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History Textbooks Assess Clinton

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, acknowledges the students of the American University Dubai, during his visit to mark the 10 anniversary celebration of AUD, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005. (AP Photo/ Aziz Shah)
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The impeachment of former President Clinton is in a gray area of history, too long ago to be a current event, too recent to be judged in perspective.

Yet history is already judging Mr. Clinton in the place where millions of students get their information about him: textbooks.

Seven years after he was impeached in a scandal of sex, perjury and bitter politics, Mr. Clinton has become a fixture in major high school texts.

The impeachment is portrayed in the context of his two-term tenure, a milestone event, but not one that overshadows how Mr. Clinton handled the economy, crime and health care.

The most commonly used texts give straightforward recaps of Mr. Clinton's toughest days, with some flavor of how it affected the nation. Absent are any of the lurid details of his relationship with Monica Lewinksy that spiced up daily news reports and late-night talk shows as the scandal and impeachment played out in 1998 and early 1999.

"It should not be in the book for titillating purposes or settling scores," said Alan Brinkley, the Columbia University provost who has written or contributed to several history textbooks. "It should be in the book because of its significance to our recent history."

Mr. Clinton was president from 1993 to 2001, the growing-up years of today's high school students. Even today's oldest high school students were only 10 or 11 during the height of the scandal, and today's middle schoolers were just approaching or entering first grade.

So, for students, the impeachment is literally a subject for the history books.

"This is very difficult for everybody, because it's so fresh," said Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, an independent research group that reviews history texts used in schools. "It's easier to nail down history like the transcontinental railroad. With Clinton, you're dealing with material that has by no means been settled."

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.