Bill Clinton: The great seducer

42rd president - 1993-2001

Rupert Cornwell
Thursday 22 January 2009 01:58 GMT

Inconveniently, historical eras do not exactly follow the calendar. In reality, the 20th century ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, while the 21st century did not truly begin until two hijacked planes smashed into the World Trade Center on 11 September, 2001. In the intervening years, still mostly untroubled by the "war on terror", America moved from superpower victorious in the Cold War to unchallenged hyper-puissance, in the phrase of a French Foreign Minister.

A political scientist named Francis Fukuyama wrote a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man about the unfolding global triumph of US-inspired liberal market democracy, and not a few believed him. And for most of that in-between decade, William Jefferson Clinton was President of the United States.

Bill Clinton was the third youngest President in American history, and the first baby boomer. For many, he embodied the characteristics of that pampered generation: the spoiled child's sense of entitlement, a self-centredness verging on narcissism, a proneness to moral relativism, and a habit of blaming others for his own failings. His formative experiences were not the hardships and sacrifices of the Great Depression or the Second World War, but the rebellious Sixties and the bitterly contested war in Vietnam.

Clinton was the first Democrat to serve two full terms in the White House since Franklin D Roosevelt. He was among the founders of the New Democrats, who shifted the party to the centre after the liberal tilt that had made it virtually unelectable for much of the Seventies and Eighties. Along with Tony Blair in Britain, who in some ways resembled him, Clinton was a leading proponent of the "Third Way", blending the discipline of capitalism with the safety-net of social democracy. His two administrations were marked by notable legislative achievements. They were a time of peace and prosperity, culminating in the first federal budget surplus in over 30 years – and, of course, lurid scandal.

But in another sense they were no more than a parenthesis, an eight-year interlude in a long period of conservative domination of American politics. For better or worse, the final quarter of the 20th century and the start of the 21st will probably be remembered as the age of Ronald Reagan. Nothing in 2008 stung Clinton as much as Barack Obama's remark during his battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, that Reagan had been the most "consequential" of recent US presidents. Bill Clinton never liked to yield centre stage to anyone.

The 42nd President of the United States entered the world as William Jefferson Blythe III, in a small southern Arkansas town called Hope. His father, a travelling salesman, was killed in a car accident three months before he was born. His mother, Virginia Blythe, remarried, and at the age of six young Billy moved with the family and his stepfather, a car dealer named Roger Clinton, to Hot Springs. Later on Hope would provide a perfect point of departure in the emerging Bill Clinton political narrative. But it was Hot Springs an hour away to the north, the louche and racy holiday resort and gambling town where he grew up, whose character better reflected his own.

The young Clinton not only excelled at school: he seemed to be at the centre of everything; in the words of an old classmate, "he just took over the place." For an increasingly dysfunctional family – a semi-alcoholic stepfather who often beat his wife, and a mother unduly fond of other men's company – he was the one constant source of pride.

In 1963 he was picked as one of Arkansas's two representatives to Boys Nation, an annual civic training event for the most promising high-schoolers, whose summer programme included a visit to meet President Kennedy at the White House. A photo catches the moment when the young man not quite 17, awe-struck but grinning, shoulders his way to the front and shakes the hand of the President as he's leaving. The picture speaks volumes about Clinton: his determination to squeeze the utmost out of every opportunity, the ambition he wore on his sleeve, and of course his intended destination. From that moment he wanted to be president, and to his friends he was not shy about the fact.

That was why he applied only to Georgetown University, close to the political action in Washington DC. When he left Georgetown in 1968, the future politician was already emerging. Clinton was a relentless networker, starting to put in place that impressive network of acquaintances later known simply as FoBs (Friends of Bill). He was gregarious, intelligent and funny, and women seemed to adore him. It was no surprise when he was selected to be a Rhodes Scholar, nor that this pushy but charming student with the pronounced Arkansas drawl became a focal point of the group.

Strobe Talbott, a well connected graduate of Yale and a Russian specialist, said later that he first realised his colleague's "raw political talent" during the five-day crossing to Europe in October 1968 on the SS United States. Talbott would room with Clinton at Oxford, and become an FoB of the innermost circle, serving decades later as Clinton's deputy Secretary of State. However a dark cloud hung over those two years abroad – the likelihood that Clinton, and most of the others, would be sent to fight in Vietnam, a war he bitterly opposed. Clinton managed to avoid the draft, by pulling strings to secure a place in a reserve officer training programme, that he eventually never took up. Technically, the manoeuvrings were legal. But they would return to haunt him at a critical moment in his political career.

