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A Concise, Balanced History of the Clinton Presidency,
This review is from: The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton (Paperback)
It is nearly impossible to think objectively about Bill Clinton, the man or his administration. In THE NATURAL, Joe Klein, the once-anonymous author of PRIMARY COLORS, gives us a concise, balanced history of the Clinton presidency. He provides a fair account of Bill Clinton: we are not spared his self-pity or the scale of his appetites and indulgences, but we also see the seriousness and vision he brought to the nation's leadership.
The Clinton administration had a rocky beginning, noted for its naÔve political blunders. Remember Travelgate? How about the mere possibility of universal health care? The Clintons relied heavily on their friends, who were not always the wisest or most capable choices. One of the strengths of THE NATURAL is its portrayal of key relationships. We learn a lot about the former president through Mr. Klein's account of his complex marriage and Mrs. Clinton's formidable, imperfect influence. He also describes the similarities and differences between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, who led the failed Republican revolution and masterminded one of the nastiest, most counter-productive political arenas in American history.
It is unfortunate that Bill Clinton's comprehensive understanding of economics will not be what history remembers about his presidency. Mr. Klein points out that balancing the budget was a tremendous gamble and the budget surplus Clinton left the next administration was unprecedented. His sound policies --- welfare reform, Internet commerce, the earned income tax credit --- provided a base for financial prosperity that we are unlikely to see again. One of the melancholy notes of the book is the sense of squandered talent and opportunity. What else might Bill Clinton have accomplished if he had not been so distracted?
Bill Clinton was under constant attack from the right wing and the scandal-hungry media. He fended off investigations into his avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War, his use of marijuana, his finances, his extramarital affairs, his wife's law practice and not one of the fanatics determined to destroy him made the slightest impact until he lied under oath about his affair with a White House intern. Why did he give his assailants such a wealth of ammunition to use against him? How could such a smart man make such a stupid mistake? We may never know what he was thinking, but the disappointment and disillusionment of the president's staff and supporters practically soak through the page.
The strange thing about THE NATURAL is how distant the Clinton presidency seems. September 11, 2001 was a moment of such enormous import in American history that the overwrought peccadilloes Bill Clinton became known for now seem trivial. Bill Clinton never faced a challenge to the presidency like al-Qaeda's attacks; he made his own challenges. It will take a much longer, more in-depth book to really examine Bill Clinton's complicated character, but THE NATURAL captures his administration, a time that is simultaneously recent history and a long time ago.
--- Reviewed by Colleen Quinn