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Convention Speaker: President Bill Clinton

By Karen Foerstel
Congressional Quarterly

Bill Clinton, the first two-term Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, will have his swan song on the first night of the convention, his Aug. 14 address to the Democratic faithful in celebration of his presidency.

But perhaps the most important indicator of his legacy will be how well his vice president, Al Gore, does in November. And getting off the stage to allow Gore to take over is one reason Clinton will not be around for the rest of the convention.

The speech on Monday night is likely to be a sentimental look back at the best of the last eight years, with a lot of attention focused on the economic boom enjoyed by the American people under his administration and little notice of the year in which he was distracted by impeachment.

Also likely to be downplayed are the first two years of his presidency, in which Clinton clashed repeatedly with the agenda of Democratic leaders in Congress.

A prime example is the failed health care plan, created by Hillary Rodham Clinton and pushed by Bill Clinton but trampled by congressional Democrats.

Clinton seemed to come into his own after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995. Though the change shocked congressional Democrats, it also eventually unified them, with Clinton (and his veto pen) as their leader.

Clinton emerged from the 1995-96 budget wars looking stronger and more presidential. Republicans had to bring in reinforcements for their negotiators at times because they were concerned that their leaders were becoming too chummy with the president.

Many of Clinton's most noteworthy accomplishments, such as the 1997 deal that balanced the federal budget and the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, came from reaching accords across party lines. The administration also takes credit for the 1996 overhaul of the welfare system - a bill largely crafted by the GOP - which Clinton nearly did not sign.

Clinton's personal style also helped with another trademark of his administration - peace negotiations. His ability to connect with foreign leaders as different as Gerry Adams and Yassir Arafat helped cement the central U.S. role at the negotiating tables of the most intractable world leaders.

But just as Ronald Reagan was weakened by the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages scandal, Clinton's second term will be remembered for impeachment.

Though the Senate declined to convict him, the House on Dec. 19, 1998, impeached Clinton on two of four articles of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

Clinton was only the second president to be impeached. The other was Andrew Johnson.

The counts against Clinton stemmed from his personal involvement with then-White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky and his accounts of their relationship in depositions.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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