5. Bob Dole
Once referred to by Newt Gingrich as “tax collector for the welfare state,” Bob Dole was Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976 and was the Republican presidential nominee in 1996.
Dole served in World War II, where he received a Purple Heart.
Serving as a Senator from Kansas, Dole had name recognition from his VP nomination back in 1976. Throughout the 1990s, Bob Dole served as either Senate Majority Leader or Minority leader.
During his time as Senator, some of his accomplishments included working with George McGovern to expand access to Food Stamps as well the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. In the 1980s, he also served as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
In 1996, Bob Dole ran with Jack Kemp on the Republican ticket, hoping to deny Clinton-Gore a second term. Dole’s campaign was a typical, moderate Republican campaign running on standard issues.
They lost to Clinton-Gore, winning only 159 electoral votes.
Following the 1996 campaign, Dole remained active in American politics.
Dole also played an active role in foreign affairs, traveling to the former Soviet bloc and participating in diplomatic negotiations.
Bob Dole endorsed Donald Trump in 2016 and supported him in 2020.
His impact on international affairs earned him a statue in Kosovo. Although Dole rose from humble Kansas beginnings, his leadership defined the 1990s.
4. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Clinton invokes strong feelings among many Americans.
Having run for President in both 2008 and 2016 and having served as Secretary of State under the Obama administration, Clinton is an icon of 2000s and 2010s politics.
However, Clinton’s rise to fame occurred in the 1990s, where she still invoked strong feelings of admiration and hatred among voters.
She served as First Lady from 1993 to 2001, succeeding Barbara Bush. As First Lady, Clinton prioritized expanding healthcare access and immunization of children.
She played a key role in helping Congress pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The program aimed to open up health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured children.
Clinton’s active role in policymaking differed from several first ladies before her. Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush were not as politically active as Clinton was and were more reserved as “background characters.”
Clinton’s active legislative role in healthcare policy earned her both respect and distrust from Americans. She reshaped the power of the First Lady and redefined the influence of the role.
At times, Clinton’s political sway even clashed with the power of Vice President Al Gore in terms of who had the president’s ear.
In 1999, Clinton started her campaign to be a U.S. Senator representing New York. Her name recognition as First Lady helped her to defeat her relatively unknown Republican challenger.
Some interpreted her Senate run as a power move by the Clintons, wanting to continue their time in power past Bill’s presidency.
“For some of the speakers at the Republican convention, Mrs. Clinton was the symbol of feminism run wild, a chilly lawyer who equated marriage with slavery and was bent on radically altering the traditional family. For many of the women who reach for her hand when she works the rope lines these days, she is a kind of everywoman, working hard and under siege from the men in the blue suits.”From The New York Times’ “THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: Political Memo; Backlash for Hillary Clinton Puts Negative Image to Rout“
Clinton’s time in the Senate preserved her name recognition, and in 2008, she lost the Democratic primary to political newcomer Barack Obama.
3. Al Gore
Serving as a Democratic Senator from Tennessee, Al Gore rose to political fame throughout the 1990s. He ran for the Democratic nomination in 1988 but lost the nomination to Michael Dukakis.
In 1992, he was selected by Bill Clinton to be his running mate, placing two Southerners on the Democratic ticket.
As Senator, Gore was one of 10 Democrats to support the Gulf War. He also voted against the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.
His priorities in the Senate focused on issues surrounding technology, the environment, and global warming. Gore was greatly interested in learning about the greenhouse effect and the role that humans played in global warming.
His interest in technological and scientific issues grouped him with other legislators who shared similar interests, known as “Atari Democrats.”
As Vice President, Gore continued to focus on environmental and technological issues. In 1992, he published the book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, which sought to raise awareness about Earth’s ecological problems.
One political legacy that Gore left behind is the start of Democrats’ focus on issues regarding technology and climate change.
“We can’t afford inaction any longer, and, frankly, there’s just no excuse for it. We all want the same thing: for our children and the generations after them to inherit a clean and beautiful planet capable of supporting a healthy human civilization. That goal should transcend politics.”from “An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It“
In 2000, Gore was the Democratic nominee to challenge George W. Bush for the presidency. The election was incredibly close, being decided by the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore (2000).
In 2006, Gore published the book, An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. He still leads initiatives regarding climate change and the environment.
2. George Herbert Walker Bush
Having served in World War II, served in Congress, served as CIA director, and as Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush had a successful political career.
Following Reagan’s presidency, Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988 to become the 41st president.
His presidency meant that Republicans controlled the White House for 12 consecutive years. In some ways, Bush’s presidency was the last gasp of the Reagan Revolution that thrived throughout the 1980s.
His conservative positions on economic and social issues reflected Reagan’s presidency, minus Reagan’s charisma and charm.
Much of Bush’s presidency revolved around foreign affairs, primarily in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, intervention in Panama, and the Persian Gulf War.
Upon the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Bush wrote that “I was pleased to watch freedom and self-determination prevail as one republic after another gained its independence,” acknowledging the freedom gained by the Baltic states, Central Europe, and the Caucasus regions.
While Bush was pleased that the USSR had fallen apart, leaving the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower, he veered away from possibly antagonizing Russia through a reaction that could be perceived as “public triumphal rhetoric.”
Many Americans were confused as to why he didn’t actively celebrate, but his restraint prevented further conflict and allowed a peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union to occur.
In Panama, Bush authorized an invasion to remove General Manuel Noriega as leader. The invasion was justified for several reasons including Noriega’s history of drug trafficking, cracking down on political opponents, and harassing Americans near the Panama canal.