In 1970, Clinton left Oxford a year early, departing the university where, in the immortal words of the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, "he didn't inhale, didn't get drafted, and didn't get a degree." By then he had won a place at Yale Law School, where he did take a degree in 1973. Even more important, it was at Yale that he met a female student one year ahead of him named Hillary Rodham. In 1975 the couple married, and five years later their only child, Chelsea, was born.

Clinton's political ascent was rapid, helped by the fact that instead of taking a well-paid job in the highly competitive environment of the East Coast, he returned to the comparative backwater of Arkansas. After an unsuccessful Congressional run in 1974, he was elected attorney general of Arkansas in 1976, and two years later won the governorship. At 32, he was the youngest state governor in the US. Unfortunately, he would soon be the youngest ex-governor.

A row over a motor vehicle tax did not help, nor did anger over the rioting and escape of Cuban refugees who were being housed at Fort Chaffee in north western Arkansas. Nor did the conservative local population appreciate Hillary's insistence on using her maiden name in business. In 1980 Clinton was defeated in his bid for a second two-year term. It was the last election he would ever lose. In 1982 he won back the governorship, this time for good, until he left for higher things in Washington in January 1993.

During the Eighties, Clinton became increasingly well known in the Democratic party nationally, as an effective governor (and no less effective a self-promoter). But he also developed a reputation for womanising and a tendency to hang around with over-colourful people – among them Jim McDougal, a local entrepreneur and hustler who in 1978 persuaded the Clintons to join him in a property venture called Whitewater.

Whitewater would return to bedevil the couple when Bill became President. Of more immediate concern however was his proneness to stray from the marital bed. That the governor had a "zipper problem" was an open secret in Little Rock and beyond, and it was the fear of "bimbo eruptions" that led Clinton to drop plans for a Presidential run in 1988. Instead he was chosen to deliver the prestigious keynote address at the Democratic convention in Atlanta which nominated his fellow governor, Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. In one of the few truly awful speeches Clinton gave, he droned on for what seemed hours, eliciting ironic cheers when he finally said "in conclusion...". But, as always, he bounced back. Using the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) as his vehicle, Clinton became a leader of the party's moderate wing, and in 1992 he took the presidential plunge.

At first his candidacy seemed a long shot, given the popularity of George HW Bush, the Republican incumbent, in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. But Clinton soon emerged as the class of the Democratic field. Then, as he campaigned for the crucial New Hampshire primary, double disaster struck. First a Little Rock nightclub singer named Gennifer Flowers produced tapes showing she had had an affair with the governor; then The Wall Street Journal published letters and documents chronicling his machinations to escape the Vietnam draft. His bid for the White House seemed doomed. But in a remarkable effort, of sheer will as much as anything else, he climbed back from the abyss. When the results came in, Clinton finished a respectable second to Paul Tsongas. The legend of "the Comeback Kid" was born.

In the end he won the nomination comfortably, and his choice of Al Gore, a young fellow southerner, as his running mate created a real excitement at the New York convention that summer. But Clinton owed at least as much to the third party candidacy of Ross Perot, the Texan billionaire businessman, in his ultimate victory over the elder Bush. The electoral college margin was a convincing 370 to 168, but in the popular vote Clinton prevailed over Bush only by 43 per cent to 37 per cent. Under America's winner-take-all system, Perot won 19 per cent of the popular vote but not a single delegate to the electoral college.

The new administration got off to a shambolic start. As always Clinton left key decisions – in this case his choice of top White House staffers and cabinet appointees – to the last moment. He allowed his first few weeks in office to be dominated by a needless controversy over gays in the military, depriving him of the traditional honeymoon enjoyed by incoming presidents.

