People: Contemporary America
President Clinton led the country through a period of peace and prosperity. With inflation and unemployment low, he proposed a balanced budget to Congress. His domestic agenda included seeking laws protecting the jobs of people who had to care for ill family members, legislation restricting certain gun sales, and strengthening environmental protection policies. Clinton was also concerned with national interest and foreign policy. He advocated international free trade, and as Commander-in-Chief of the Military, he sent forces to Bosnia and Iraq.
Clinton was reelected in 1996 with very high approval ratings. But his indiscretions with a young white house intern led Clinton to become the second president in US history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was tried in the Senate and found not guilty of the charges against him. He continued to enjoy record high approval ratings during his second term.
President Nixon advanced national interest in foreign policy, making successful trips that eased tensions with China and the USSR. He negotiated treaties to limit nuclear weapons. And he also worked to end the conflict in Vietnam. His administration tried to prevent the publication of classified documents pertaining to Vietnam War, but the Supreme Court held in New York Times v. United States (1971) that the prior restraint was unconstitutional.
A few months after his decisive reelection victory in 1972, the “Watergate Scandal” began to plague Nixon’s administration. Burglars were caught trying to place listening devices at the National Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. Their arrests lead to discoveries that administration officials had been involved in unethical activities designed to sabotage Democratic candidates, and then conspired to cover it up. Nixon denied personal knowledge or involvement, but White House tape recordings revealed he had known about and approved the cover up. The Supreme Court held that the President did not have the power to withhold the tapes from investigators upon claim of “executive privilege” in the case United States v. Nixon (1974) Facing probable impeachment, Nixon became the first and only president to resign in August 1974.
In his later years, Nixon published books on his experiences with public service and foreign policy, gaining a reputation as an elder statesman.
After working as assistant state attorney general of Arizona, she served in the state senate, becoming the first female majority leader in the country. She went on to serve as a Superior Court judge and on the Arizona Court of Appeals. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to the US Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed her nomination unanimously and O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice in US history.
On the Court, she was often the swing vote. She developed a test for identifying Establishment Clause violations, called the Endorsement Test. She voted to limit federal power under the Commerce Clause in United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000). These landmark federalism decisions marked the first time the Court limited federal commerce power since the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.
Justice O’Connor announced she would step down from the Court in 2005, and retired when her replacement was sworn in the next January. She has since spoken out on the importance of separation of powers and checks and balances in our system of government.
He ran for president in 1980 and won in a landslide victory. Domestically he focused on principles of limited government and cutting the size of the federal bureaucracy. Reagan also appointed the first female Supreme Court justice in American history, Sandra Day O’Connor.
As President, he made national interest and foreign policy a priority. His goal was to end the Cold War with the Eastern Bloc countries, dominated by the communist-controlled Soviet Union. Reagan changed the United States’ policy from the previous one of “containment” of the USSR to confrontation. He increased the nation’s defense spending and built more nuclear weapons. He went against the advice of many of his own advisors and made a controversial speech, in which he directly challenged the Soviet leader to “tear down” the wall separating East and West Germany and allow East Germans to enjoy their natural rights and freedom. Two years later the wall did come down, and by the end of the 1980s, the Soviet regime had virtually collapsed.
Quoting one of the earliest American colonists, Reagan called the United States and its promise of freedom a “shining city on a hill.” When he died in 2004, one of his obituaries explained that his efforts brought liberty to “millions of Europeans across a continent from Poland to Bulgaria, Slovenia to Latvia.”