Bush didn’t want to be viewed as a weak leader, and U.S. personnel near the Canal Zone needed to be protected. The invasion was successful, and Bush argued that American intervention had restored democracy to Panama.
Following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, President Bush formed a coalition of over 30 nations to force Iraqi troops out. In 1991, the U.S.-led coalition declared war against Iraq, starting the Gulf War.
The war was quick and decisive due to the sheer size of the coalition and Bush’s implementation of the Powell Doctrine.
“He wanted more of everything in place — more troops, more tanks, more planes, more, more, more. The president sent half a million U.S. forces into the region. He had thoroughly absorbed the post-Vietnam Powell Doctrine of American warfare.”from “Destiny and Power” by Jon Meacham
Support for Bush’s foreign policy handling was the highest since the German surrender in 1945, even reaching 90 percent support.
Bush was very much a foreign policy president and struggled in domestic affairs, particularly with his promises regarding “no new taxes.”
His traditional, calm personality led to him being perceived as outdated and of an era past. Bush didn’t have the charm of Reagan, nor did he have the youthful charisma and promise of Bill Clinton. He was the ultimate political insider, and Ross Perot’s outsider-rockstar status was appealing to many Americans.
Despite his foreign policy successes in Panama and Iraq, Americans wanted a change of direction. Ross Perot split the conservative vote, leading to Bush’s loss.
However, the perception of Bush being out of touch with the struggles of everyday Americans coupled with the charisma and charm of Bill Clinton contributed heavily to his loss in 1992.
1. Bill Clinton
The most defining politician of the 1990s was none other than Bill Clinton.
Having served as Governor of Arkansas, Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in the 1992 election. he was the first Democrat to win the presidency since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Clinton shifted the approach of the Democratic Party and its priorities. Under his leadership, the Democrats would no longer follow the economic policies of Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson.
He steered the party away from its 1930s New Deal policies and its 1960s Great Society reforms.
He ran as a “New Democrat,” a Democrat who is liberal on social issues but is more conservative on economic issues.
Clinton embraced the neoliberal policies of the Reagan era and adopted them into the Democratic Party.
Bill Clinton embraced some Republican principles in the name of political viability, focusing on reducing social spending and increased fiscal prudence.
“The era of big government is over.”President Bill Clinton
He vowed to “end welfare as we know it,” drawing a clear distinction from his Democratic predecessors.
His repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 declared that he was a different type of Democrat than Johnson and Roosevelt.
In terms of foreign policy, Bill Clinton dealt with the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the Yugoslav Wars of Independence. He also dealt with tragic military disaster in Somalia, scaring his administration from acting in Rwanda.
In 1993, Clinton oversaw a humanitarian mission in Somalia. The Somalis shot down two Black Hawk helicopters, which resulted in the bodies of fallen U.S. troops being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.
The military tragedy sparked an outcry from the public, and the Clinton administration became far more hesitant to engage in overseas humanitarian missions.
Just a year after Black Hawk Down, tragedy struck the African nation of Rwanda in what would become known as the Rwandan Genocide.
About 800,000 Tutsis were killed by the Hutu-led government.
The Clinton administration as well as the United Nations chose not to intervene in ending the violence, still scarred from the horrible images of Black Hawk Down just a year before.
“And believe me, after over five years of dealing with these problems, I know it is not the division between Hutu and Tutsi, or Serb and Croatian and Muslim in Bosnia, or Arab and Jew, or Catholic and Protestant in Ireland, or black and white. It is really the line between those who embrace the common humanity we all share and those who reject it.”President Bill Clinton in Rwanda after the Rwandan Genocide
Following the administration’s inaction in Rwanda, Clinton chose to engage in the Balkans and the Yugoslav Wars.
As the conflicts began, Clinton was originally hesitant to engage, viewing the conflicts as “quagmires.”
“In regard to Bosnia, Clinton fell well short of recommending any ground troop commitment but supported the hardening of the trade embargo on Belgrade and even tougher military posture. ‘We can’t get involved in the quagmire but we must do what we can.'”from “US Presidential Elections and Foreign Policy” by Andrew Johnstone and Andrew Priest
As ethnic cleanings and genocides became apparent in Bosnia and Kosovo, Clinton saw the chance to stop genocide; a chance he missed in Rwanda.
He worked with NATO to commence bombings against the Serbian government who were engaged in ethnic cleansing against Albanians in Kosovo. He also moved to launch NATO bombing against Bosnian Serbs in Bosnia.
These interventions were highly successful in that no American casualties resulted.
Clinton also dealt with pressing issues on the domestic front.
In 1994, President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton failed to pass healthcare reform in Congress, being blocked by Republicans under the leadership of Newt Gingrich in the House and Bob Dole in the Senate.
Clinton led the nation through the tragic Waco siege and Oklahoma City Bombing. The Oklahoma City bombing killed over 150 people including children and babies.
“The bombing in Oklahoma City was an attack on innocent children and defenseless citizens. It was an act of cowardice and it was evil. The United States will not tolerate it, and I will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated by evil cowards.”President Clinton on the Oklahoma City Bombing
Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer to the Supreme Court during his presidency. He also defeated Senator Bob Dole for the presidency, winning a second term.
However, Clinton’s most infamous moment as president was his involvement in the Lewinsky scandal.
In 1998, news of Bill Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky went public, and Clinton denied any involvement.
“I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people.”President Bill Clinton
Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998 but was acquitted by the Senate. His blatant lying to the American people resulted in further distrust of the government by many Americans.
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