David Aaron Gray

"Don't believe everything 
you hear on the radio"
- Charles Foster Kane

David Aaron Gray (Blog)

Slick Willie and the Comeback Kid: Second Acts in Life and the Art of the Comeback, cont'd

Posted by davidaarongray on January 27, 2013 at 12:55 AM

3) Bill Clinton (42nd President of the U.S.)


William Jefferson Clinton was born on August 19, 1946 in Hope, Arkansas, a small town with a population of about 8,000. His father, William Jefferson Blythe, died in a car crash several months before Clinton was born, leaving him in the care of his mother, Virginia Cassidy Blythe. Clinton's mother remarried an automobile salesman named Roger Clinton. Two years later, the family moved from Hope to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

In June 1963, as a 17-year-old high school junior, he attended Arkansas Boys State, where he was elected the Arkansas representative to the American Legion's Boys Nation, earning him an invitation to meet President John F. Kennedy at the White House Rose Garden. A photograph of the young Bill Clinton shaking hands with President Kennedy has become an iconic image symbolizing a passing of the baton between generations of modern Democratic leadership.

Upon graduating from high school in 1964, Clinton attended Georgetown University to study international affairs. He began devoting his time to working as a clerk for the Foreign Relations Committee under Senator Fulbright, one of Congress's most outspoken critics of the Vietnam War.

After graduating from Georgetown in 1968, Clinton won a highly prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study for two years at Oxford University. Upon the completion of his Scholarship, Clinton entered Yale Law School, where he met a bright young woman named Hillary Rodham, who shared his political ambitions. The pair graduated from Yale in 1973 and married two years later in 1975. They had their only child, a daughter named Chelsea, in 1980.

After graduating from Yale, the Clintons moved back to Arkansas, where Bill immediately thrust himself into politics. In 1974, he challenged Republican incumbent John Paul Hammerschmidt for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Clinton lost the race, but it was much closer than anyone had expected and the race marked him as a rising political star of the Arkansas Democratic Party. Two years later, Clinton was elected state attorney general, and then in 1978, at the age of 32, he easily defeated Republican Lynn Lowe becoming the youngest governor in the State’s history and the fourth youngest in American history.

Governor Clinton took a centrist approach, championing a mix of traditionally liberal and conservative causes. He instituted more rigorous educational standards and established competence tests for teachers. Clinton also championed affirmative action, appointing record numbers of African Americans to key government positions. At the same time, Clinton favored the death penalty and put in place welfare reforms designed to put recipients back to work.

By the late 1980s, Clinton sought to increase his own national visibility. From 1986-1987, he served as the chairman of the National Governors Association, and in the early 1990s he became actively involved in the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate Democrats (aka “The New Democrats") seeking to move the party away from the old New Deal / Great Society style of liberalism which had fallen out of favor with the American people.

In 1992, Clinton began campaigning for the democratic nomination for President. In one of the campaign’s first tests, the New Hampshire primary, early polls indicated an easy victory for the Governor. Then, reports of an extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers surfaced. When the news broke, Clinton instantly fell far behind the pack of leading democratic contenders. In a risky move, he and Hillary decided to be interviewed on a special edition of 60 Minutes (which aired immediately after the Super Bowl) to publicly rebuff the charges. Their primetime appearance was viewed positively by voters and it resuscitated his campaign. He ended up finishing second to Senator Paul Tsongas in the New Hampshire primary after trailing by over 30% at one point in the polls and coming within single digits of winning. Although not actually wining the New Hampshire primary, the media viewed Clinton’s turnaround as the real victory and national news outlets began labeling him "The Comeback Kid." A name that would follow him throughout his public life.

After New Hampshire, Clinton easily defeated his competitors in the remaining Democratic primaries to become the party's nominee for the presidency.

The Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush was vulnerable in the election of 1992 because he had broken his celebrated campaign promise not to raise taxes and, especially, because the national economy was mired in recession. Although Clinton's campaign was troubled by accusations of draft dodging and additional allegations of marital infidelity (most notably, Paula Jones), he campaigned effectively by harping on economic issues. 

