Historic Documents of 1995


Edited by: CQ Press

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    The year 1995 saw major initiatives toward settling long-standing, often bloody conflicts in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, and Bosnia. It witnessed celebrations of the fiftieth anniversaries of the end of World War II and the founding of the United Nations, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam, and tentative moves by the Clinton administration toward reestablishing ties with Cuba. But these steps, large and small, toward peace were overpowered by violence and the images it left in its wake.

    In January prosecutors began their opening arguments in the trial of football celebrity O. J. Simpson by showing photographs of the brutalized bodies of Simpson's former wife and a friend, found murdered outside her Los Angeles townhouse in June 1994. In October the nation witnessed Simpson's elation as he heard a jury acquit him of the murders.

    In November an Israeli extremist assassinated Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin, who only weeks before had signed a peace agreement with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat. In an unprecedented show of unity, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan joined President Bill Clinton and others to honor Rabin at his funeral. The image the world would remember was that of Rabin's eighteen-year-old granddaughter, who moved even stoic security guards to tears as she spoke eloquently of her family's personal grief.

    For most Americans, the most searing image of 1995 was that of the limp and bloodied body of a baby girl thrust into the arms of a clearly anguished firefighter. The baby was one of 168 casualties of the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in April.

    The bombing was the most violent terrorist incident in recent U.S. history, the apparent work of two men who harbored deep-seated animosity toward the federal government, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). It took place on the second anniversary of the Waco, Texas, disaster in which several dozen members of a cult under siege by the FBI and ATF died in a fire.

    The bombing focused new attention on the right-wing, antigovernment militias that had sprung up in recent years and on the National Rifle Association (NRA). The powerful gun lobby, like the militias, was extremely critical of the FBI and the ATF, charging that the two federal law enforcement agencies were overstepping their authority and harassing law-abiding citizens. Former president George Bush was so incensed by an NRA fundraising letter in which federal agents were referred to as "jack-booted thugs" that he resigned his lifetime membership in the organization.

    Congress failed to act in 1995 on a new round of antiterrorism legislation urged by President Clinton or on the NRA's push to repeal two recently passed gun control laws. Even so, the year was an exceptionally busy one on Capitol Hill, where Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress for the first time in more than forty years after sweeping the 1994 elections. Proclaiming themselves antiliberal "revolutionaries," conservatives in the House of Representatives set out to pass a long list of legislation aimed at ending or curtailing government programs enacted since the New Deal.

    The Republicans called their agenda the Contract with America, and they promised the House would pass all its elements within the first one hundred days of the 1O4th Congress. They came close to achieving that goal, but most of the legislation died in the Senate, was vetoed by President Clinton, or at year's end was awaiting negotiations between Congress and the president.

    The Republicans did force Clinton to bow to their demand for a plan to balance the federal budget within seven years, but the two sides could not agree on specific steps to achieve that goal. The resulting bitter partisan feuding forced two partial government shutdowns in November and December that severely damaged the Republicans politically.

    House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) also suffered political damage in 1995, the result of charges by the House ethics committee that he abused his congressional privileges for personal gain. The architect of the Republican revolution saw his poll ratings plummet; at year's end, one major poll put Gingrich's disapproval rating at 65 percent. Another prominent Republican, Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, was forced to resign from Congress in October when it became clear that he would be expelled for repeated incidents of sexual harassment. A record number of legislators decided that the Washington political scene had lost its allure; thirteen senators and twenty-six House members announced they would not stand for reelection in 1996.

    Race and racial divisions were a major public issue in 1995. The nationally televised trial of Simpson, an African-American charged with murdering his white wife and a friend of hers, polarized blacks and whites as had few other incidents in recent memory. Whites tended to believe that Simpson was guilty as accused, apparently convinced by genetic evidence linking him to the crime scene. Many African-Americans thought Simpson was the innocent victim of a legal system that was habitually unfair to blacks. Those perceptions were heightened during the trial when one of the chief police investigators was shown to be a racist who had bragged about planting evidence in previous cases.

    On October 16, an estimated 400,000 African-American men rallied on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in a day of solidarity; it was the largest civil rights demonstration in the nation's history. The Million Man March had been organized by Louis Farrakhan, the controversial Nation of Islam leader, who exhorted the men to atone for their past sins and to take personal responsibility for themselves, their families, and their communities. The march was shunned by many black leaders, who condemned Farrakhan for his antiwhite and anti-Semitic views.

    Speaking in Austin, Texas, the same day, President Clinton urged Americans to try to understand the fears and anxieties that prompted each race to react to the other with suspicion and distrust. The Austin speech was one of several thoughtful talks the president delivered throughout the year on social issues dividing the nation. In August he spoke of civility both in everyday life and among politicians. In July he had reaffirmed his commitment to affirmative action, setting out his reasons for believing that programs giving preferences to minorities and women were still necessary.

    The Supreme Court also spoke on affirmative action in 1995, ruling that such laws were constitutional only if they were narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest. This test was the strictest one the Court had yet applied to any civil rights law, and it seemed likely that some affirmative action programs would be found to have been too broadly drawn to survive such scrutiny.