The arcane Whitewater affair more than a decade earlier was also a growing distraction. No matter that the Clintons lost money on the land deal. Never, it might be said, has so much been written about what amounted to so little. But the special prosecutor's investigation into Whitewater set in motion a chain of events that would almost cost Clinton the presidency. "Travelgate" was another scandal, this one when Hillary Clinton fired several long-term staffers at the White House travel office, allegedly to provide work for Clinton cronies from Arkansas. No blow, however, was heavier than the tragic suicide in July 1993 of Vince Foster, the President's boyhood friend and deputy White House counsel. Foster, who also handled the Whitewater paperwork, had become clinically depressed by the brutal rough and tumble of Washington politics. His death therefore was not only a bitter personal loss for the Clintons and the rest of the tight-knit Arkansas group who had moved with them to the capital. It was also grist to the mill of conspiracy theorists, who depicted the couple as a modern Lord and Lady Macbeth, ready to use intimidation, drug money profits, even murder, to seize and consolidate power.

The accusations were nonsensical – but also a measure of how polarising the Clintons were; how they could drive otherwise sane people to irrational fury. Alas, they helped keep in business a string of special prosecutors, the last and most notorious of them Kenneth Starr, whose probe into Whitewater gradually expanded to Clinton's private life – and ultimately led to the exposure of his trysts with Monica Lewinsky. It was hard to disagree with Hillary Clinton when she complained of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" against her husband, orchestrated by political enemies, funded by a few conservative multi-millionaires, and propagated by hostile media outlets – in Britain as well as the US.

Given the media battering and the rolling inquisition by prosecutors, it was remarkable that any governing was done at all. But Clinton's first two years were reasonably productive, producing a handgun control bill, the NAFTA trade agreement, a bill obliging employers to allow workers unpaid leave for family or medical reasons. Most importantly he secured passage, without a single Republican vote, for an economic package curbing government spending and raising taxes on the very rich. Many accused Clinton and his economic team of being in thrall to the bond market. But the measure worked, helping create a virtuous cycle of declining budget deficits, lower interest rates and faster growth, and the longest period of sustained expansion enjoyed by the US since the Second World War.

In foreign affairs too, the new administration overcame early missteps, most notably the collapse of the US mission in Somalia. Clinton's granting of a visa to the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in January 1994 enraged the British, but it would prove a key moment on the long path to a settlement in Northern Ireland. After a shaky start, the US took a more assertive line to halt the bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia, eventually brokering the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war.

But these achievements could not prevent disaster at the 1994 mid-term elections, the low point of his eight years in office. That summer an ambitious, and grossly over-complicated, health care reform plan elaborated in secrecy by a working group headed by the First Lady met an ignominious end on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile the Democrats who had long held control of both Houses were plagued by scandals. In November the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, seized control of Congress, in the House alone making an astounding net gain of 54 seats. The presidency was "still relevant," a crestfallen Clinton told the press. And he had learnt his lesson. Big government was out and "triangulation" – in plain language, stealing policies from his opponents when it suited him – was in. The shift was sealed in August 1996 when the President signed into law a reform act that jettisoned many of the left's articles of faith about welfare, and in his words "ending welfare as we know it."

Long before that, however, Clinton had once again proved himself the Comeback Kid. The process began with his response to the May 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, committed by home-grown terrorists, in which 168 people died. His speeches were a reminder of his uncanny ability to empathise, and produce the words, and deeds, to fit a moment of national grief and trauma. But the Republicans gave him more than passing help. Not for the last time, the impetuous and egotistical Gingrich overplayed his hand, allowing himself to be lured into a showdown over the budget. The result was a partial government shutdown in late 1995 for which the Republican leadership in Congress was blamed.

Clinton was also fortunate in having a weak opponent when he sought a second term in 1996. Bob Dole was a war hero and a lion of the Senate, but he was a poor campaigner and at 73 would have been the oldest first-elected president in history. The outcome was a foregone conclusion, but again, Perot's presence on the ballot denied Clinton the mandate of an outright majority he coveted. In the electoral college he won by 379-159, a virtually identical margin to his victory in 1992. But Perot's 8 per cent of the popular vote meant Clinton fell just short of 50 per cent.

Unbeknown to anyone at the time, the budget shutdown also coincided with events that would bring Clinton into personal disgrace and to the brink of political disaster. On November 15 and 17, during the shutdown's first phase, the President engaged in his first sexual trysts with a 22-year-old White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. There were nine such encounters in all, the last of them in March 1997. The crisis however only exploded in January 1998 when it emerged that Lewinsky had told a confidante named Linda Tripp about her relationship, and that Tripp had secretly recorded their conversations.

