Hi, I’m John Green, this is CrashCourse
U.S. history, and today we have finally reached the Clinton years.
Bill Clinton and I are really quite similar, actually. We were both brought up in the South.
We both come from broken families … well, no, not actually. Also, I did not attended
any Ivy League University. Yeah, I’m actually nothing like Bill Clinton.
Well, except for the southern thing, and also both of us are married to women who are smarter
than we are. Mr. Green, Mr. Green? But he was president.
Whatever, I’m still young Me From the Past! Clinton wasn’t even governor of Arkansas
until he was like (looks at computer)….oh, crap, he was 32, I’m finished!
INTRO So Clinton’s presidency was focused on Domestic
Policy and a sex scandal – in fact his campaign war room famously featured a sign that read
“It’s the Economy, stupid.” His domestic legacy is pretty complex, though, so we’re
going to start with his foreign policy. The Clinton years didn’t feature as many
major foreign policy successes as Bush 41, but Clinton did have his moments. Like his
administration achieved a partial success with the 1993 Oslo Accords when Israel recognized
the legitimacy of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.
However, that eventually resulted in the PLO becoming progressively less powerful and as
you may have noticed, it didn’t ultimately achieve peace in the Middle East.
Clinton was more successful in Yugoslavia where he pushed NATO to actually do something
for once in this case bombing, sending troops, kinda something.
Now there had been widespread ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims before the NATO intervention
but the fighting ended with the Dayton Accords. And then there’s the Rwandan genocide, which
the Clinton administration did absolutely nothing to prevent and where 800,000 people
died in less than a month. The Rwandan genocide is probably the international
community’s greatest failure in the 2nd half of the 20th century and while certainly Clinton
was among many people who were complicit to that including like, me, yeah… you know…
so far it’s not such a great foreign policy record.
Terrorism also became a bigger issue during Clinton’s presidency. The World Trade Center
was bombed for the 1st time, the U.S.S. Cole was attacked.
But the most destructive terrorist act during Clinton’s presidency was of course committed
by Americans – Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who blew up the Murrah Federal building in
Oklahoma City. Which brings us to an awkward transition from
domestic terrorism to domestic policy. So Bill Clinton was from Hope Arkansas and
he ran as a centrist democrat who wanted to do things differently. He wasn’t going to
be inside the Washington beltway. And he wasn’t going to be some old-fashioned
liberal who was all about raising taxes funneling billions of dollars to Snuffleupagus.
That centrism made him very electable but his first few domestic agenda items faltered,
like he tried to end the ban on gay people entering in the military but opposition led
him to compromise with the famous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.
Essentially you were allowed to be homosexual, if you were in the military, you just weren’t
allowed to acknowledge it. And then there was the 1993 Health Care initiative
led by Clinton’s wife, Hillary, which was also a failure.
By the 90’s the United States was the last industrialized nation not to have universal
health care and while Hillary Clinton’s plan would have resulted in Americans having
universal health care it was too complicated to sell to us.
Also, it faced very powerful opposition from like drug companies, and insurers, and medical
device makers… lots of people. But at least it had a working website. What’s
that, Stan? There was no web? What did they use, like a mobile app or something? There
was no apps? I thought we were in modern history! So on the heels of these failed policy initiatives
in 1994 Democrats were swept out of Congress and Republicans took control of both the Senate
and the House. The new speaker of the House, whose real name
was Newt Gingrich, and who would later run for president despite being named Newt Gingrich
issued something called the Contract with America.
It promised to cut government, cut taxes, cut regulation, overhaul welfare and end affirmative
action — and this led to a Government shutdown in 1995 over an inability to reach a budget
agreement between the Congress and the president. Which in turn made all these new Congressional
Republicans very unpopular with the American people as a whole and played into Clinton’s
political strategy of “triangulation.” His strategy was to campaign against radical
republicans while co-opting some of their ideas.
The most obvious example was his declaration in January 1996 that “The era of big government
is over”. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. There has been
no president since WWII who decreased the size of the government.
And that will change when never because all of the things that actually cost the government
a lot of money like Social Security and Medicare are very popular and both of those programs
benefit old people who vote disproportionately because they have nothing to do since Murder
She Wrote was cancelled. However, Clinton did actually shrink parts
of the government with policies like the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated broadcasting.
But Clinton’s signature economic policy was Welfare Reform – aka the Personal Responsibility
and Work Opportunity Act – of 1996. This law replaced the Aid to Families with
Dependent Children program, which had given money directly to poor mothers.
But with Clinton’s welfare reform states received block grants that came with strings
attached including work requirements and time limits for total benefits.
