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For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years Hardcover – October 23, 2007

3.7 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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About the Author

Sally Bedell Smith is the author of Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess, Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill Harriman, and In All His Glory: The Life and Times of William S. Paley and the Birth of Modern Broadcasting. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 1996, she previously worked at Time and The New York Times, where she was a cultural news reporter. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Stephen. They have three grown children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Chapter One

TIME: “John Kennedy said that after he was elected, he began to think in terms of who it was he had to have in the room when he made the really big decisions. For him, that was Robert Kennedy. Who is it for you?”

BILL CLINTON: “Hillary.”


With that simple one-word reply in december 1992, Bill Clinton adumbrated the complications that would bedevil his presidency. It showed his intention to expand his election victory—which he won with a mere 43 percent of the vote—to encompass Hillary, as if she had been on the ticket, too. Bill was giving her primacy even above his Vice President, Al Gore, a formidable politician with far greater experience. The President-elect was feeling understandably buoyant, and at such moments he could be incautious, saying more than he intended to. He was Time’s “Man of the Year,” and he was stating what was obvious to him and to Hillary.

Bill and Hillary had been using the first-person plural since his initial run for governor in 1978, when Bill told The New York Times, “Our vote was a vindication of what my wife and I have done and what we hope to do for the state.” They were such a “working unit” in Arkansas that they became known as “Billary”—a term of disparagement as well as admiration. The areas in which they deferred to each other, their private roles, their spheres of political expertise, the way they presented themselves to the public—all these were set during Bill’s long years as governor. So, too, were the habits and rhythms of their marriage: her tolerance of his philandering, for example, and his delegation of responsibilities to her. As in any marriage, each partner had domains of primacy. These arrangements traveled with them during the long campaign of 1992 and into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bill Clinton’s run for the presidency was a triumph of political skill, luck, intelligence, deception, resilience, and sheer endurance. It was a flawed victory in some crucial respects. His behavior had created doubts about his character, and he antagonized many potential allies. National political reporters were dazzled by Bill and Hillary’s talent but also disillusioned by their apparent disingenuousness and inability to be forthright about themselves and their plans for the presidency. The Clintons were deeply shaken by the scrutiny of the press, an experience that colored their view of Washington and those responsible for telling their story. Bill doubtless would have lost the election without Hillary’s unyielding support when his character was under attack. Her rescue of his candidacy had enormous public consequences, as it made him beholden to her in ways that pervasively influenced his administration’s policies.

When Bill began thinking about running in early 1991, George H. W. Bush’s approval ratings were hovering around 70 percent in the aftermath of the successful Gulf War. But with his sensitive political antennae, Bill picked up softness in that support. It was a time of uncertainty, economic weakness, and anti-incumbent sentiment. Bill was also reaching a point of diminishing returns in Arkansas; John Brummett, a savvy Arkansas political columnist, said Bill had been bored with his job since 1987. When he was reelected in 1990, he had faced stronger opposition than before. “The voters were getting tired of him,” said political analyst Michael Barone. “For the Clintons it was up or out.”

Bill caught some lucky breaks when his strongest potential rivals among moderate Democrats—Tennessee senator Al Gore, New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, and Delaware senator Joseph Biden—decided not to run. The most formidable liberal opponent, New York governor Mario Cuomo, was the favored candidate, but Bill calculated that he could skillfully position himself for the 1996 campaign if Cuomo won the 1992 nomination and lost the general election. Bill got lucky again when Cuomo announced in December 1991 that he would not run, which left a small field of opponents Bill later described as “less than compelling.”

He shrewdly styled himself as a “New Democrat” who could broaden his appeal to include independent voters and Republican moderates by shifting away from the Democratic liberal orthodoxy that had consistently lost elections. As chairman of the Washington-based Democratic Leadership Council since 1990, he advocated ideological flexibility and a smaller but more open government that would provide opportunity for those who assumed responsibility—welfare recipients who took vocational training and found work, for example. Bill was in a sense turning the New Deal legacy around. Franklin Roosevelt had sought to use government regulation to save capitalism from its worst excesses. Bill was advocating a plan to rescue progressive government by using market forces to encourage economic growth.

