People: Contemporary America


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Bill Clinton was born in Arkansas. While a teenager he met President John F. Kennedy. He described this encounter as motivating his life-long desire to serve the public. After attending Oxford and Yale Universities, he served as Attorney General and then Governor of Arkansas before being elected President in 1992.

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.

Hillary Clinton, born in 1947, received her law degree from Yale University where she met her future husband, Bill Clinton. With Hillary by his side, Clinton served as Governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and from 1983 to 1992. As the First Lady of Arkansas, Mrs. Clinton championed health care and education issues. She continued her pursuit of health care as the First Lady of the U. S. after her husband was elected President in 1992 and then reelected to a second term in 1996. She became the first former First Lady of the U. S. to be elected to a position in U. S. government when she was elected in 2000 to serve as a U.S. Senator from New York. She was elected to a second term in 2006, and in 2008 she decided to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the U. S. She came closer than any other female in U. S. history to winning the presidential nomination of a major party but ultimately lost the party’s nomination to Barack Obama. Following President Obama’s election in 2008, he chose Mrs. Clinton to serve as Secretary of State. Hillary again sought and made history when she won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2016. She ran against Republican Donald Trump and ultimately lost the 2016 presidential election, but she crossed a major barrier by becoming the first female presidential nominee for a major party.
Bill Gates, born in 1955, became interested in computers at an early age. While in college when personal computers were being developed, he created the MS-DOS system and in 1980 sold the contract to IBM. As the personal computer market developed, Mr. Gates profited from his relationship with IBM as most computers sold carried his operating system. The Windows program, which was more user friendly than the old program, led to the rapid expansion of personal computer ownership. In addition to being a leader in the software industry with his company Microsoft, Mr. Gates has also been instrumental in philanthropic work. He and his wife, Melinda Gates, established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that provides funding for many charitable works focusing on education, world health, and investment in low income communities.
Billy Graham, born in 1918, is a leading religious evangilist as well as a spiritual and moral advisor to many U. S. Presidents. As a prominent Christian leader, he spoke out against communism during the Cold War era, claiming that it was the ultimate fight between good and evil. Publishing giant William Randolph Hearst helped Mr. Graham’s rise to fame when he ordered his editors to carry stories about Billy Graham and his crusade against communism. Mr. Graham’s popularity can be attributed in part to the fact that there have been no scandals that have affected his mission. Most presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have called upon Mr. Graham during times of crisis because of his reliance on prayer and discussion as avenues that need to be considered when trying to reach peaceful resolutions to problems.
Robert Johnson, born in 1946, became the founder of Black Entertainment Television, known as BET. After graduating from Princeton University with a Master’s degree in Public Affairs, he went to work as a lobbyist for the cable industry. Noticing that African American television audiences were largely ignored by the industry, he used his business connections to start Black Entertainment Television (BET). This successful television network was later sold to Viacom in 2001. With this sale, Robert Johnson became the first African American billionaire. In recent years he has diversified his interests in the communication field. His holdings now include interest in professional sports teams and humanitarian efforts overseas.
Estee Lauder was born in 1908 to parents who had immigrated to the United States. Her parents owned a hardware store, and it was here that Estee began to learn how to run a business. She was strongly influenced by her uncle and mentor who was a chemist. She worked with him on his quest to create a skin cream that would help people look younger. Ms. Lauder was an American entrepreneur who built a global cosmetic company through dedication and hard work. She is credited with pioneering the marketing idea of receiving a gift with a purchase. She was noted for saying, “Beauty is an attitude. There’s no secret… There are no ugly women—only women who don’t care or who don’t believe they are attractive.” She died in 2004.
Richard Nixon was born in California and attended prestigious schools before becoming a successful lawyer. During World War II, he served in the military as a Navy commander. He served in the US House of Representatives and the Senate, before being elected Vice President under President Eisenhower. He ran for president in 1960, but lost to John F. Kennedy. His presidential bid in 1968 was successful.