Welfare rolls plummeted and many economists see this as the rare bipartisan victory in
the 1990’s but it’s still controversial and many liberal people felt like Bill Clinton
had betrayed them. But Clinton still remained popular through
much of his presidency largely because it really is the economy stupid – and the economy
got better. In fact by the time Clinton left office unemployment
was below 4% which hadn’t happened since the 1960s.
That meant there should have been inflation but somehow there wasn’t, possibly because
of increased global competition that kept wages down and also energy prices that were
remarkably low as worldwide oil production increased.
Microchips made it possible to develop loads of new products, like personal computers and
DVD players, and video games, and cell phones, and Crash Course.
And computers completely transformed the American workplace.
I mean until the 90’s people would go to work, and they would sit in their offices
at their desks, and they would… I don’t know what did because they didn’t have computers!
How did anything get done before computers, I mean how were books written, how was the
Godfather edited, how was this globe made, I mean did some individual’s human hand
sculpt it from clay? So no wonder the economy got better we had
stumbled on the biggest innovation since like wheels.
And during the Clinton administration we didn’t just have computers we had computers that
began to connect to each other. I’m referring of course to the Internet
which might have remained like a military communications network if computer scientists
and entrepreneurs hadn’t worked out how to use it to sell things.
This was the beginning of the e-commerce boom, which would be followed by an e-commerce bust,
but then another e-commerce boom, which would eventually give us websites where you can
buy Crash Course DVD’s, like DFTBA.com, and also lesser known e-commerce sites like
Ebay and Amazon. Oh, it’s time for the mystery document?
The rules here are simple. I read the mystery document, I either get
the author correct, or I get shocked. Okay here we go.
“The information highway will extend the electronic marketplace and make it the ultimate
go-between, the universal middleman. Often the only humans involved in a transaction
will be the actual buyer and the seller. All the goods for sale in the world will be available
for you to examine, compare, and often customize. When you want to buy something you’ll be
able to tell your computer to find if for you at the best price offered by any acceptable
source or ask your computer to “haggle” with the computers of various sellers. Information
about vendors and their products and services will be available to any computer connected
to the highway. Servers distributed worldwide will accept bids, resolve offers into completed
transactions, control authentication and security, and handle all other aspects of the marketplace,
including the transfer of funds. This will carry us into a new world of low-friction,
low-overhead capitalism, in which market information will be plentiful and transaction costs low.
It will be a shopper’s heaven.” Stan, that sounds like something that Amazon
founder Jeff Bezos would say. No? Dangit, Bill Gates.
Let me tell you how much I enjoy this, none. Oh, the information super highway it made
all of this possible including my shock pen. Ahhh!
Now one of the lessons of history is that good news for someone is almost always bad
news for someone else and that was certainly the case with the longest period of economic
expansion in American history. Increased use of Information Technology facilitated
the globalization of manufacturing and the pressure to manufacture cheaply pushed wages
down and encouraged companies to locate factories in countries with lower environmental regulations
and also lower wages. That’s great for companies, it’s good
for prices, arguably good for workers in the developing world, not so great for the environment
or for American workers. The deregulation of finance also contributed
to global growth. Capital could flow more easily anywhere in the world but this also
meant that it could flow out easily, making financial crises more likely and more widespread.
The growth of free flowing capital in the 1990’s created a world in which the crash
of 2008 was more or less inevitable. But before that we had the crash of 2000.
As money flowed into the stock market, bubbles developed. And in some ways this was more
problematic than it used to be because a much greater percentage of Americans had become
investors in stocks – an actual majority of them by the year 2000.
And many of these investors were buying into these hot new dot-com stocks, in fact the
tech-heavy NASDAQ exchange soared in 1998 and 1999.
And then it lost 80% of its value in 2000 when the bubble burst.
It turns out that the Pets.com business model of selling you dog food at a loss is not a
sustainable business model. Although to be fair Amazon has been selling
stuff at a loss now for 20 years and they’re still at it. So… you know… maybe I’m
wrong. So during this period real wages grew but
the gains were very unequal like when you adjust for inflation, wages of nonsupervisory
workers remained below what they were in the 1970s.
And for the poor it was even worse. Our old friend Eric Foner reports that “Average
after-tax income of the poorest 1/5 of Americans fell 12 percent, and that of the middle 1/5
decreased by 3 percent.” Meanwhile, the income of the top fifth increased 38%.
Now of course this trend towards inequality and the majority of jobs being created in
low wage, insecure, service industries would continue into the 21st century.