    The Court also applied this strict scrutiny test to congressional redistricting in which boundaries were deliberately drawn to give blacks or other minorities a majority of voters within the district. Such race-based districts were constitutionally suspect, the Court said, and could be justified only if they were shown to meet a compelling state interest. Many proponents of race-based districting worried that the ruling would jeopardize the historic gains that African-Americans and Hispanics had made in Congress in recent years.

    In another case with potentially far-reaching implications, the Supreme Court held that Congress had exceeded its power to regulate commerce when it passed a law prohibiting anyone from carrying a gun within 1,000 feet of a school building. It was the first time the Court had curbed Congress's expansive interpretation of the commerce clause since the New Deal and was certain to add to the debate about the limits of congressional power, particularly in areas such as law enforcement, a matter traditionally left to the states.

    Citing its authority to regulate drugs and medical devices, the Food and Drug Administration in 1995, with President Clinton's blessing, proposed regulations that would heighten restrictions on the marketing and sale of tobacco products, especially to children. The proposed regulations were issued after internal memos from cigarette manufacturers were made public showing that the cigarette makers knew nicotine was addictive and deliberately controlled levels of nicotine in their products.

    Internationally, the world focused much of its attention during 1995 on efforts to bring peace to Bosnia and the Middle East.

    The ethnic conflict in Bosnia produced the most savage fighting and the biggest dislocation of people in Europe since World War ll. Until the Clinton administration stepped up diplomatic pressure on all sides, there seemed little hope to break the cycle of violence.

    With the fighting turning against the Bosnian Serbs by mid-1995, all three sides—Serbs, Muslims, and Croats—appeared willing to grasp at a chance for peace. That chance came during a round of U.S.-brokered peace talks in November at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The three sides eventually agreed to a complex peace agreement dividing Bosnia into two sectors (one controlled by Muslims and Croats, the other by Serbs) under one multiethnic national government. The warring parties were to be separated by NATO-led peacekeeping forces. The Dayton accord was signed in Paris later in November, and at Christmastime troops from the United States, Britain, Germany, France, and other countries began pouring into Bosnia for one of the most complex and dangerous peacekeeping missions in history.

    In the Middle East, nearly twenty years of peacemaking efforts by the United States paid off with a substantial new agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Signed in September, the agreement provided for Israel to turn over administration of much of the West Bank of the Jordan River to an elected Palestinian authority. Negotiations on long-term issues, including the status of Jerusalem (claimed by both Israel and the Arabs), were to begin in 1996.

    Barely six weeks after Rabin and Arafat signed that agreement, violence returned. This time it was Israeli versus Israeli, as a right-wing former Israeli soldier assassinated Rabin at the close of a peace celebration in Tel Aviv. The killing plunged Israel into a gloomy self-assessment but failed to achieve its goal of throwing the peace process off track. Rabin's interim successor, Shimon Peres, himself a former prime minister, promised to carry out the commitments to peace.

    The Clinton administration helped nudge efforts toward peace in Northern Ireland by bolstering the position of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which declared a cease-fire in its terrorist campaign against British forces. To encourage the peace process, Clinton visited Northern Ireland; he was the first sitting U.S. president to do so. Negotiations proceeded fitfully, and it was unclear whether the militant Catholic and Protestant opponents would be willing to make the concessions necessary to end more than twenty-five years of conflict.

    The United States in 1995 finally came to grips with one of the most painful episodes in its recent history: the Vietnam War. Twenty years after communists overran the remnants of the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam, President Clinton officially recognized the Vietnamese government based in Hanoi. Clinton's action brought bitter protests from some veterans groups and conservative Republicans, but the lack of public response seemed to lend support to the president's assertion that it finally was time to close the wounds of America's most unpopular war.

    Worldwide commemorations took place in 1995 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War ll. Several world leaders took the opportunity to make public apologies for the actions taken during and after the war by their predecessor generations. The Japanese prime minister apologized for the brutal Japanese occupation of Asian countries during the 1930s and into the war years. The new French president apologized to Jewish leaders for his country's complicity with Nazi Germany in the deportation of French Jews to concentration camps. President Clinton apologized for the U.S. government's postwar radiation experiments on thousands of American citizens, many of whom were not told they were being subjected to dangerous testing.

    The year also marked the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. That institution had many successes to celebrate, but by 1995 it was facing worldwide criticism for its failures, especially its inability to prevent or bring an end to conflicts in Bosnia, Central Africa, and other regions.

    Throughout the year, the world watched as Russia continued to stumble through its messy transition from a communist dictatorship to something resembling democracy. Russian president Boris Yeltsin, in failing health, grew weaker politically by the day. In December former communists swept parliamentary elections, further dimming chances that Yeltsin would be able to sustain reforms that were intended to salvage the economy but had the immediate effect of forcing millions of Russians into poverty.

    These are but some of the topics of national and international interest chosen by the editors for Historic Documents of 1995. This edition marks the twenty-fourth volume of a Congressional Quarterly project that began with Historic Documents of 1972. The purpose of this series is to give students, librarians, journalists, scholars, and others convenient access to documents on a wide range of topics that lay out some of the most important issues of the year. In our judgment, the official statements, news conferences, speeches, special studies, and court decisions presented here will be of lasting interest.

    Each document is preceded by an introduction that provides background information and, when relevant, an account of continuing developments during the year. We believe these introductions will become increasingly useful as memories of current times fade.

    John Felton and Marty Gottron

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