Now everyone gets to see him from this angle.
"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
William Jefferson Clinton
was President of the United States from 1993-2001
(the first Democrat since FDR
to be elected to two terms), following George Bush, Sr.
and preceding George Bush, Jr.
, and ushering in an era of Democrats in power in the White House after twelve straight years of Republican rulenote
. He is largely known in parody/satire for his playing of the saxophone (which is, of course, Truth in Television
due to Clinton being a skilled player of the sax) and as a Handsome Lech
who was caught in a series of sex scandals, which threatened his presidency towards the end of his second term.
His nomination for President was far from a sure thing; like Barack Obama
, he first stepped onto the national scene at the Democratic National Convention, in this case delivering the official nomination speech for presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, his gubernatorial counterpart from the state of Massachusetts. Clinton's speech was so tiresome and long-winded that he was actually booed. (Ironically, the speech was prepared by someone else; he blundered through).
Clinton sought the 1992 Democratic nomination with his wife Hillary
by his side, and made no secret that she would be a part of his administration; in fact, "two for the price of one" was one of their selling points. Of course, this led to all sorts of snark, especially when Hillary herself ran for President in 2008.
Clinton's time in office was known primarily for two things: a strong economy, and a lot of scandal. Allegations of unscrupulous business practices surrounding a failed real estate venture, the "Whitewater Development Corporation," damaged Bill's credibility, though no evidence was uncovered that could convict or even implicate the couple in wrongdoing; this matter, along with a couple of other bizarre incidences ("Travelgate" and "Filegate"
) were investigated by the Whitewater Independent Counsel with equally little traction. Every single one of the criminal accusations against him was eventually dismissed, much to the chagrin of Ken Starr, the specially appointed Federal prosecutor in charge of investigating the President.
Finally, in '98 Clinton was implicated as having had an affair with intern Monica Lewinsky; Hillary ensued.
He used Weasel Words
with great conviction (in retrospect, the infamous "that depends on what your definition of 'is' is" might have been better phrased as "are you asking the question strictly in the present
tense, or about the past as well?") until Lewinsky produced a dress with some incriminating evidence upon it, whereupon Clinton came clean. Eventually he was impeached by the US House of Representatives on the pretext of lying under oath about his affair (the impeachment was in the planning stages before Clinton even testified), though the trial in the Senate resulted in his acquittal. Despite his sex scandal, he was actually one of the most popular presidents among women, due to a number of policies that were generally acclaimed as feminist.
After leaving office he faced disciplinary action by the Arkansas state bar; Clinton agreed to a suspension of his license to practice law in Arkansas for five years in return for the agreement of the Whitewater Independent Counsel that he would not be prosecuted in Federal court for perjury. As a result of the Arkansas disciplinary action Clinton faced disbarment from the US Supreme Court bar; he resigned his license to practice before the Supreme Court in order to avoid disbarment. More amusingly, to this day, "a touch of the Bill Clintons" is used as an Unusual Euphemism
by some English barristers, as rules of procedure prevent them from outright accusing a witness of lying absent evidence. It was first used in Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapersnote
, by Andrew Caldecott QC, regarding Piers Morgan.
Clinton also instituted the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (repealed in 2011), which allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the American armed forces only if they stay in the closet. This was actually a liberalization of prior policy
, under which the military could freely investigate the sexuality of its soldiers and "out" the gay ones, who would then be discharged from service. Like most political compromises, this pleased neither side of the debate, although it did inspire a pretty funny SNL
parody of the movie Glory
. His Presidency saw The Yugoslav Wars
(during which NATO intervened on Kosovo's and Bosnia's behalf), the Somalian intervention, the bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant,note another American occupation of Haiti
, and his attacks on al-Qaeda embassies, which were widely bashed at the time by conservatives, who claimed that Clinton's attempts to eliminate the terror group and their leader Osama bin Laden
were nothing more than ploys to distract the public
from his impeachment hearings. The violent crime epidemic finally
started to end during his presidency, with homicide notably dropping by half in just eight years.
