My Life, by Bill Clinton: on Principles & Values


Bill Clinton: Born in 1946 in Hope Arkansas to a widowed mother

Early on the morning of August 19, 1946, I was born under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother in the Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, a town of about six thousand in southwest Arkansas, thirty-three miles east of the Texas border at Texarkana. My mother named me William Jefferson Blythe III after my father, William Jefferson Blythe Jr., one of nine children of a poor farmer in Sherman, Texas.

My father met my mother at Tri- State Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1943, when she was training to be a nurse. Two months later, they were married and he was off to war. He served in a motor pool in the invasion of Italy, repairing jeeps and tanks. After the war, he returned to Hope for Mother and they moved to Chicago, where he got back his old job as a salesman for the Manbee Equipment Company.

On May 17, 1946, [my father died in a traffic accident] drowned, only twenty-eight years old, married two years and eight months, only seven months of which he had spent with Mother.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, First Chapter Jun 23, 2004

Bill Clinton: Father’s death in traffic accident drove Bill to achieve

On May 17, 1946, my father was driving from Chicago to Hope to fetch his wife. Late at night, he lost control of his car, when the right front tire blew out on a wet road. He was thrown clear of the car but landed in, or crawled into, a drainage ditch. He drowned, only 28 years old, married 2 years & 8 months, only 7 months of which he had spent with Mother.

When I was about 12, sitting on my uncle’s porch in Hope, a man walked up the steps, looked at me, & said, “You’re Bill Blythe’s son. You look just like him.“ I beamed for days.

My father left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people, and that if I did it well enough, somehow I could make up for the life he should have had. And his memory infused me, at a younger age than most, with a sense of my own mortality. The knowledge that I, too, could die young drove me both to try to drain the most out of every moment of life and to get on with the next big challenge. Even when I wasn’t sure where I was going, I was always in a hurry.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, First Chapter Jun 23, 2004

Bill Clinton: Discovered a half-brother in 1993

In 1993, on Father’s Day, my first as President, [several newspapers ran] investigative stories on my father. The stories turned up a lot we didn’t know, including the fact that my father had probably been married three times before he met Mother, and apparently had at least two more children.

My father’s other son was identified as Leon Ritzenthaler, a retired owner of a janitorial service, from northern California. He said he had written me during the ‘92 campaign but had received no reply. I got in touch with him and later met him & his wife, Judy. We had a happy visit and since then we’ve corresponded in holiday seasons. He and I look alike, his birth certificate says his father was mine, and I wish I’d known about him a long time ago.

Somewhere around this time, I also received information about a daughter, born Sharon Lee Blythe in Kansas City in 1941, to a woman my father later divorced. I’m sorry to say that, for whatever reason, I’ve never met her.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, First Chapter Jun 23, 2004

Bill Clinton: Learn from Creation what one must be

According to Ernest Becker [a philosopher who wrote The Denial of Death], as we grow up, at some point we become aware of death, then the fact that people we know and love die, then the fact that someday we, too, will die. Most of us do what we can to avoid it. Meanwhile, we embrace identities and the illusion of self-sufficiency. We pursue activities, both positive and negative, that we hope will lift us beyond the chains of ordinary existence and perhaps endure after we are gone. Whether we succeed or fail ,we are still going to die. The only solace, of course, is to believe that since we are created, there must be a Creator, one to whom we matter and will in some way return. Becker seemed to have met Immanuel Kant’s test of life : ‘How to occupy properly that place in creation that is assigned to man, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be a man.’ I’ve spent a life time trying to do that. Becker’s book helped convince me it was an effort worth making.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.235 Jun 21, 2004

Bill Clinton: Developed the New Democrat Philosophy for 1992 campaign

By the end of 1986, I had formed some basic convictions about the nature of the modern world, which was later developed into the so-called New Democrat philosophy that was the backbone of my 1992 campaign for President. These are the new rules that I believe should provide the framework within which we make policy today:
  1. Change may be the only constant in today’s American economy
  2. [Human capital] is probably more important than physical capital now.
  3. A more constructive partnership between business and government is far more important than the dominance of either.
  4. As we try to solve problems which arise out of the internationalization of American life and the changes in our own population, cooperation in every area is far more important than conflict. We have to share responsibilities and opportunities--we’re going up or down together.
  5. Waste is going to be punished [especially corporate debt].
  6. A strong America requires a resurgent sense of community.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.326-7 Jun 21, 2004

Bill Clinton: Asks forgiveness from Monica and her family

I said that I was sorry for all who had been hurt--Monica Lewinsky and her family; that I had asked for their forgiveness:-- a willingness to give the very forgiveness I seek.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.810 Jun 21, 2004

Bill Clinton: Cites John 8:7 as defense against impeachment

I have two stones with the New Testament verse John 8:7 inscribed on them. In what many people believe was Jesus’ last encounter with his critics, the Pharisees, they brought to him a woman caught in the act of adultery and said the law of Moses commanded them to stone her to death. Jesus responded ‘He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’ My sense of my own mortality and human frailty and the unconditional love I’d had as a child had spared me the compulsion to judge and condemn others. And I believed my personal flaws, no matter how deep, were far less threatening to our democratic government than the power lust of my accusers.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.846-7 Jun 21, 2004

