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1999 Year in Review

News of the Nation

Handguns became the issue of the day as the nation grappled with a spate of senseless shootings.

by Borgna Brunner
Clinton Acquittal | Budget Surplus | Gun Control | Campaign 2000 | Superpower Woes

Acquittal on High Crimes

A Senate trial in the first two months of 1999 followed President Clinton's impeachment in Dec. 1998. On Feb. 12, the Senate acquitted the President on both counts of impeachment after failing to achieve a simple majority, much less the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. On the charge of grand jury perjury, the vote was 55-45 with 10 Republicans voting for acquittal along with all 45 Democrats. The vote on obstruction of justice was 50-50, with 5 Republicans crossing party lines to vote for acquittal.

Clinton Acquittal | Budget Surplus | Gun Control | Campaign 2000 | Superpower Woes | Top

Social Security versus Tax Cuts

In the aftermath of impeachment, angry Republicans in Congress intensified their anti-Clinton acrimony at the expense of legislation. Rabid partisanship and distrust characterized both sides of the debate on what to do with a surprising $14 billion in budget surplus projections. The President, riding high on glowing reports that the 1996 welfare overhaul had been a success, pushed for further social reform-specifically, revisions to the Social Security, education, and health care systems. Republicans countered with calls for drastic tax cuts during the federal budget negotiations for 2000, despite the fact that polls have repeatedly shown that Americans prefer increased social spending over tax breaks.

Clinton Acquittal | Budget Surplus | Gun Control | Campaign 2000 | Superpower Woes | Top

Jury Still Out on Gun Control

Despite the encouraging FBI report that the murder rate continues to plummet-it is now at its lowest level since 1967-a spate of isolated killing sprees in 1999 traumatized the nation and revived the gun control debate. On April 20, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, killed 12 fellow students, themselves, and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. A series of appalling killings followed throughout the summer and fall, including one at a community center and another at a church.

Public soul searching struggled to explain these senseless acts, focusing in particular on the school shootings, all of which had been committed by white, suburban teenage boys. Media violence, lack of parental supervision, and adolescent alienation were prevalent explanations, with the more conservative elements of society attributing the trend to evil and godlessness.

Senate leader Trent Lott claimed that "when we stopped having prayer in schools, things started going to pot." While conservatives argued that gun control was not the solution-guns don't kill people, it's people who kill people, the argument goes-liberals countered that if there was less access to guns, people would be killing people much less frequently.

The Senate, in response to the public outcry after the Columbine shootings, passed a bill that called for mandatory background checks on buyers at gun shows. But as public outrage faded, the powerful gun lobby again stepped up the pressure on Congress. House Republicans sponsored a pale imitation of the Senate bill, which Democrats angrily rejected.

Where politicians have failed, however, the courts have been more effective. A recent lawsuit found that gun manufacturers "substantially and disproportionately" increased production of guns that appeal to criminals, and another lawsuit determined that manufacturers deliberately oversupply states that have weak gun laws, fully aware that the extra guns will make their way onto the black market. Reflecting the tactic used against the tobacco industry, gun control advocates have begun using the courts as an effective David to topple the Goliaths of the gun industry. Colt, for example, found itself slapped with 28 lawsuits, and announced in October that it would essentially cease selling handguns to civilians.

Clinton Acquittal | Budget Surplus | Gun Control | Campaign 2000 | Superpower Woes | Top

White House Wannabes Start Early

Iowa's January 2000 caucuses were expected to signal the real starting line of the next presidential race, but political pundits declared that the race had in fact begun in earnest with Iowa's August 15 Republican straw poll-a full 14 months before election day. Stressing "compassionate conservatism," George W. Bush quickly emerged as the Republican frontrunner, amassing an astounding $50 million by the end of September-more money than any candidate in history. Weighed down by the Clinton albatross and a top-heavy campaign organization, Vice President Al Gore, heir apparent to the Democratic ticket, found unexpected competition from maverick Bill Bradley, former Senator of New Jersey. The absence of dynamic issues in such prosperous times and the ennui from premature media saturation led to a frivolous, celebrity-laden side show featuring the likes of Warren Beatty and Donald Trump.

Clinton Acquittal | Budget Surplus | Gun Control | Campaign 2000 | Superpower Woes | Top

Superpower Takes a Back Seat

The four days of air strikes against Iraq in Dec. 1998, an international P.R. disaster for the U.S. and Britain, were followed by a low-profile war of attrition, in which hundreds of almost daily bombings have been directed against Iraqi targets within the no-fly zones. Although the air strikes continued throughout the year, the press all but ignored them, particularly during the Kosovo crisis. In that latter conflict, the U.S. and Britain took the lead in NATO's war on Belgrade, a war the American public cautiously embraced. Since the grisly deaths of American soldiers in Somalia in 1993, the public has lowered its threshold for sacrifice on foreign soil.

Clinton Acquittal | Budget Surplus | Gun Control | Campaign 2000 | Superpower Woes | Top

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