He had perhaps the widest range of satirical portrayals of any president: at the beginning his comedic persona was that of a hickish southerner
; a "Bubba" who enjoyed too much fast food
and was out of his league in Washington
. As his presidency went on, parodies increasingly played upon a "Slick Willie" portrayal: a fast-talker in both the situation room and the bedroom, able to invoke Refuge in Audacity
to barrel through scandals with his popularity rating remaining high. Also, due to her own involvement in politics, Hillary Clinton has perhaps been the target of more satire than any other First Lady: most of these satires played up her own Lady Macbeth
nature and the notion of a "Faustian Deal" with her husband wherein she would stay with him, no matter how many affairs he might have, in exchange for promoting Hill to political office.
The following tropes are related to America's forty-second president:
- Abusive Parents/Wicked Stepfather: His stepfather was an alcoholic gambler who abused his mother and half-brother.
- Adorkable: His daughter Chelsea was very much this during his years in power. Buzzfeed posted a photo essay counting the ways.
- And a Diet Coke: Truth in Television — came back to bite him when it was discovered he had advanced coronary disease and needed urgent bypass surgery.
- Badass: As a kid, he repeatedly intervened with threats of violence to protect his mom and brother from his aforementioned Wicked Stepfather.
- Big Eater: Before his heart surgery.
- The Chessmaster: When Clinton was impeached over the Lewinsky scandal, he successfully managed to portray it as nothing more than his political rivals being willing to go to any lengths to undermine him. Public opinion eventually came around to his side: his approval ratings skyrocketed, the Republicans lost many congressional seats in the 1998 midterm elections, and he was acquitted and allowed to serve out his term. To top it off, the resultant fallout of public opinion towards the Republican Party led to Newt Gingrich, the driving force behind Clinton's impeachment, to resign as Speaker of the House.
- This could be applied to how Clinton evaded all of the scandals his rivals brought against him during his Presidency.
- Chubby Chaser: Often painted as this in the media, sometimes overlapping with a fondness for big butts (due to owning an office in Harlem). A lot of comedians and satirists got mileage out of Lewinsky's fuller figure.
- Conspiracy Theory: A ton of conspiracy theories persist around the FBI's raid on David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound in 1993. A lot of this is based on the frequent debate of whether it was the FBI or the Branch Davidians who fired the first shots. Other suspected culprits are Janet Reno and the ATF as a whole. (The agency had been angling for increased funding, and even dubbed the raid "Operation Showtime.")
- In the Michael Moore film Bowling for Columbine, Marilyn Manson accused the Clinton administration of helping to manufacture controversy around his music, especially in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine high school massacre, to distract the public from the Lewinsky scandal and the embarrassing Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory bombing.note
- "Clinton Dead Friends" and "Clinton Body Count" lists tying Clinton to dozens of deaths have been around since the mid 90s. The most famous of these would have to be Vince Foster, a fundraiser and White House lawyer who was found dead in an apparent suicide during an ethics investigation of his office.
- Clinton has also been accused of running drugs through the Mena airport in northwest Arkansas as part of the Iran-Contra scandal. Many of the deaths on "Clinton Body Count" lists are of people who got mixed up in the Northwest Arkansas drug trade, or their friends.
- Controversy Proof Image: The EPITOME of this trope. Many of the scandals brought against Clinton could have (or have) ended the career of any lesser politician. However, Clinton navigated them relatively unscathed and continues to maintain large popularity among the American people. His approval rating leaving office was over 60% and today he is considered to be one of the most popular politicians in America; indeed he is about as well-liked among modern Democrats as a similarly slick 1980s president who got by all his political enemies is among modern Republicans.
- Creator Couple: With Hillary, who has had a political career as illustrious as her husband's. They're probably the most dramatic illustration of this trope in the history of American politics.
Bill: "For twenty years, we've gone where I wanted to go and done what I wanted to do.... Now I'll give her the next twenty years. And if I'm still alive after that, we'll fight over the rest."
- Dead Guy Junior: Before his mother remarried, he was named William Jefferson Blythe IV, after his Disappeared Dad William Jefferson Blythe III.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Bill Clinton is good friends with George HW Bush. They frequently, and consistently, do fundraising tours together for important humanitarian causes, most notably during the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
- Similar things could be said about Clinton and Newt Gingrich. Gingrich spent his time as Speaker trying to undermine Clinton and push him from power, eventually falling from power himself when Clinton turned the tables on him during the Lewinsky scandal. Fast forward to 2011, when Gingrich is back in the news with his (eventually failed) bid to become the Republican nominee in the 2012 presidential election; Clinton was surprisingly friendly towards Gingrich's campaign, describing his proposed policies as agreeable conservative alternatives to the Obama administration's policies.