Bill Clinton: Right wing ideology trumps compassionate conservatism

I had watched the Washington Republicans for eight years and imagined that President Bush would, from the outset of his term, be under pressure to abandon compassionate conservatism by the more right-wing leaders and interest groups now in control of his party. They believed in their ways as deeply as I believed in mine, but I thought the evidence, and the weight of history, favored our side (democratic liberalism).
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.951 Jun 21, 2004

Bill Clinton: Bush believes in his way, but history favors Clinton’s

I thought about the note to President Bush I would write and leave behind in the Oval Office, just as his father had done for me eight years earlier. I wanted to be gracious and encouraging, as George Bush had been to me. Soon George W. Bush would be President of all the people, and I wished him well. I had paid close attention to what Bush and Cheney had said in the campaign. I knew they saw the world very differently from the way I did and would want to undo much of what I had done, especially on economic policy and the environment. But those were not my calls to make anymore. I had watched the Washington Republicans for eight years and imagined that President Bush would, from the outset of his term, be under pressure to abandon compassionate conservatism by the more right-wing leaders and interest groups now in control of his party. They believed in their way as deeply as I believed in mine, but I thought the evidence, and the weight of history, favored our side.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.951 Jun 21, 2004

Evan Bayh: Liberal in conservative state; but less so than Birch Bayh

The Senate looked a lot different then from how it looks today. In January 1967, eight states of the Old South still had two Democratic senators each, down from ten before the 1966 elections, but most of them were conservative segregationists. Today, it's the reverse. In the inter-mountain West, now solidly Republican, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming each had one progressive Democratic senator. Indiana, a conservative state, had two liberal Democratic senators, one of who, Birch Bayh, is the father of current Senator Evan Bayh, a gifted leader who might be President someday, but who's not as liberal as his dad was. The only woman in the Senate was a Republican who smoked a pipe, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. By 2004, there were 14 women senators, nine Democrats and five Republicans. Back then there were also a number of influential liberal Republicans, alas, a virtually extinct group today, including Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, the Senate's only African-American.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p. 96-97 Jun 21, 2004

George Bush Sr.: 1992: Saddam foiled in plotting his assassination in Kuwait

In June 1992, I ordered the military into action for the first time, firing twenty-three Tomahawk missiles into Iraq's intelligence headquarters, in retaliation for a plot to assassinate President George H. W. Bush during a trip he had made to Kuwait. More than a dozen people involved in the plot had been arrested in Kuwait on April 13, one day before the former President had been scheduled to arrive. The materials in their possession were conclusively traced to Iraqi intelligence, and on May 19 one of the arrested Iraqis confirmed to the FBI that the Iraqi intelligence service was behind the plot. Most of the Tomahawks hit the target, but four of them overshot, three landing in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood and killing eight civilians. It was a stark reminder that no matter how careful the planning and how accurate the weapons, when that kind of firepower is unleashed, there are usually unintended consequences.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.525-526 Jun 21, 2004

Hillary Clinton: 1980s: Earned more at Rose Law than Bill did as Governor

In 1976, Hillary found a good job at the Rose Law Firm, which was full of experienced lawyers and bright younger ones, including my friend Vince Foster. From then on, Hillary earned much more than I did every year until the year I became President.

One day [as Attorney General], I appeared at a committee hearing to speak against a measure. The room was packed with people representing interests who were for it, including Vince Foster. And Hillary. He had brought her along for the experience, not knowing I would be appearing for the other side. We just smiled at each other and did our jobs. Luckily, the Rose firm had gotten an opinion from the ABA saying it could hire the wife of the attorney general and setting out the steps necessary to avoid conflicts of interest. Hillary followed them to the letter. After I became governor, and she was a full partner at the Rose firm, she gave up her portion of the annual profits made from state bond business, legal work the firm had been doing since the 1940s.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.244-246 Jun 21, 2004

Hillary Clinton: 1979 commodities deal: profit is not evidence of corruption

A lot of people had already acquired a vested interest in finding something wrong; if there was nothing illegal in our long-ago land deal, perhaps they could catch something wrong in the handling of it. Unless Hillary & I could prove ourselves innocent o whatever charges any adversary could come up with, most of the stories would have an underlying current that we must have done something wrong.

For example, the New York Times reported that, starting with a $1,000 investment, Hillary had made $100,000 in the commodities market in 1979, with the help of Jim Blair. Blair did help Hillary and a number of his other close friends in trading commodities, but she took her own risks, paid more than $18,000 in brokerage fees, and, following her own instincts, got out of the market before it dropped. A Republican reviewed all of Hillary's trades and said there was nothing wrong with them. It didn't matter. For years, the critics would refer to Hillary's commodity profit as prima facie evidence of corruption.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.584-585 Jun 21, 2004

John Warner: 1994: Endorsed Democrat over Oliver North for Senate

The 1994 election had a few bright spots. Ted Kennedy and Senator Dianne Feinstein prevailed in tough campaigns. So did my friend Senator Chuck Robb of Virginia, who defeated conservative talk-show host Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame, with the help of an endorsement from his Republican colleague Senator John Warner, who liked Robb and couldn't stand the thought of North in the Senate.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.630 Jun 21, 2004

Newt Gingrich: 1998: Proceeded with unpopular impeachment "because we can"

On the first day after the 1998 election I called Newt Gingrich to talk about some business; when the conversation got around to the election, he was very generous, saying that as a historian and "the quarterback for the other team," he wanted to congratulate me.