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.

Barack Obama, born in 1961 in Hawaii, was elected the 44th President of the United States in 2008. This election marked the first time in U.S. history that an African American was elected to this high office. President Obama graduated from Columbia University and received his law degree from Harvard University. He was the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review. After graduation, he returned to Chicago where he practiced as a civil rights attorney and served as a community organizer. He later became a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago. Entering politics, he first was elected in 1996 as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. In 2004 he became a United States Senator from Illinois. He burst onto the national scene with a dynamic speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. This led him to enter the race for the presidency in 2008 which he subsequently won. After his inauguration in 2009, he became one of the few American presidents to be the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sandra Day O’Connor was born in El Paso, Texas, where she spent much of her childhood on a cattle ranch. She was educated at private schools and enrolled in Stanford Law School in 1950. After graduating third out of 102 students in her class in 1952, O’Connor was unable to find work in a private practice – the only firm that offered her a position wanted her to work as a legal secretary.

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.

Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois in 1911. After working as a radio announcer and then an actor, he became active in politics. In 1966, he was elected governor of California.

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.”

Phyllis Schlafly, an attorney born in 1924, was an outspoken opponent of what she considered the radical feminist movement. She actively campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment and founded her own pro-family movement. In 1964 she published a book, A Choice not an Echo, that detailed how the Republicans could win the presidency by staying true to conservative causes. Some reviewers have said that the book was an attempt to justify a Goldwater candidacy. In the 1970’s she founded the Eagle Forum and became a national leader in the conservative movement. This forum encourages groups of citizens to volunteer in the policymaking process. In 1990, she founded the Republican National Coalition for Life with the idea of advocating for a prolife plank in the Republican platform.
Lionel Sosa, grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where his father owned a laundry and the young Sosa learned the value of hard work. In the 1960’s, his artistic ability gained him recognition, and he would later turn this talent into his own advertising agency. He is the founder of the largest Hispanic advertising agency in the United States. His success in organizing campaigns for Hispanic candidates would lead him to serve as the Hispanic media consultant in six Republican campaigns. He was most recently the media consultant for President George W. Bush in 2004. In 2005, he was recognized as one of the 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America by Time magazine.
Sonia Sotomayor, born in 1954, was appointed to the United States Supreme Court in 2009 by President Barack Obama and is the first person of Puerto Rican descent to serve on the high court. She grew up in a Bronx housing project where her mother worked hard to raise her and her brother following the death of her father. Her mother instilled the value and importance of education in Sonia at an early age. Justice Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University and got her law degree from Yale. She was appointed a U. S District Court judge by President George H.W. Bush, and later a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President Bill Clinton.
Sam Walton, born in 1918, attended the University of Missouri where he studied economics. Following graduation, he gained retail experience by working for JC Penney’s. He went on to open a small variety store, Walton’s Five and Dime, before he branched out and created today’s Wal-Mart stores. He was successful in his business because he made an effort to include his employees in the company by making sure that they understood the company’s goals and objectives. He led the way in developing new types of retail establishments such as membership warehouses (Sam’s Club) and supercenters where he combined grocery items with variety store merchandise. Walton died in 1992.
Oprah Winfrey, born in 1954, overcame a rough childhood to become the host of one of the highest rated television shows of its kind. She also is recognized for being one of the great philanthropists of her time. She began her rise to fame in 1984 when she was selected to host a Chicago television show. It moved into the number one spot within a month and would eventually move to a one hour format talk show. This was the predecessor of the Oprah Winfrey Show which she started in 1986. In 1988 she established a new production company, Harpo Productions. In 1993 Time magazine named her one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.” In 1996 she began her book club, and “Oprah Book Club” selections often became instant national bestsellers. In 1998 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 2003 Forbes magazine listed her as the first African American woman billionaire. In 2008 she announced that she would create a new broadcasting venture, the Oprah Winfrey Network, where she plans to host a new program. She ended her popular television show in 2011.