- Disappeared Dad: Bill's father died in a car accident three months before his son was born.
- Fire-Forged Friends: with George W. Bush in their post-presidential years.
- Friendly Enemy: Despite being from opposite parties, the similarities in background between him and Newt Gingrich (both were born to working-class families, they both grew up without their birth fathers—Clinton's father died before he was born, Gingrich's divorced his mother within days of his birth—their stepfathers had adopted them, and both are Southerners) meant that they could discuss issues in a friendly atmosphere (well, relatively speaking, anyway).
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: He's very popular in Kosovo for defending them from the Serbs in 1999.
- Happily Married: With Hillary, though it was touch-and-go for a bit there.
- Iconic Item: His saxophone. Sometimes paired with Cool Shades.
- Irony: The Lewinsky scandal was intended to be Clinton's downfall. Instead, it led to the downfall of opposition leader Newt Gingrich.
- Kick the Dog: Although an unintentional one. He ordered the Navy to destroy Sudan's only pharmaceutical plant, causing a humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest nations on earth, because he thought (wrongly) that it was producing chemical arms. The strike also killed a nightwatchman, not to mention putting the kibosh on one of the country's only large employers. Whoops.
- His refusal to send troops into Rwanda to stop the genocide, fearing a repeat of the Somalia disaster. He has since apologized for this in 2004.
- Leitmotif: "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow..."
- Life Imitates Art: During the height of the Lewinsky scandal, Clinton learned of some suspected al-Qaeda locations and ordered cruise missile strikes to destroy them. However, this was shortly after the movie Wag The Dog was released, depicting a President who starts a war to distract from a raging sex scandal. Commentators and Republican opponents were eager to make the connection. Became Hypocritical Humor after 9/11 when those same commentators and Republicans (in many cases, the exact same people) accused Clinton of not doing enough about al-Qaeda.
- Love at First Sight: He took one look at Hillary and promptly forgot his own name.
- Memetic Mutation: Not inhaling.
- Memetic Sex God:
- Old joke: "The Washington Post recently did a telephone poll of women in the D.C. area, asking 'Would you have sex with Bill Clinton?' 67% replied 'Never again.'"
- Older joke. Hillary is pregnant and furiously calls her husband:
Hillary: "How could you get me pregnant, you idiot! This will wreck my career! You've ruined my life!"
Bill "Who is this?"
- Even older joke: Four former presidents are transported to the land of Oz. Upon meeting the Wizard, Richard Nixon requests a heart; Jimmy Carter then steps forward and asks for some courage, and George Bush Sr., a brain. Once the others have received their gifts, Bill Clinton steps forward and sheepishly asks, "...is Dorothy here?"
- My Greatest Failure: His inaction during the Rwanda genocide was so outrageous, the man himself ended up feeling it was his worst mistake of his presidency.
- Never Live It Down: The Lewinsky scandal. More seriously, his administration's actions during the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ordered an attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, Al-Shifa, on the dubious claims of the factory having chemical weapons. The factory was a principal source of Sudan's anti-malaria and veterinary drugs, and its destruction indirectly saw thousands die from diseases that could not be countered. Whoooops.
- Old Shame: He's made clear that he greatly regrets his part in the passage of DOMA.
- One of Us: He's a Rhodes Scholar, for Pete's sake, and according to his family and friends, he's always got at least two books he's working on reading through at a time. In more than one way: he appeared on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me and was asked three questions about the show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. He got every one correct.
- Our Presidents Are Different: Practically the Trope Codifier for the President Playboy variant.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: He did not. Have. Sexual. Relations. With. That. Woman.
- Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Toni Morrison didn't call him "The first Black President" for nothing, You know.
- Scandalgate: The Monica Lewinsky scandal became known as Monicagate / Zippergate. Called "Tailgate" by The Daily Show.
- School Uniforms are the New Black: In the 1998 State of the Union address he endorsed uniforms in American public schools (which traditionally don't have them). Short-term, it bought him a full week of Late Night Talk Show jokes about teenage "interns" in plaid skirts; long-term, Chris Matthews in particular is fond of bringing it up as a classic example of a Presidency that had run out of big ideas and grand plans.
