Jan. 17, 2001 -- -- You can't trust him, he's got weak morals and ethics — and he's done a heck of a good job. That's the public consensus on Bill Clinton, whose tumultuous presidency ends Saturday.
Despite his prevaricating, his sexual misadventures and his impeachment by Congress, a remarkable 65 percent of Americans approve of the way Clinton has done his job — the best end-of-career rating of any postwar president (one point ahead of Ronald Reagan).
On some specifics Clinton's final ratings soar higher still. Sixty-seven percent say he's been a strong leader. Sixty-eight percent approve of his work on foreign affairs; on race relations, 73 percent approve; and on the economy — the mainstay of his overall approval — 76 percent endorse Clinton's performance.
Yet this is also a president with truly dismal personal ratings: Sixty-seven percent of Americans say he's not honest and trustworthy. Seventy-seven percent say he lacks high moral and ethical standards. And just 44 percent view him favorably "as a person."
It's an old story — The Tale of Two Clintons. Most people doubt the man personally, but most like his work professionally — precisely the separation that sustained Clinton through the Monica Lewinsky scandal and his subsequent impeachment.
Indeed, his job approval rating hit its all-time peak, 69 percent, just after the Lewinsky scandal erupted, and then reached almost as high, 68 percent, immediately after the Senate acquitted him of impeachment charges.
His low point, in fact, came years earlier: A 43 percent job approval rating in June 1993, as his new administration floundered and the economy remained weak.
It Really Was the Economy
As usual for a president, approval of Clinton's work has tracked closely with public perceptions of economic conditions — and he had either the good fortune or the skill to preside over the longest postwar expansion on record.
His job ratings broke out of the midrange starting in mid-1996, just as consumer confidence began to rally on the strength of growing incomes, low inflation and a strong job market. Before summer 1996 — meaning before the recovery hit home — Clinton's job approval rating averaged 51 percent. After summer 1996, it averaged 61 percent.