The whispers about his reputation for womanizing continued, however, and Bill needed Hillary’s steadfast backing to fend off potential assaults. In July 1991, he told her that he had been called by Roger Porter, a Bush Administration official who had jokingly invited him to join the Republican party two years earlier. Bill recounted to his wife that Porter—a “mild-mannered policy wonk” who later taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government—had told him that the Bush White House feared a Clinton candidacy and warned the Arkansas governor to “cut the crap” because the Republicans would “do everything we can to destroy you personally.” Hillary took this threat as the opening shot in a declaration of war and later told the tale to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post as evidence of a concerted effort by the right wing to bring them down. The story became such an article of faith to the couple that Bill repeated a more elaborate version in his own memoir thirteen years later.

But the conversation never happened, according to Porter, who consulted phone logs and his “meticulous diary” to back up his emphatic denial. “Bill Clinton started telling other people about this phone call,” said Porter. “Human beings are interesting. When they tell something enough, they begin to believe it even though it is not true. It was the story about what was behind Hillary’s belief in a vast right-wing conspiracy. A lot of Bill Clinton’s life is moving people by telling stories that help them see things the way he wants them to. If truth is a casualty, it is for a good cause, in his view.”

In his own vivid account, Bill insisted that after their conversation that summer, “I never heard from or saw Roger Porter again until he attended a reception for the White House Fellows when I was President.” In fact, Bill phoned Porter several days after his victory in November 1992 “to talk process.” According to Time magazine’s Dan Goodgame, Bill “quizzed Porter on his 1980 book, Presidential Decision Making,” which recommended setting up a group similar to the National Economic Council—one of the Clinton Administration’s most noteworthy accomplishments. Robert Rubin, the designated head of that council, also received advice about White House operations from Porter—hardly the behavior of an antagonist out to destroy a Clinton presidency.

as bill continued to mull his candidacy, he sought out Henry Cisneros, the former Democratic mayor of San Antonio who several years earlier had disclosed an extramarital affair and later reconciled with his wife out of duty to his family. “You have handled it the right way,” Bill told Cisneros. “You are now bulletproof. Nobody can come back at you.” Recalled Cisneros, “He discussed it as a political problem: I offered a model for how to do it—versus the morality of the situation.”

Late in the summer of 1991, Bill was playing hearts with a group of friends in Little Rock when one of them asked how he would deal with the rumors about his extramarital activities. “Hillary and I have talked about it, and we know how to handle it,” Bill said. “Hillary is very strong. We know what to do.” Early in September, Hillary told Frank Greer and Stan Greenberg, two of their top strategists, that the “pervasiveness” of the rumors posed a danger and that their approach would be “acknowledging that past without confessing to it.” Bill and Hillary thought they defused the issue two weeks later by telling a group of Washington reporters, “Our relationship has not been perfect or free from difficulties, but we feel good about where we are. . . . We intend to be together 30 or 40 years from now.” Shortly afterward, Bill officially entered the race.

In an effort to divert attention from personal matters, Clinton campaign aide George Stephanopoulos memorably said, “Specificity is a character issue this year.” He meant that Bill should be judged on the particulars of his policies, but the description became ironic as Bill’s penchant for hairsplitting and dissembling about his private life emerged as defining flaws. Once, during a debate with former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas, a rival moderate, Bill sputtered, “You’re always perfect,” to which Tsongas replied, “Not perfect. But I am honest.”

tsongas’s riposte was one of the few times an opponent got the better of Bill, who was by widespread agreement the most gifted politician of his generation. He was a natural, with all the advantages of an extrovert born in a southern culture that emphasized human drama. Even in his youth, he ran for office so relentlessly that he earned the nickname “Billy Vote Clinton.” He was a rare combination of powerful intellect and animal instinct, a man who loved policy and people in equ...
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (October 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400063248
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400063246
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #624,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Many of the details of For Love of Politics are well known - Whitewater, Paula Jones, Vince Foster, health care - but the author's intention is, I think, an attempt to understand and explain the complex relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton. The stories and anecdotes reveal a study in contrasts - Bill's smoothness to Hillary's steel, Bill's talking to Hillary's planning, Bill's meandering to Hillary's focus.

I do not view this book as yet another in an endless litany of either hit piece or campaign propoganda. Despite the length, anyone familiar with the Clintons can read this book very quickly. The stories are familiar, but the perspective is unique.