- She Is All Grown Up: His daughter Chelsea.◊ Guess it's a sort-of Take That to the cruel journalists that mocked the poor girl's looks when she was growing up.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: His initial claim of not having "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky which many took as the truth, but only if you have a very narrow definition of the term. Or a very legal definition of the term. Under the laws of Washington D.C. at the time of his testimony, oral sex was not legally considered "sexual relations". Thus, Clinton's statement, while untrue by any standard of common sense you wish to use, was perfectly accurate and truthful under the law and thus not perjury at all, despite accusations to the contrary.
- You Are What You Hate: His administration was part of the Drug War cracking down on marijuana even though Clinton was an avid pot user when he was younger. Famously, he claims he "never inhaled".
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Anime & Manga
- As usual, his image is usually the President in most 1990s comics. He specifically spoke at the Funeral of Superman in 1994.
- Stars as a major character in the limited series Resurrection, in which aliens invade Earth in late May 1998...and occupy Earth for almost 10 years before mysteriously withdrawing in late 2007. Clinton—now a depressed former President—ends up traveling with the main characters across post-invasion America. There are also several flashbacks to the last days of the Clinton administration during the 3-day period where the aliens were first arriving. Since Clinton has legally not been the President since January 20, 2001 and since everyone else in the Presidential line of succession is either missing or dead or so it seems initially and obviously no election was held during the alien occupation, one of the major plot points is the question of who is legally the President and whether or how the government (and many other institutions) will continue in the aftermath of the almost decade-long occupation.
- Ultimate X-Men states that Clinton was bullied into giving the okay for Bolivar Trask to begin the Sentinel Initiative project. It wasn't until Bush's administration (in-universe) that they were actually activated, however, and Bush was a lot less bothered by them.
- In The Beverly Hillbillies '93 movie, it's implied he's actually related to the Clampetts. They were all from Arkansas, you see.
- Appeared in the Beavis and Butt-Head movie.
- The plot of 2001: A Space Travesty revolves around rescuing Bill Clinton and his saxophone from alien kidnappers.
- In the film The Special Relationship (broadcast on HBO in 2010), he's played by Dennis Quaid. The film is about the relationship between him and Tony Blair.
- Was the President in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
- He was digitally edited into the White House scenes in Contact. There was controversy over this at the time, as the White House had not authorized the filmmakers to use the footage of the president.
Live Action TV
- Saturday Night Live originally cast Phil Hartman as a folksy, oblivious President Clinton who was eternally cheating on his diet. Darrell Hammond took over following Hartman's departure from the show; the skits became widely popular, catapulting Hammond from B-List status and rivaling even Dana Carvey's memorable turn as President Bush. Clinton 2.0 was more of a Memetic Badass and Pornomancer. Witness his response to being acquitted:
- Conan O'Brien had "Clinton" on as a regular guest, voiced by Robert Smigel (the madman behind SNL's TV Funhouse). This particular Clinton's hormones were jacked Up to Eleven, as were his redneck mannerisms. (See also his Tv Funhouse entry below)
- Clinton's most famous television appearance was on The Arsenio Hall Show, where he performed with his much-parodied saxophone.
- He appears as a guest saxophonist in the New Labour Rock Band on Bang Bang It's Reeves And Mortimer.
- A Rory Bremner special from 2000 had Clinton planning to go into space and seek out alien life forms after his term was up, and took Tony Blair with him. Like a lot of British satire from this period, it emphasized the idea that Clinton and Blair were best friends forever — which of course is Hilarious in Hindsight given Blair's later relationship with George W. Bush.
- One episode of Quantum Leap featured a moment when Sam was about to go on stage at an "amateur hour" talent show — and the act he was following was sax player "Little Billy C from Hope, Arkansas" complete with dark suit and shades.
- BEST. PRESIDENT. EVER.
- He's a secret character in NBA Jam. Really.
- His cat, Socks, almost had his own game for the Super Nintendo, but was canceled last minute when the developer went bankrupt.
- The unnamed president in Jungle Strike clearly resembles him.
- In keeping with its animal metaphors, he's said in Kevin & Kell to be a rabbit. Ken Starr? A wolf. The title couple have a chuckle over the idea.
