Cover image for Clinton and Congress, 1993-1996 : risk, restoration, and reelection
Clinton and Congress, 1993-1996 : risk, restoration, and reelection
Jones, Charles O.
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Publication Information:
Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 221 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
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JK305 .J64 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this analysis of President Bill Clinton's first term in office, Charles O. Jones, eminent scholar of American politics, highlights the separation of powers established in the U.S. Constitution. Tracing a story of miscalculation and recovery, Jones shows that the president's first term provides important lessons about the workings of our political system.

When Clinton was first elected in 1992, he fell into a familiar trap -- the tendency of elected officials to take more responsibility for their proposed changes than can be institutionally or politically justified. Many of Clinton's initiatives, including his bold healthcare program, were thwarted in Congress by the Republicans, who proceeded to capture majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 1994 elections. The new Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, then similarly miscalculated -- by inviting responsibility for his Contract with America. Like Clinton, Gingrich raised expectations in spite of marginal political advantages. He also miscalculated the president's capacity for recovery.

As Jones demonstrates, only after experiencing the power of institutional checks and balances were Clinton and Gingrich able to generate important agreements on legislation. The parties and their leaders learned to share responsibility for programs and results. As a result, both sides emerged as victors in 1996: the president was reelected, and the Republicans retained their majority status in both houses of Congress.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Jones, a scholar of the politics of separated institutions sharing and competing for power, views Clinton's first term as "a pure case of noncrisis government and thus of the ordinary workings of the separated system." His insightful comparative analysis of the first two years (unified party government) with the last two years (split party control) effectively challenges the assumptions of those who advocate reforms that would insure unified party-based government with direct accountability; see James L. Sundquist, Constitutional Reform and Effective Government (1992). For Jones, the most important lesson of Clinton's first term is that "Political, policy, and electoral conditions ... make an important difference in determining the strategic options available to leaders. Rarely do these conditions invite partisanship and focused accountability." The realities of politics in a system of separated institutions have been major themes of Jones's earlier books--The Presidency in a Separated System (CH, Jan'95) and Separate But Equal Branches: Congress and the Presidency (1995)--but these realities are most vividly demonstrated in the current volume. For students of Congress, the presidency, and the party-electoral system, this book is required reading. E. C. Dreyer; University of Tulsa