachment was a joke."

Not all opinions remain rigidly on the left and right sides of the political spectrum, however. Sometimes they cross, leading a Republican to sound like a Democrat, and vice versa.

"Second president ever to be impeached," was all Twombly needed to say about the negative aspects of Clinton's presidency. Though he believes the ex-president's conduct did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, Twombly said Clinton committed a "reprehensible act."

"As a supporter of Clinton, I was rather disappointed at his behavior," he added.

Dobies had no problem praising Clinton where he feels it is appropriate. "He was an extremely intelligent man ... rather adept at foreign policy," he said, crediting Clinton for "moving things forward in a positive way" in the Middle East.

Despite the kind words, a contingent of College Republicans will be attending the speech. "We do want to make our presence known and our opposition to Clinton's reign known," said Dobies.

Regardless of political persuasion, all agree that the scarlet letter of impeachment will forever shape the perceptions of Clinton's legacy.

"While he survived - and left office as one of the most popular presidents in history - he's forever scarred by the impeachment," said Twombly.