- The Lewinsky scandal makes a few appearances in Ozy and Millie; Millie tries using the Starr report as an excuse for colourful metaphors in a report, and she ends up getting a lecture from her mother about media glut when she uses 'Lewinsky' to inspire a spit-take. (Ozy tries this on his father, but has to rely on "Teapot Dome".}
- Was mentioned in Ansem Retort, after Zexion revealed part of the reason he slept with the Jail Bait Namine was to get into Clinton's Sex Scandal Poker Game. Namine is surprised that Bill Clinton runs such a game. Then Zex reveals he's not talking about Bill Clinton...
- The original version of the Animaniacs theme included a throwaway line about Bill playing the sax (complete with animation of him doing it).
- Clinton appeared on TV Funhouse's The X-Presidents as a wannabe recruit. The other Presidents regard him a something of a freak; his 'crime-fighting' gadgets suspiciously resemble sex toys.
- In fact, he managed to make at least one appearance in all of the Looney Tunes Expanded Universe shows in the 1990s, including Tiny Toon Adventures (in the Spring Break special), Pinky and the Brain (claiming to be the world's leader when some visiting aliens request to see said person), Freakazoid!! ("Can you tell me who's flying the plane?"), Road Rovers (where he was Hunter's owner), and Histeria! (where he starred in a parody of the Beverly Hillbillies theme and got tricked into admitting he's a liar).
- He also made a second appearance in Animaniacs (with did all the presidents up to him), and two more in Pinky and the Brain one in the 1996 campaign, he loses to Pinky); the other as a Head In A Jar still serving as President, 22nd Amendment be damned. (Hillary's there, too, and still doing some of his job functions.) He also appeared in "The Pinky Protocol", where Brain tricked Gerald Ford into signing a document (the eponymous protocol) which Brain passed as something signed and filed back when Ford was the President. According to that document, if any President is caught on underwear in public, said President would be impeached and Brain, as "Harold Foster Brain", would become the new ruler of the United States. Bill's shorts from his daily exercises counted.
- The appearance in Freakazoid! where he asks who's flying the plane is actually his second appearance; his first was at Freakazoid's side when aliens landed on Earth. (The first one was really dumb, the second one only cared about Barbie.)
- Family Guy portrays him as a Lovable Sex Maniac who frequently gets naked. And he slept with Lois and Peter.
- He was portrayed on The Simpsons more than once.
Clinton: [to Marge] Well, I gotta go, but... look, if you're ever near the White House, there's a tool shed out back. I'm in there most of the day.
Clinton: No, thank you, Lisa, for teaching kids everywhere a valuable lesson: If things don't go your way, just keep complaining until your dreams come true.
Marge: That's a pretty lousy lesson.
Clinton: Hey, I'm a pretty lousy president.
Moe: Hey Clinton! Get back to work!
Clinton: [walking down the street playing his sax] Make me.
- He was once seen with Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush building domiciles for the destitutes. Their interaction was like The Three Stooges featuring Clinton as Curly, Carter as Larry, and Bush as Moe.
- Also, in "E Pluribus Wiggum", he was in Springfield posting signs for his wife's campaign. When she told him over the phone he needed to put 25 more signs, he asked what he did to deserve that. She told him he knew what he did and he complained she'd never let him live it down.
- Cartman's mom slept with him on South Park to get herself the right to "abort" Eric, (she confused it with adoption).
- Clinton also appeared in an episode of Beavis And Butthead while visiting Highland High answering questions and McVicker tries to keep the titular characters away by giving them an out of school pass and fifty dollars.
- On The Critic Duke has his own theme park, dubbed "Phillipsland". At the Hall of Presidents, Clinton is replaced with one of the drunken animatronic bears from the Country Bear Jamboree. Nobody seems to notice.
- Clinton's disembodied head is kept alive in a jar, along with the rest of the presidents in Futurama. He appears in the episode "A Head in the Polls", and hits on Leela.
- Appears three times on Celebrity Deathmatch.
- A skit on Robot Chicken had Clinton cut off George W. Bush for a McDonald's parking space, exclaiming that he was having a "Big Mac attack", to which Bush uses Jedi powers to toss Clinton and his car into a pool.
- On Arthur, D.W. accidentally gets separated from the Reads' White House tour group on a family trip to Washington and runs into an unnamed Funny Animal President who bears a strong resemblance to Clinton in both appearance and voice (and habits—he gets a pizza to share with D.W. while waiting for her parents to pick her up).