on December 10, 2003
I was unable to finish Joe Conason's and Gene Lyons' book "The Hunting of the President" it was so upsetting. Their book is a factual recounting of the events. Sydney Blumenthal's book has been easier to read. He gives us more of the historical context and draws parallels to other progressive presidents who were attacked and smeared with equal ferocity (but without the internet!) in their time. In retrospect these are the greatest presidents to have served us and I'm sure that history will be kinder to Mr. Clinton than Rupert Murdoch has been. Although I am still angry about the GOP's underhanded tactics as well as the Democrats' lackadaisical defense, I'm comforted by seeing the bigger picture.
Mr. Blumenthal is also a wonderful and compelling writer and makes this complex and lengthy tale highly readable. Besides the Conason and Lyons book, Susan McDougal's book is simpler story worth reading for those who are interested in these recent events.
on January 12, 2004
This book could very well be the bible of liberalism for the early 21st century. Sidney has written an 800-page masterpiece about the Clinton presidency that made me outraged all over again about the GOP's wanton abuse of power during the Clinton years - specifically during Clinton's second term, when Blumenthal served as the president's chief political advisor.
To say that the president was morally bankrupt regarding his affairs is to state the obvious, and Blumenthal doesn't try to defend the president. What he does do is point out the blatant hypocrisy of the GOP leadership and Kenneth W. Starr, chief Clinton hater and possibly the most inept special prosecutor this country has ever seen (one can't help come to this conclusion after reading of Starr's abuses outlined in the book).
Blumenthal also details: Matt Drudge's libel about Blumenthal's relationship with his wife that resulted in a lawsuit, Paula Jones's right wing backers who encouraged her to move forward with her baseless lawsuit (that was later thrown out of court), the myth of the birthmark on the president's genitals, the press's distortions of Al Gore during the stolen campaign in 2000, the right wing scourge named Richard Mellon Scaife, the outright lies cooked up by GOP hacks to discredit William Jefferson Clinton that started before he ever took the oath of office, and the myth of Clinton ignoring the threats of terrorism in the 1990s.
The latter point is a pretty stark one in the wake of 9-11, since President Bush has suffered no political price for the disasters happening on his watch. Clinton ordered the bombing of Osama Bin Laden and just missed him by hours in August of 1998 following the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, all while Starr was busy subpoenaing the president to testify before a grand jury about his sex life (these 2 events happened within one week of each other). There is plenty of blame to go around for 9-11, but to blame it all on President Clinton is a line fit for Comedy Central. If the president was too busy to combat terrorism, as is often the accusation, then Congress and the FBI were pretty busy with less important things as well, since Starr's investigation WAS USING UP TO 78 FBI AGENTS. That's a whole lot of manpower not looking into terrorism, but this comes as no surprise since FBI Director Louis Freeh is an unabashed Clinton hater, as is Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The latter hating Clinton so much probably didn't have anything to do with the 5-4 vote deciding the 2000 election, did it?
Blumenthal also lays waste to the myth that is Rush Limbaugh, where Rush gets all of his information (directly from the RNC), and his incredible intolerance, myopia and attacks on the Clintons, including Chelsea, whom he once referred to as "the White House dog." It took him nearly a decade to apologize.
This is just a smattering of what will endure as probably the best book on the Clinton presidency by someone not named Clinton.
on October 11, 2003
I have been amused by those on both the political left and the right when it comes to their views of the Clinton years. Here the author shares some first hand experiences which are both enlightening and fascinating. His bias is obvious throughout this long book, but most of the readers tackling this work will benefit despite that. In fact I would have been disappointed if he had not been passionate about the ideas that he believes in. Overall it is a good first-hand account of the Clinton years from an insider.
on June 16, 2003
I came to Sidney Blumenthal's "The Clinton Wars" hoping that the book would shed some light upon why so many people hated -- and still hate -- the 42nd president with such passion and venom. Given that Bill Clinton's administration produced great prosperity, given that he himself was obviously a hard worker and inspiring speaker, and given that the intial accusations against him were so dubious, why do so many people despise him and assume the worst about him? Regrettably, "The Clinton Wars" doesn't look very deeply into that question. Blumenthal matter-of-factly explains it as people who dislike the 1960s counterculture focusing their hostility upon a (wrongly) perceived representative of that movement, a political interloper that they never recognized as legitimate. Not a wholly satisfying answer.