Later in November, Erskine Bowles had a very different conversation: Newt told Erskine that they were going to go forward with the impeachment despite the election results and the fact that many moderate Republicans didn't want to vote for it. When Erskine asked Newt why they would proceed with impeachment instead of other possible remedies such as censure or reprimand, the Speaker replied, "Because we can."

The right-wing Republicans who controlled the House believed that they had now paid for impeachment so they should just go on and do it before the new Congress came in. The right-wingers in the House caucus were seething over their defeat. Now they were going to seize back control of the Republican agenda through impeachment.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.824-825 Jun 21, 2004

Ralph Nader: OpEd: Liberal trap: perfect is the enemy of the good

[In 1990], the AFL-CIO refused to endorse me [but] 18 local unions defied [the national office] and endorsed me anyway. They didn't fall into the classic liberal trap of making the perfect the enemy of the good. If the people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 hadn't made the same mistake, Al Gore would have been elected President.

Al was going to win big states by large margins, but Bush was going to win more small rural states, and they had an advantage in the electoral college.

Gore did win [the popular vote], but the electoral college was in doubt. The race came down to Florida, after Gore won a narrow victory in New Mexico, one of several states that were closer than they would have been had Ralph Nader not been on the ballot.

New Hampshire went for Bush by a margin of just over 7,000 because Nader got 22,198 votes. Even worse, Nader received more than 90,000 votes in Florida, where Bush was hanging by a thread in an election contest that would drag on for more than a month.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.357-8&928-9 Jun 21, 2004

Bill Clinton: Father brought date to hospital where he met mother, a nurse

Early on the morning of Aug. 19, 1946, I was born under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother in the Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, a town of about 6,000 in southwest Arkansas. My mother named me William Jefferson Blythe III after my father, William Jefferson Blythe Jr., 1 of 9 children of a poor farmer in Sherman, Texas, who died when my father was 17. According to his sisters, my father always tried to take care of them, and he grew up to be a handsome, hardworking, fun-loving man.

He met my mother at Tri-State Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1943, when she was training to be a nurse. He brought a date with some kind of medical emergency into the ward where she was working, and they flirted while the other woman was being treated. The next day he sent the other woman flowers and Mother's heart sank. Then he called Mother for a date, explaining that he always sent flowers when he ended a relationship. Two months later, they were married and he was off to war.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p. 4 Jun 1, 2004

Bill Clinton: Knew his father only through stories from family

After serving in the war in Italy, he returned to Hope for Mother and they moved to Chicago, where he got back his old job as a salesman. They bought a little house in the suburb of Forest Park but couldn't move in for a couple of months, and since Mother was pregnant with me, they decided she should go home to Hope.

On May 17, 1946, my father was driving from Chicago to Hope to fetch his wife. Late at night on Highway 60 outside of Sikeston, Missouri, he lost control of his car when the right front tire blew out. He was thrown into a drainage ditch. The ditch held three feet of water. When he was found, after a two-hour search, his hand was grasping a branch above the waterline. He had tried but failed to pull himself out. He drowned, only 28 years old.

That brief sketch is about all I ever really knew about my father. All my life I have been hungry to fill in the blanks, clinging eagerly to every photo or story or scrap of paper that would tell me more of the man who gave me life.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p. 4-5 Jun 1, 2004

Bill Clinton: Father had two children from three previous secret marriages

In 1993, on Father's Day, the Washington Post ran a long investigative story on my father, which was followed by other investigative pieces. The stories turned up a lot we didn't know, including the fact that my father had probably been married three times before he met Mother, and apparently had at least two more children.

My father's other son was identified as Leon Ritzenthaler, a retired owner of a janitorial service, from northern California. I got in touch with him and later met him and his wife, Judy. Since then we've corresponded in holiday seasons. He and I look alike, his birth certificate says his father was mine, and I wish I'd known about him a long time ago.

Somewhere around this time, I also learned about Sharon Pettijohn, born Sharon Lee Blythe in Kansas City in 1941, to a woman my father later divorced. She sent copies of her birth certificate; her parents' marriage license; a photo of my father. I'm sorry to say that, for whatever reason, I've never met her.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p. 5 Jun 1, 2004

Bill Clinton: Father's early death left me with sense of my own mortality

My father [who died at age 28] left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people, and that if I did it well enough, somehow I could make up for the life he should have had. And his memory infused me, at a younger age than most, with a sense of my own mortality. The knowledge that I, too, could die young drove me both to try to drain the most out of every moment of life and to get on with the next big challenge. Even when I wasn't sure where I was going, I was always in a hurry.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p. 7 Jun 1, 2004

  • The above quotations are from My Life, by Bill Clinton.
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