Of the many allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, the most persistent and troublesome were those of a 1991 encounter with Paula Jones, an Arkansas state employee, in which she said the then Governor had exposed himself. Lewinsky's name surfaced during legal proceedings when Jones's lawyers sought corroborating evidence of Clinton's conduct. In January 1998, after Lewinsky had submitted an affidavit in the Jones case denying any physical relationship with Clinton, Tripp gave the tapes to the prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who then widened his Whitewater investigation to include possible perjury by Lewinsky and Clinton in the Jones case. She also persuaded Lewinsky not to have dry cleaned the notorious blue dress that was stained, as DNA tests would prove, with presidential semen.

Thus, when Clinton denied under oath that he had had sex with Lewinsky, and then told a nationally televised press conference that "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," he was trapped. Both he and Lewinsky went before a grand jury. She became a national celebrity, while Clintonian evasions like "it depends what the meaning of 'is' is" became global catch-phrases. The Clinton marriage was once again under excruciating public scrutiny, and most serious of all, the Republican Congress voted to impeach him for perjury and obstruction of justice.

The attempt was the first at a presidential impeachment since Andrew Johnson in 1868. There was never much chance that the Republicans would secure the two-thirds majority in the Senate required to convict; in the event, after a five-week trial presided over by William Rehnquist, the chief justice, Clinton was acquitted in February 1999 on both counts. But as a result of the Jones/Lewinsky affair he suffered the further indignity of having his Arkansas law licence suspended for five years, and of being barred for life from pleading cases before the Supreme Court.

Astonishingly, Clinton once more emerged from a potential disaster, if anything, strengthened. By pressing impeachment his opponents had again overreached, misjudging public sympathy for the president. Democrats actually gained seats in the 1998 mid-term elections, and his popularity held firm at over 60 per cent. On the foreign front, the US led Nato in an air war to drive Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, while the president tried to build on the 1993 Oslo agreement to secure a final Middle East peace. This most intense and ambitious push by a US president for a Palestinian/Israeli deal continued until almost the last day of Clinton's second term. Though it failed, for reasons still disputed, it was the closest the two sides have ever come to a settlement. In November 2000, he became the first president to visit Vietnam since the end of the war in which, three decades earlier, he had managed not to fight.

His most impressive legacy of all was the economy. Even though by the end of his second term the dotcom bubble had burst, Clinton left the country much better off than he found it. Its finances above all were immeasurably stronger, with the first federal budget surplus since Richard Nixon's time. But then true to form, he gratuitously spoiled everything with his final act in office, as he pardoned the fugitive financier (and hefty Democratic donor) Marc Rich, to near universal outcry. Until the very end, Bill Clinton was a baffling, maddening mix of talent and tackiness.

Not for nothing have TV pundits, eminent authors and bar-room bores alike psychoanalysed the 42nd president more thoroughly and relentlessly than any of his predecessors, living or dead. He is a fascinating subject, a man of giant appetites in every department – not just sexual, but in terms of physical and mental nourishment as well. Tales of the younger Clinton's devouring of fast food are legion. But few other presidents too have consumed ideas, facts and issues as voraciously. His intellectual curiosity is enormous.

Sometimes he seems to seek risk, as if bored by what is commonplace, predictable and safe. On the Edge is the title of an excellent biography of the man, which captures the recklessness in him that could be self-destructive. Clinton was a politician who could make difficult things simple, yet turn a routine task into an ordeal. Yet he survived, helped by an astonishing ability to compartmentalise. One side of his brain might be working out a legal defence strategy, while the other fine-tuned a bombing onslaught against Saddam Hussein.

Greasing this remarkable human machine was a charm to which very few were impervious. When he entered a room, the magnetism was tangible. Talk to him, and he made his interlocutor feel the most important person in the world, whose ideas were the only ones that mattered. That is why, after meeting him, many people thought they had persuaded him of their case, only to be disappointed later. Thus his reputation as a master manipulator. "Bill Clinton would rather climb a tree to tell a lie than stand on the ground to tell the truth," an Arkansas official once said. A union leader who dealt with him made the point more crudely, that he could "shake your hand and piss down your leg at the same time."

But these same qualities made him a dazzling campaigner in his prime. Before a large gathering his ear for the audience's mood was unfailing. As a retail politician he was if anything better still, as anyone who has watched him work a rope line can testify.