During the debates, Clinton was famous for his ability to relate to the common American while at the same time making President George H.W. Bush look rather snooty and elitist. 

Watch how both candidates respond to a question from an audience member during the 1992 townhall debate (look carefully at Bush prior to the question glancing at his watch, as if he has some place better to be):

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Check please!   On November 3, 1992, Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd president of the United States.

Despite a list of modest accomplishments, including the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the implementation of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy and the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Clinton's first years in office were largely unproductive and generally unpopular with the American people.

Through a task force headed by First Lady Hillary Clinton, he endorsed a massive health-care reform act that was designed to provide universal health coverage. The bill failed to move through Congress, however, and became a massive political disaster, leading to Republicans regaining control of both houses of Congress in 1994.

However, in yet another impressive political comeback, President Clinton embraced his centrist policies and restored his popularity in advance of the 1996 election. Despite the fact that a one-term presidency seemed a foregone conclusion two years earlier, in 1996 Clinton handily defeated Republican challenger Bob Dole to secure a second term in office.

Clinton's greatest accomplishment as president was leading the nation to a period of strong economic prosperity. While Clinton was in office, the nation enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate in recent times, the lowest inflation in decades, the highest homeownership rates in its history, and improving economic equality. Clinton's foreign policy achievements included presiding over the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, at which the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat occurred, stabilizing war-torn Bosnia through the Dayton Peace Accords and helping to end Serbia's ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo.


I’ve already mentioned a few minor stumbles suffered by Clinton during his path to prominence. Any one of the various scandals he faced could quite easily have led to a true “FALL” - But Clinton always seemed to rise above whatever was thrown at him (earning him his other famous nickname, “Slick Willie”;).

On January 17, 1998, Clinton’s slickness ran dry as his bad boy behavior finally caught up with him. From that day on, his second term in the White House was dominated by the Monica Lewinsky scandal; the president at first denied, and then later admitted, that he had sexual relations with the 22-year-old White House intern. Congress appointed an independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, to investigate the affair; he produced a very explicit report with salacious details, known as the Starr Report.

Later that year, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice for his actions. Despite acquittal by the Senate in 1999, the American people delivered to Clinton what appeared at the time to be a Nixon like exile from future public service. He was viewed as so toxic, that when his Vice President, Al Gore ran for President in 2000, Clinton was forced to remain on the sidelines throughout the campaign (unprecedented for a two-term incumbent).

Upon leaving the White House in January 2001, virtually every political pundit had already decided that Clinton’s presidential legacy would be dominated by the Lewinsky affair.


The story of Bill Clinton (like so many other famous comeback tales) demonstrates two things:

(1) That the media can bring anyone, even the President of the United States, down to the lowest levels of the abyss, and;

(2) With enough time away from the limelight, public perception of a fallen angel almost always rebounds (to some degree).

In the years since his presidency, Bill Clinton has remained active on the global stage. Through the William J. Clinton Foundation, Clinton created the Clinton Climate Initiative, dedicated to fostering research to combat climate change; the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual meeting of world leaders to discuss global issues; and the Clinton Foundation Haiti Fund, dedicated to rebuilding Haiti in the aftermath of its devastating 2010 earthquake. The foundation's mission is "to alleviate poverty, improve global health, strengthen economies and protect the environment by fostering partnerships among governments, businesses, nongovernmental organizations and private citizens."

Clinton also played an active role in wife Hillary Clinton's failed 2008 presidential bid and, afterward, on Barack Obama's successful presidential campaign. In 2004, Clinton wrote a bestselling autobiography, My Life.

The only Democrat to win more than one presidential election since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bill Clinton is one of the most important American political leaders of modern times. Despite facing an enormous backlash from the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he has rejuvenated his image and remains a popular political figure.

Categories: Top Comebacks of All Time

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