But the economic and political pictures that we’ve sought to paint only tell half of
the story of the 1990s, because it was also a decade characterized by what has been called
the Culture Wars. A big part of this was immigration, which
rose enormously after immigration reform in 1965. Between 1965 and 2000 the US saw almost
24 million immigrants arrive, compared with 27 million during the peak immigration period
between 1880 and 1924. Fully half of new immigrants came from Latin
America and the Caribbean, 35% came from Asia, only 10% came from Europe and most of them
were from the former USSR and the Balkans. As had always been the case, most immigrants
were attracted by labor opportunities, but now more were highly educated. In fact, 40%
had college educations. Let’s go to the thoughtbubble.
Latinos were the largest immigrant group by far, with Mexicans making up the largest contingent
and by 2007 Latinos would replace African Americans as the second largest ethnic group.
Latinos suffered disproportionate poverty, and, despite significant economic gains during
the 1990s, African Americans still found their economic opportunities limited. According
to Eric Foner, “In 2007, the total assets of the median white family […] stood at
$87,000. For black families, the figure was $5,400.”
Diversity also increased in other ways like single parent families became more accepted
which was essential as 50% of marriages ended in divorce. Out-of-wedlock births declined,
primarily because teenagers were practicing safer sex. And teens and adults were cohabiting
before or instead of marriage. Eventually the Mom, Dad, and 2.4 kids standard American
household became only one of a number of accepted options for families.
Gay and trans people became increasingly visible in the national consciousness as a result
of the GLBT rights movement and it becoming safer for people to come out of the closet.
On the other hand, the AIDS epidemic, which disproportionately affected the GLBT community
was disastrous. By 2000 400,000 Americans had died of AIDS.
Then there’s the depressing rise in imprisonment. Politicians competed with each other to see
who could be tougher on crime and as the War on Drugs continued, many state legislatures
passed “three strikes” laws meaning that people who were convicted of three felonies
would go to prison for life. The number of Americans in prison skyrocketed.
By 2008 it was 2.3 million, ONE QUARTER of the total number of inmates on planet Earth.
Thanks, thoughtbubble. Although I have to say I thought this was going to be a happy
one, I mean the economy is growing, things are getting better for people in the GLBTQ
community, and then boom, boom, boom, it’s all terrible!
I don’t want to underplay the many benefits of our increased prosperity and diversity
but all of this multiculturalism and change made for a very tense political atmosphere.
To some people it seemed like the open free-wheeling liberalism of the 60’s had run amuck, and
those people really started to hate the Clintons. But among Bill Clinton’s many flaws: facelessness,
cigar smoking, his biggest was his inability to stop cheating on his wife.
Clinton had dodged accusations of extramarital skoodilypooping while running for the presidential
nomination which contributed to his unfortunate “Slick Willie” moniker.
But while he was president, Clinton’s former employee Paula Jones sued him for sexual harassment
that had occurred, allegedly occurred, I guess it probably occurred, allegedly occurred while
he was governor of Arkansas. While gathering evidence for that lawsuit,
investigators discovered that the president had carried on a sexual relationship with
a young intern named Monica Lewinsky. The President denied having “sexual relations”
with Monica Lewinsky which was a lie unless you are President Bill Clinton and have a
very narrow definition of “sexual relations.” That lie to a justice department official
was the basis for articles of impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice.
And so it was that the president of the United States was impeached for saying that he didn’t
have sex with a woman that he did have sex with, unless of course you define sex very
narrowly, and it all depends on what your definition of is is, and etc.
In early 1999, Clinton was acquitted of these charges in a congressional vote that went
right down party lines and he served out the remainder of his term but he was significantly
weakened. Also, he served out the remainder of his presidency
sleeping on the couch. So the 90s were a really pivotal decade to
the world we live in right now, a globalized, multicultural, instagram-filtered world
But as we became more globally connected political divisions grew within the United States.
And this became especially problematic because with the growth of the Internet it was easier
than ever to only hear voices that you already know you agree with. To live inside of an
echo chamber where your news doesn’t necessarily resemble your neighbor’s news.
In some ways Bill Clinton directed these changes but in most ways they directed him. But that’s
what I find so fascinating about history, even the fancy people who get their heads
on the chalkboard, even they are subject to historical forces. Thanks for watching. I’ll
see you next week. Crash Course is made with all the help of
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You can click here on my face or there is a link in the video info below. Thank you
so much for watching Crash Course, thanks for making it possible, and as we say in my
hometown, “Don’t forget to be awesome.” ________________
 Foner. Give me Liberty ebook version p. 1141
 Foner, Give me Liberty. Ebook version p. 1150.