By ordinary standards, Clinton the politician was grossly undisciplined. Punctuality might be the courtesy of kings, but not of Bill Clinton. Most things he did tended to happen at the last moment – or later. On one occasion he finished a State of the Union message in his limousine in the way to the Capitol. On another, the wrong speech was fed into the teleprompter, but Clinton simply adlibbed until the right text was found. No one noticed, of course. The cleverest boy in the class could talk himself out of any jam. There was, and remains, a shamelessness about him too. A majority of Americans thought the impeachment proceedings were ridiculous – that lying to conceal personal sexual misbehaviour was not remotely comparable with lying about the Watergate break-in (or, for that matter, about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq). But a fair number also thought he should have resigned of his own accord, recognising the disgrace he had brought upon himself.

History's verdict on Bill Clinton is hard to predict. Presidential reputations are notoriously fickle. Today, he is generally placed in the middle of the pack: by no means unsuccessful, but not a truly important figure to rank alongside Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Harry Truman or even Reagan in the presidental pantheon. Great leaders are forged by great crises: where would Churchill be without Hitler and the Second World War? Clinton's fortune, or misfortune, was to be America's president in a comparatively crisis-free era, when the Soviet Union, its ideological and military rival, was no more, and terrorism was still regarded as a criminal, not a political, threat.

In fact Clinton's record against terrorism was not bad. After the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, and especially the African embassy bombings five years later, he was alive to the danger – certainly more alive than Bush in the months before 9/11. On at least one occasion, he ordered missile strikes against targets in Afghanistan that with a bit of luck might have killed Osama bin Laden.

How would a President Clinton have reacted to the attacks against New York and Washington? Like his successor, he would surely have gone to war against the Taliban when they refused to hand bin Laden over. But it is all but inconceivable that he would have attacked Iraq in March 2003. True, he had bombed Saddam in December 1998 in Operation Desert Storm (which some considered a "Wag The Dog" attempt to divert public attention from impeachment) and also that year signed into law a bill calling for regime change in Iraq.

But Clinton's approach to foreign policy was usually cautious and incremental. His long effort to secure an Israeli/Palestinian peace had taught him the hideous complexities of the Middle East that Bush and the neo-conservatives could never understand. And if vice-presidents are figured into the equation, Al Gore – a passionate opponent of the war – was as far from Hobbesian Dick Cheney as could be imagined. Indeed, Clinton's consistent popularity abroad in part reflects a belief that had he still been in the White House, the Iraq débacle would not have happened. It also suggests that the surge in anti-Americanism during the Bush years was ad hominem, and not a fundamental rejection of the country and the ideals it stood for. The joyous reaction in Europe and the Muslim world to Obama's election only underlines the point.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the Lewinsky affair, he was highly popular when he left office, with an approval rating of over 60 per cent. His reputation only improved in the light of what came after, as the Bush presidency crumbled, disaster followed disaster, and the number of Americans who believed the US was "on the wrong track" reached unprecedented levels. Increasingly, the Clinton era appears a happy, almost carefree time of well-being. A decade on, the Lewinsky affair seems less a disgrace than a harmless divertissement for the nation. If only Bush's crises had been about sex.

Of late, however, his stock has weakened slightly. It has become clear that the seeds of today's financial and economic crisis were planted during the Clinton administration, by the latter's determination to expand home ownership come what may, and its refusal to impose tighter regulation on new-fangled and, it now emerges, extremely destabilising financial instruments. Clinton may have inherited his Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, but the Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, who believed markets should be given their head, were his own appointments. Presidents are quick to claim credit for economic success on their watch. They must therefore also take some of the blame when things go wrong.

Nor did Clinton distinguish himself during the long struggle between his wife and Obama for the 2008 nomination. The man once described as America's "first black president" indulged in some cheap shots against Obama, and by the end the "Bill Factor" was probably a contributor to Hillary Clinton's defeat. She made mistakes of her own, notably her neglect of the caucus states where Obama scooped up delegates, and she had the misfortune to find herself up against one of the best-run campaigns of the modern era.