This book will not get Hillary elected, but it won't keep her out of the White House either. Love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton may very well be the next president of the United States, and it would do well for everyone to understand her better. This book is an attempt to do that, and for that it has my recommendation.
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Format: Hardcover
While there may not be much that's new here, the author has cut through the clutter and managed to show a juxtaposition of the couple. She shows how together they make the whole in a political partnership. You'll see how Hillary and Bill are each very different. But when placed together, they are a powerful unit that's almost unstoppable.

We learn that he almost always turned to her for advice in all matters while in the White House and wouldn't, or couldn't, make a move without her. So, in reality, she has made those decisions and had that experience.

The book is fascinating in that it looks inside the marriage as a powerful partnership that, despite its famous flaws, works beyond the wildest dreams of most people. They've made it work for their common goal. (This is not a political statement and as a reviewer, I'm not commenting on my own political beliefs. This review is only my evaluation of this particular book.)

A fascinating read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a surprise For Love of Politics was. I bought it as an alternative to the recent works Her Way and the one penned by Carl Bernstein. I hoped that it would be more objective than those two publications and I was not disappointed. This is an excellent history and happens to be one of the few books in my life that I could not put down.

As for the author, before purchasing my copy I knew nothing about her. Indeed, I had never heard of Mrs. Bedell Smith before. All her bio online tells us is that she is a biographer who works at Vanity Fair. The endorsements listed on the back cover come from mainstream media sources like the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, and The Washington Post so, upon receiving it in the mail, I was a little worried that the analysis would be slanted. I am pleased to report that my fears were unwarranted as For Love of Politics gives off no odor of bias whatsoever. Indeed, these chapters are bathed in neutrality. Clinton supporters might not like this but if justice offends then one must examine oneself.

As a conservative who has read five or six rightist accounts of the Clintons, I can quickly grasp from what side of the political spectrum commentary comes; although, here I had no idea. Even after devouring all 450 of these pages, I am as befuddled in regards to what Mrs. Bedell Smith thinks as I was when I first opened it. I can think of no higher compliment to bestow upon a historian than saying that they are above political manipulation which Mrs. Bedell Smith definitely seems to be. Her evaluation of these primary source materials (original sources) was compulsively fair which is also true of the narrative on aggregate.

The real art here is that she allows the Clintons to tell their own story...but what a story!
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Format: Hardcover
This book traces the history of the Clintons from the time they first ran for president through their second term in office. The book was well researched and presented the history very well.

While reading this book, I had to keep nudging myself and asking, is this the same woman who is now running for president of the United States? Has everyone forgotten her past and what happened when she was in the White House the first time. Doesn't this matter? Why is none of this history ever mentioned in the press? I have heard it said that everyone knows Hillary's past and dismisses it, but what about those who were in grade school at the time of the Clinton's previous presidency? Were they aware at the time of what was happening?

Every person who wonders whether they should vote for Hllary should read this book, get informed and then cast their vote.
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By jape55 on November 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author has done a very good job of getting you into life within "Clinton Inc" during their heyday, at least as she has been able to explain it after an exhaustive amount of research.
It was an extremely interesting read. And though several negative aspects were covered, the book wasn't a political hit piece that you'd expect from a partisan shock jock.
Yes, the Clintons are smart, talented and have a real gift for politics, but... and it's a big but... their weaknesses (especially Bill's) are equally impacting. A lot of it stems from the fact that they are just people with human failings like the rest of us. As the book delves into various happenings I found myself reflecting on how I might have reacted or felt the same way that Bill did in certain political circumstances. But the most damaging mistakes and hang-ups all seem to relate to their very narcissistic personalities.
People friendly with and close to the Clintons admitted in this book that "It was always about them". It (and many NY Times and Washington Post stories from the time) are full of examples of that. It strongly reminded me of the "Clinton fatigue" of the late 90's. I couldn't see the Clintons on the news in those years (and I didn't follow politics at the time) without thinking that every word and gesture was the result of carefully considered techniques for masking a much less appealing reality, or putting the false front of an orphanage or children's hospital on a house of ill repute. I was very tired of that. A lot of people were.
The biggest place where the human failings come to mind is during the Lewinski situation. Sure, adultery is nothing new, and a lot of the guys in Congress that pointed their fingers were just as guilty of it.
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