As a liberal Democrat and Clinton supporter, I liked reading "The Clinton Wars" because it affirmed many things that I believe: Whitewater was a fraud; Kenneth Starr was politically motivated from the get-go to remove Clinton from office; Clinton was a capable commander-in-chief; George W. Bush stole the 2000 presidential election, etc. Furthermore, without explicitly saying so, this book implies something even more disturbing: Starr's legal harassment of Clinton drained the anti-terrorism activities of the FBI and State Department and enabled Osama bin Laden to carry out the horrifying events of September 11, 2001. But at the same time, I could tell that I was in the company of a starry-eyed Clinton admirer whose biases might cloud his retelling of events.
Usually, when a conservative reads "facts" that support his/her beliefs, he/she accepts them at face value but takes less comforting "facts" with a grain of salt. It's the same with us liberals: Data that back up my beliefs are to be believed; those that don't are not. But despite my eagerness to accept Blumenthal's account as completely veracious, I decided to surf the 'Net for opposing viewpoints. The negative reviews at Amazon.com are largely dismissive, petulant ad hominem attacks on Blumenthal and repeat some accusations that he already addressed in his book -- not very helpful. Michael Isikoff's critical review of "The Clinton Wars" is itself criticized by Slate.com. In an on-line essay, conservative activist David Horowitz defends his organization against Blumenthal's characterization of it as a "front" organization for Richard Mellon Scaife. He also decries Blumenthal's "vindictive tort against Matt Drudge" as an assault on the First Amendment. But -- tellingly -- Horowitz doesn't mention the incident that provoked the lawsuit in the first place: Without evidence, Drudge on his widely read Web site accused Blumenthal of beating his wife. It's hard for me to see how responding to such a scurrilous, inflammatory accusation via the legal system endangers free speech, and Horowitz's omission of this inciting incident makes me question his own veracity.
On the whole, "The Clinton Wars" is engaging as an affirmation of Clinton's strengths and an indictment of the Starr witch hunt. On the down side, it's too uncritical of Clinton's moral lapses and his voracious fund raising. Blumenthal forgives Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal for "being human." But one wishes that the author would admonish Clinton about how appallingly *stupid* it was for him to have conducted himself in such a capricious way when an over-reaching prosecutor was trying to dig up dirt on him.
Some may split hairs with Blumenthal on certain particulars of his account about the Starr investigation. But nothing that anyone has said about "The Clinton Wars" has shaken this conviction of mine: Starr's investigation of Clinton was utterly unnecessary, politically vindictive, and a waste of this country's valuable resources. And in their rush to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, the press became willing dupes of Starr's illegal leaks. Democrats abided Republicans in the White House for the 12 years of Reagan/Bush, granting them at least minimal respect as leaders of the country, but Republicans could not show Clinton the same courtesy. It had to be presumed that he was guilty of unspeakable acts. He had to be driven from office by hook or by crook. Republicans still condemn Clinton for "lying under oath," but the fact that he was entrapped to do so by a hostile, politically motivated ideologue using police-state tactics seems unimportant to them. Clinton's personal behavior in office was deplorable; Starr's official behavior was frightening. And I'm still astounded that so many self-proclaimed conservatives can't see that.
on April 26, 2006
In trying to fairly review this book, as politics has gotten ugly and mean and divided this nation, let's imagine that someone from my favorite island (Tristan da Cunha) sets foot in the USA with no more knowledge of Clinton than he was the leader of the country recently. He wants to know more, so he picks up this book and reads it. Our man from Tristan will be able to tell that Sidney Blumenthal likes and admires Bill Clinton a lot. That's not a knock against Mr. Blumenthal in the least, as other authors have liked and admired their subjects, too - that's why they do a fine job of writing about them, their personal interest shows. But in reading this book, the Tristan man will also learn that Mr. Clinton oversaw continuous economic expansion, more than 22 million jobs created, a home ownership rate increase from 64.0% to 67.5%, the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, higher incomes at all levels, the largest budget deficit in American history converted to the largest surplus of over $200 billion, the lowest government spending as a percentage of GDP since 1974, higher stock ownership by families than ever before, a 220% increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and a 300% increase in the Nasdaq from 1993 to 2001.
Sounds like a heckuva job of improving America to me. So why is Mr. Clinton one of those "50%" people, half love him and half hate him? Mr. Blumenthal lays out a few reasons for the hate that still resounds today, and at base level it's all politics. the hatred and vitrol directed at Mr. Clinton and family is absolutely, positively, moronically senseless. We spent in excess of $70M trying to find something, anything, on a duly elected president, and it all ended up with an impeachment charge that seems as wispy as smoke today as it did in 1998. And it was all over a private matter that, under normal circumstances, would be settled between a husband and wife. The general mood of the country during the 1990s into the 2000s is as if we were one nation before Clinton took office; one group decided that we were two nations after he took office and open warfare on Clinton was continuous; and after he left office we should pretend we're one nation again. The media has their fair share of blame in this sordid trashing of Clinton's presidency, too - our So-Called Liberal Media showed its colors brightly from 1992 to 2001. I didn't agree with all of his policies and still don't, but personal attacks were never part of the disagreement. But beyond the political reason, why do we trash this man who tried to do so much for this country? Calling him names doesn't answer the question of why. Skim away your prejudices, read the book and see if you think that we had some pretty darn good days under President Clinton.