In the background, though, the shadow of her husband always loomed. He might joke about becoming the "First Laddie", but that prospect surely disturbed some voters, and not just Republican voters. Bill's exact role in a Hillary administration was unclear, but no one expected that he would quietly fade away. At the very least, the soap opera-cum-psychodrama of the Clinton marriage would once again be all over the front pages. And finally, did Americans really want to make over their republican government to rival, quasi-monarchical dynasties? Had Hillary won and served two terms, a Bush or a Clinton would have occupied the White House for 28 straight years (with Bush's younger brother, Jeb, waiting in the wings for 2016). This fear, too, one suspects, played a part in Obama's victory.

In the longer run, perhaps that victory was as well for Clinton. His performance in the White House will now more easily be judged on its merits – and they are numerous. The buoyant economy of course, his record in the Balkans, his part in the Irish peace process – but also his place in the recent history of the Democratic party. If 2008 does indeed go down as a watershed election, marking and end of the Reagan era and inaugurating a long period of Democratic dominance, then Bill Clinton may be remembered as the enabler. He might have declared that the age of "big government" was over, but he believed in government none the less, above all a government which worked.

Today his presidency still arouses mixed feelings: of disappointment at a promise ultimately never quite fulfilled, and of disgust at the sleaze, but also of recognition of a job on the whole well done. Polls at the time showed that people would be glad to see the back of him, but would miss him nonetheless. "You can't trust him, he's got weak morals and ethics — and he's done a heck of a good job," was how an ABC News analysis in January 2001 summed up the national view of the departing Bill Clinton.

The post-Presidential Bill Clinton generates much the same ambivalence. For all those prodigious talents, something is missing. The former president runs a humanitarian foundation. He is a hugely popular ambassador for his country, so sought after that his speaking engagements command fees of $100,000 (£58,823) or more. Even a quadruple bypass heart operation in 2004 didn't seem to slow him down greatly. Though the Democratic party is under new management, his prestige within it remains immense – as testified by his rapturous reception at the Denver convention in August 2008 (repaid, naturally, by yet another Clinton speech for the ages).

But somehow he has not found a role that does full justice to those talents. As usual with Clinton, too, there are rumours: of dubious cronies and shady connections; of murky favours exchanged in the furtherance of the foundation's business; of extramarital liaisons. He is as gregarious and winning as ever, but some who know him even wonder if he is truly happy. All that can be said with certainty is that, one way or another, we'll still be hearing a good deal about Bill Clinton in the years to come – and not just because he's the spouse of the Secretary of State.

In his own words

"When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale and never tried it again."

"White racism may be the black people's burden, but it is the white people's problem. We must clean our house."

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."

"I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." (during his 1998 grand jury testimony).

In others' words

"He has been through the hottest fire American politics has ever had to test somebody. And he's come out like fine-tempered Pennsylvania steel." Senator Harris Wofford

"He needs to get a hard slap of reality in the face every once in a while. He has an arrogant side." Robert Savage, political scientist

"Perjury and acts that obstruct justice are profoundly serious matters. When such acts are committed by the President of the United States, we believe those acts may constitute grounds for an impeachment."

Kenneth Starr

"I warn my colleagues that you will reap the bitter harvest of the unfair partisan seeds that you sow today. Monica Lewinsky is not Watergate. Let he who has no sin in this chamber cast the first vote."

Bob Menendez, Democrat

"He was kissing me in the doorway between the back study, or the office, and the hallway, and I sort of opened my eyes and he was looking out the window with his eyes wide open while he was kissing me and then I got mad because it wasn't very romantic."

Monica Lewinsky


On his inauguration day, Clinton was 27 minutes late for his customary courtesy call on George and Barbara Bush.

Clinton's sloppy time-keeping was a hallmark of his presidency: Air Force One once held up air traffic at LAX while the president had a $200 hair cut.

He is the only president to play the saxophone. After playing on the Arsenio Hall show, religious conservatives dubbed him "the MTV president".

He appointed more women to cabinet positions than any other president.

In 2007, Forbes Magazine estimated his earnings for the year at $7m.

He was the first president ever to send an email while in office.

In 2004, he won a Grammy (along with Mikhail Gorbachev and Sophia Loren) for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for the Russian National Orchestra's Peter and the Wolf: Wolf Tracks – on which they were narrators.

He is allergic to many things, including dust, mould, pollen, beef and cats.

Clinton is the only president to be elected twice without ever receiving 50 per cent of the popular vote. He polled 43 per cent in 1992 and 49 per cent in 1996.

When he was eight, he was attacked by a sheep. He later described this as "the awfullest beating I ever took."

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