A “New Covenant” Kept: Core Values, Presidential Communications, and the Paradox of the Clinton Presidency


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wish to thank Shira Markoff of American University for assistance on portions of this data collection effort. Special thanks to Mark Durant of the University of Georgia for building the Java computer program informing portions of the analysis, as well as to Jennifer Durant for her technical assistance on this project. I also wish to thank George Edwards and the anonymous PSQ reviewers for their guidance. Any errors, of course, remain mine alone. An earlier version of this article was presented at Hofstra University's conference on “William Jefferson Clinton: The ‘New Democrat’ from Hope.”

Robert F. Durant is a professor of public administration and policy in the School of Public Affairs at American University, where he is also a fellow in the Center for the Study of Congress and the Presidency. His most recent book is Environmental Governance Reconsidered: Challenges, Choices, and Opportunities. His book, The Administrative Presidency Revisited: Public Lands, the BLM, and the Reagan Revolution, won the Gladys M. Kammerer Award from the American Political Science Association for the best book on national policy.


In contrast to popular perceptions of Ronald Reagan, the conventional wisdom among commentators, scholars, and large segments of the American public is that Bill Clinton exhibited little philosophical, rhetorical, or policy consistency as president. This study finds that Clinton's legislative, administrative, and rhetorical record was informed throughout his political career by a core set of beliefs about the appropriate relationship between citizens and the state, known as the New Covenant. Also revealed, however, is a rhetorical paradox of the White House's communications strategy, one that joins other explanations for perceptions that Clinton neither had nor acted upon such a philosophy.