An argument brought up is that at 822 pages, this might have been a couple hundred pages too long. There is a lot of personal information that Mr. Blumenthal includes about himself in here, like growing up and going to school. At first glance, there is the thought that this information is superfluous; on the other hand, given his deep involvment with the subject and the President, The Clinton Wars were also The Blumenthal Wars, fought over the same fronts. It's a long book, but it's worth reading.
on May 23, 2003
Blumenthal's book is a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of his years both inside and outside the Clinton administration. The book is thorough, vividly written and steady and has, obviously, already been assailed by the right wing punditocracy largely because Blumenthal actually admires Clinton and measures the man's very real achievements (while also being quite forthright about Clinton's missteps, particularly his incoherent first two years in office.) But Blumenthal has also ticked off another power nexus -- that of the mainstream media. Why? Because Blumenthal, a former reporter for The Washington Post and The New Yorker knows how the game was played, and he names names, providing an absolutley devastating analysis of how big media companies like The New York Times, The Post, Time, Newsweek, et al, were duped by dirty tricksters on the radical right; how the Whitewater story was concocted by Republican gamesters during the '92 election and how, after Clinton's election, those gamesters used Jeff Gerth at the supposedly 'liberal' NY Times to do their dirty work by foisting the story into the national mainstream. With results we know now.
Attacks on Blumenthal, from Times' editors, Newsweek's Isikoff strike a false and shrill (and hugely defensive) note. Blumenthal has the goods on these characters. The smoke has cleared, and as they say "history will judge." Those media bigfeet who became so usefully available to the Republican propaganda machine do not like now to have their bad behavior brought back up. Thus, the tenor of reviews claiming the Clinton era is all 'ancient history' and we should let the past be past.
Significantly, the one dispassionate and also hugely favorable review of this book was written not by a journalist forced to confront the press's near-treasonous conduct during the Clinton years, but by an historian, Robert Dallek.
on December 9, 2003
During the mid 1990's, the witty sage, Garrison Keeler, said, "The Republican Party is morally bankrupt" in an interview published in a Lutheran magazine. As prescient as that view was, then, he could not have known how bankrupt until Sidney Blumenthal published so many facts to support that judgment in THE CLINTON WARS. While a preoccupation with sexual morality would lay that judgment on President Clinton (and as an Episcopal Priest, I would agree that the violation of his wedding vow to be faithful to Hillary was an egregious moral lapse), there is evidence in Blumenthal's book of moral rot at the core of at least the right wing of the Republican party and its adherents. As defined by the life and teachings of Jesus, morality consists of love for God and neighbor to the point of donating oneself to their glory and welfare. Blumenthal documents how unloving these folks are in trying to accomplish their own agenda. What he does not do is expose what lies behind the agenda, aside from talking about the vague "cultural war" that supposedly has gripped this country. I may be wrong, but I believe what lies behind it is one of the seven deadly sins: Greed. Accuse me of being a class warrior, if you wish, but as Molly Ivins has pointed out, our national govenment is daily becoming more and more a "government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations." While giving a significant role to the private sector in rehabing our economy, Clinton always had the vision that government and corporations exist to elevate and liberate PERSONS to achieve the best that was in them for the COMMON GOOD. THE CLINTON WARS gives us ample evidence that the President's vision lay behind all of the proposals and accomplishments of his administration. That moral vision has since been extinguished by the Bush presidency. I hope that people who read Blumenthal's excellent book will some how help rekindle the flame.
on September 22, 2003
Sidney Blumenthal gets it right. While Bill Clinton fought for a better America, the right wing and the press fought to bring him down. Many authors have noted this, but Blumenthal's perspective and his independent research (he even interviews one of the House Impeachment managers) raise this book far above the level of a White House memior. Pundits may yawn for the lack of gossip (I heard one claim that the book revealed little that was new), but it does give a brilliant insight to the disconnnect between the real world inside the White House and the bizzare furry whirling out beyond. Blumenthal often recounts the actions of the independent prosecutor, then contrasts that with the actual policy initiatives and budget battles that occupied the time of those in the West Wing. The book is long, richly detailed, and obviously not as much fun as a book by Michael Moore or Al Frankin. But the book is important as a document of an era where so much of this nation devoted itself to destroying a man and his work. Blumenthal gives tremendous space to Clinton's Third Way initiative with other progressive governments. The goal was to create an international forum based on progressive ideals, a forum that in essence crumbled with Bush coming into the White House. Blumenthal cleanly ruptures so many myths about Clinton, exposes the endless investigations - even the ones that eventually turned on him - for their partisan roots. He does not write only as an apologist, but steps back as a historian who often has the luxury of slipping into the first person.
