As part of celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Bill Clinton’s announcement to run for the presidency, The Clinton Foundation has put together a collection of reminiscences commemorating the 1992 campaign. This is his daughter Chelsea's contribution.
When my father announced his campaign for president on Oct. 3, 1991, I had already cast my vote in favor of his candidacy. My parents had first talked to me about my father potentially running in 1987. When they broached the subject again four years later, we talked for a couple of weeks about how a national campaign for president would be different—and yet not very different—from an Arkansas gubernatorial campaign. We also talked, as we generally did, over our nightly family dinners about the challenges and opportunities facing our country—as well as why my father felt called to lead and run (in that order) and why my mother felt equally called to support and work with him. Ultimately, my parents were unambiguous in their message. Both believed my father was uniquely prepared to lead, both believed he could win, and both never wavered in their assertion that if I did not want him to run, he wouldn’t. I have never for a moment regretted telling my parents I supported their decision and I have always been grateful that at least over our breakfast table early one September morning, I voted for my dad for president, a privilege I never had at the ballot box.
In October 1991, Americans were asking profound questions at the core of our national and personal identities that were clear, even to an 11-year-old. I remember watching television with my parents as the Berlin Wall fell, American men and women in uniform risking and giving their lives in the Persian Gulf, and President Yeltsin standing on top of a tank in August 1991 to thwart, at potentially the cost of his own life, the hardline Communist coup d'état. I also remember my parents talking at home about how there were too many children in our country that did not have the opportunities I had and that too many people and too many parents worked too hard without sufficient reciprocity from their government. My parents always asked me what I thought, listened to my opinions, articulated their diagnoses of our challenges at home and abroad, and shared their ideas for how to build a more equal and prosperous country. I always felt part of their call to serve and part of my father’s journey.
We continued throughout the campaign to talk about the world and their hopes and dreams for our country, interspersed with questions about homework, Sunday school, and ballet.
That September, my father talked passionately at home about how our country remained too unequal and that government’s responsibility was to create equal, and ever-improving, opportunities for all, and that people’s responsibility was to make the most of those opportunities. My father also made clear that in our home those tenets held equally true for its youngest member, regardless of what a campaign or the future might hold. I knew I was blessed to live in a country where I got to go to a good public school, worship as I wanted, play on safe playgrounds—and that it was my responsibility to work hard in school, learn what it meant to be a good person and citizen, and, of course, because we were in the South, thankfully, always to be polite. Little did I know then how well the last would serve me in the months and years ahead.
As the 1992 campaign and election would illuminate, Americans of all ages and political backgrounds were only beginning to come to terms with what we as a country needed to do to live up to our ideals and forge an ever-more perfect union. The essays that follow make clear just how dramatically my father’s run for the White House marked a crucial turning point in our history. Grounded in the themes of opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and a community of all, the Clinton-Gore campaign imagined and codified a new and enduring progressive agenda focused on preparing the United States and all Americans for the challenges of the 21st century. By speaking to the hopes and dreams of what my father termed then the “forgotten middle class,” the campaign connected with the pulse of our country—and the promise of our dreams.
During the 1992 campaign, my parents remained deeply connected to and present in my life. Throughout the entire 13 months from my father’s announcement to Election Day, I spent only three nights apart from my mother or father. Generally, I was with both and, thankfully, whether one or both flew home at the end of a long day, we always shared dinner or Sunday lunch after church together. We continued throughout the campaign to talk about the world and their hopes and dreams for our country, interspersed with questions about homework, Sunday school, and ballet. The solid, middle-class values of hard work, responsibility, family, community, and faith my father talked about tirelessly from Iowa to New York, he lived at home. The hopes he had for his family and for me, he had for all Americans. I think Americans understood this. I am deeply grateful for his service, grateful for the campaign that gave him the opportunity to serve and, most of all, grateful he is and remains, my dad.
Editor’s Note: Chelsea Clinton is on the Board of Directors at IAC/InterActiveCorp., a co-owner of Newsweek/Daily Beast Company.