NAME: William Jefferson Clinton. He was born William Jefferson Blythe, 4th, having been named after his late father. At age 16, he legally changed his last name to that of his stepfather. As governor, he signed his name Bill Clinton. In issuing his first executive orders as president, he signed his name William J. Clinton.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Clinton stands 6 feet 2.5 inches tall and has intense blue-gray eyes and thick hair, which was mostly gray by the time of his election as president. His weight fluctuates between 205 and 230 pounds; at the time of his election, he weighed 215; on reelection, he reportedly was significantly trimmer. Like his predecessor, he is left-handed. He suffers from chronic laryngitis, caused by inhalant allergies and the leaking of stomach acid into his throat. During acute attacks, his vocal chords swell to the point where he loses his voice. To alleviate the problem, he drinks plenty of water, takes antacids and antihistamines, receives allergy shots regularly, and sleeps with his head slightly elevated. He is allergic, in varying degrees, to dust, mold, pollen, cats, certain greenery (including Christmas trees) and dairy products. He is slightly hard of hearing. In 1984 he was diagnosed with bleeding hemorrhoids.
PERSONALITY: “Bill Clinton has a very true compass,” observed Dick Morris, a former Clinton political advisor who also worked for Republicans. “I don’t think that varies much with public opinion. But within the general proposition he wants to go north, he will take an endless variety of routes. He’s constantly maneuvering, constantly picking the routes he wants to get there, maneuvering his opponents into positions where they can’t get a clear shot at him. That is what leaves a legacy of ‘Slick Willie.’” (New York Times, September 28, 1992). The nickname Click Willie was coined by Paul Greenburg, a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, who was a frequent critic of the governor’s tendency to compromise on state issues. Clinton’s instinct for compromise is often linked to an unwillingness to offend others. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt before him, he at times leaves people on opposite sides of an issue believing that he stands with them. Some have inferred that his aversion to making enemies is rooted in a childhood marred by the abuse of an alcoholic stepfather. Clinton concedes that he had to learn “not to overuse the peacemaking skills that I developed as a child.” (U.S. News and World Report, July 20, 1992). But he insists that his early trials also provided him with a special empathy. “I can feel other people’s pain a lot more than some people can. I think that is important for a politician. I think you literally have to be able to sit in the quiet of a room and accurately imagine what life must be like for people growing up on mean streets, people living their lives behind bars, people about to face death’s door.” (New York Times Magazine, March 8, 1992).
Clinton, personable and outgoing, seems to genuinely enjoy campaigning and talking to voters on a wide variety of topics. He is particularly persuasive in small groups, with whom he maintains strong eye contact. He is a tactile politician, who commonly strokes, pats, or hugs those with whom he is dealing. Out on the stump, Clinton can be a folksy speaker, with a ready store of down-home phrases laced with the rich Arkansas accent of his youth. His defense of a citizen’s right to privacy, for example, can emerge as a call for the government “to give people a good lettin’ alone.” In more formal settings, however, his English straightens a bit and he has a tendency to become both long-winded and mired in statistical detail.
PRIMARY SOURCE: DeGregorio, William A. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. 7th ed. Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2009.