The book is not perfect (but worth the five stars). It tries to cover too much. It is not the best book on the impeachment or how Clinton won back the White House after the "Republican revolution" of 1994, or of how Gore lost the recount battle in Florida in 2000. But it is the best book on the Clinton presidency as a whole. It strikes a conscious balance between Clinton's accomplishments and the ever increasing furry that rose up in his enemies. It is a great and worthy read.
on September 13, 2003
Simply put, any reader would enjoy the 800+ pages in this very classy, comprehensive book. Blumenthal spends a generous amount of time with each person and event, giving us extended, ruminative passages that are not simply a retelling but are carefully pondered judgements about people. He is very big-hearted and many times tender, as he gives many prominent Republicans a generous, compassionate, judicious portrayal. For example, Bob Dole has had a very interesting life, and Blumenthal leisurely and lovingly includes it, along with his insightful persnality descriptions. He does this for many persons, each one of them taken as three-dimensional.
Blumenthal is helped a great deal by the fact that he appears to have simply been in the right place at the right time. Never once did I get the impression that he ever angled for such a central rol. He simply happened to be one man who went through the heart of the storm.
Given the enormous importance of his experiences, as well as the brutal and dishonorable treatment of his peers by some very unstable and unremorseful people, it's obvious Blumenthal has a deep need to retell, finally, what happened. Given his reasoned, intelligent, generous, and eloquent style, this book will be a prmanent record, and will stay with you.
on October 26, 2003
No, not perfect. And it's a thick monster. But it's worth the read in trying to understand the poisonous atmosphere that rightwingers and others have created. For them, it's essential to find someone to blame.
Clinton could without question be a jerk. But Republicans were shaking in their boots at even the possibility of a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to run again. Why? Because he would have taken the flight suit phoney to the cleaners. Why?
During Clinton's era, the United States balanced its budget and had the longest economic expansion in American history. There was no reason for it to end, but Bush's inauguration marked the downhill slide. The recession began in March, 2001.
How remarkable was that growth during Clinton's years? For starters, Reagan's policies drove the nation into recession and almost bankrupted the nation. Talking about the success Reaganomics is revisionism. The government he turned over to Bush the elder had a deficit ballooning out of control. Reagan generated the largest deficits in history and made it harder for anyone after him to balance the budget. Bush elder made a lot of mistakes, but he somewhat bit the bullet on taxes.
Clinton had to take another bite on the bullet, and aside from taxes, cut spending, amid dire projections by Hard Core Republican right wingers that the nation's economy would collapse.
The opposite happened. There was no recession during Clinton's years. The economy expanded each quarter and millions upon millions of new jobs were created. No, it wasn't Clinton's singular genius that did it, but what happened, worked.
How hard is that? Clinton served two full terms. No recession. That's not something you can say about Reagan or Eisenhower. In fact, you can't say it about any American President since WWII. Ike had three -- and he wasn't a bad president.
The politics that Blumenthal dissects is the major reason leaders of substance have such difficulty dealing with issues of substance. Theories about government spending are nice for whacko right wingers.
Social Security, which is self-financed although endangered by Bush, is one big expenditure. The Post Office is the biggest civilian employer, about 850,000, filling an essential role. But the big swallower of federal spending is the Pentagonm nearly 2.5 million people including troops and civilian employees. A great Army. But we can't get them body armor in Iraq.
Perhaps Blumenthal overrates his importance, but he is a realist and he, along with many others of right and left leaning pols, know the truth. You can't cut taxes at a time like this without taking great risks with both our security and our military. As it happens, that's exactly what is happening and if it were Clinton pulling this, the Clinton Wars of the past would be nothing to compare to this. As it is, Bush ambles along and the Right wing whines that he's being treated unfairly. SEriously conservative Republicans are horrified, but so afraid of White HOuse or Texas disfavor, that they pee on their office carpets as the country goes to hell.
Left wing Press. A myth. What we have a is a cowed, puppy-dog media that chews on rugs while looters destroy our country. Fox in charge of the foxes. There's nothing in this book that will make Washington reporters happy, even as they let Bush slide off the hook day after day.