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POTUS Speaks: Finding the Words That Defined the Clinton Presidency Hardcover – October 5, 2000

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

President Clinton won't be remembered for soaring, Lincolnesque rhetoric--even top speechwriter Michael Waldman admits that: "Clinton does not leave a long trail of chiseled phrases," writes Waldman in his memoir POTUS Speaks (POTUS is the acronym used in White House memos for President of the United States). "Frequently his speeches read like what they are: transcripts of a highly persuasive man trying to win a listener's agreement." That's right on target. Clinton's best-known phrases have been either embarrassments ("that depends on what the meaning of is is") or clichés repeated with numbing frequency ("Let's build that bridge to the 21st century"). Yet Waldman hails Clinton for "transforming the way a president uses the bully pulpit to lead," by adapting to the current media environment in which 24-hour cable channels dictate how the news is made, packaged, and delivered.

Waldman, who worked for Clinton from 1992 to 1999, is an unabashed supporter: "I was proud to work for Clinton, proud of what he accomplished for the country. For all his mistakes, I think that Bill Clinton was not only a successful president, but an important one." In other words, this is no kiss-and-tell memoir of the type that haunted the Reagan administration. Instead, it is the story of how an administration built its rhetoric around its policies, as told by a key player and an apologist. Waldman describes, for instance, how Bob Dole inspired that phrase about building a bridge to the 21st century: during his acceptance speech at the GOP convention in 1996, Dole said he wanted to "be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith, and confidence in action"--i.e., the past. Waldman also recounts a few hilarious anecdotes, such as what happened when he saw Robert McNamara and Ira Magaziner--the failed gurus of the Vietnam War and the Clinton health-care plan, respectively--meet in the White House mess. Another example: "Every few days, in the morning staff meetings, [economic advisor] Gene Sperling would issue a cryptic report on the fluctuations of a currency. 'The Thai baht took a big hit today,' he would announce.... The staff would nod gravely, as if we knew whether there was, in fact, a Thai baht." POTUS Speaks is simultaneously loyal and revealing--a neat trick. It's an entertaining account of the Clinton presidency told from an insider's perspective. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

In this lively and entertaining memoir of his seven years of service in the White House as a speechwriter for POTUS (President of the United States), Waldman does not move much beyond the by now familiar story of the roller-coaster trajectory of Clinton's presidency. He does note that Clinton likes to talk and is good at it, which is not news, but Waldman (Who Robbed America?) goes on to discuss how Clinton used his verbal skills to create a "bully pulpit," employing presidential speeches as a means to change public opinion and push public policy and to institute other changes Waldman finds both numerous and significant. An unabashed Clinton admirer, he mentions the scandals of the presidency, but does not dwell on them. In the end, the reader does not see much beneath the surface of the man. Of interest, though, is Waldman's humorous description of the speech writing process: it is hectic and disorganized, finished at the last minute, and even presidential speech writers, we learn, get writer's block. In all, this is an enjoyable read. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Printing, First Edition edition (October 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743200209
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743200202
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Whether you admired the 42nd President or not, many agree he had fabulous oratorical skills. A person who is partly responsible for that was Michael Waldman, his chief speechwriter and author of POTUS Speaks. Even though he admits having a bias for Clinton, it is clearly non-evident in this book, in comparison to grossly negative statements or outlandish praises about a complex President. If you've ever wanted to know what a Clinton speechfest was really like, this book is for you. It takes you into the last minute motorcade edits and to gaffes by the White House staff (which Clinton masterfully covered up with his brilliant skills). An example is the big NAFTA speech, in which the President doesn't have the correct speech, and instead the "sloppy copy" with edits and cross outs all over the place. And, no one knows the difference.
A must read for anyone interested in the White House.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Waldman is my idea of a great writer of political books. He's a guy who was definitely on the inside, but he doesn't spend the whole book aggrandising himself or justifying everything he did. Waldman does a great job of showing what it was like to work for Clinton the man, Clinton the president, Clinton the political strategist. As opposed to books written by others who worked in the White House during the Clinton years (Stephenopolis, Gergen, Morris), you don't get a sense that Waldman is writing for any other reason than to objectively report what he saw and did while working for the President.
There is nothing shocking or new in this book, really, but it does a great job of showing the dichotomy that existed in the White House during the scandals. Waldman was a policy, not a political, guy. Even in the heart of the scandals - indeed, on the most important days of that whole mess - Waldman recounts how he and other policy guys just worked on policy issues (the budget, fast track, education) as if nothing else was going on. On the day Clinton is impeached, Waldman and the President were working on a speech together. Amazing!
This book is excellent for many reasons. First, it is a great inside look at how speeches and policies were constructed in the Clinton White House. Second, Waldman was there for the entire presidency (except for the very end), so his observations on how the President (and the White House staff) changed over the years are insightful and fascinating. I really enjoyed watching/reading as he and the other young aides went from, well, young aides to senior White House Staffers. Third, this book did more to help me understand Clinton the man than almost any other I read, precisely because it didn't TRY to explain who Clinton the man is.
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Format: Hardcover
This book gives a fine example of what it's like to work for the most powerful, or one of the most powerful, person[s] in the world. Not unlike the NBC show "The West Wing", the battles over language; the frustration over when things go wrong and the joy at when they go right, this book by Michael Waldman sparkles with wit and humor. It also goes a long way to explaining the tough task of working for a President like Bill Clinton. If you're a "West Wing" fan, as I am, and want to get a clue into working inside the White House, read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
It is a refreshing start to a book when the author admits up front that he is and was a strong supporter of President Clinton. Unlike many of the books that have come out regarding Clinton, either positive or negative, they all profess to be unbiased and fair, but usually by about 25 pages in you know the track the author is following. With this book the author admits up front his position so there is never any question as to the slant he was using. You could read the book and know that the positive side of the situation was being documented, not a sly attempt to malign the President.
As you know from reading the book synopsis, the author was the head speechwriter for Clinton and was with him for almost his entire Presidency. Unfortunately for me that fact seemed to mean that he was not really involved in any policy decision (I assumed that fact going into the book), but also that he did not share any gossip or good insight in how many decisions were made. I do not think there was anything detailed in the book that was not already spelled out in other books or in the papers. The laborious speech writing process Clinton used was interesting and the lack of organization of the early administration was expressed well.
Overall I found the book to be just average, nothing really new. I felt that best parts of the book dealt with the start of Monica issue and the impeachment process and how the speechwriting team just kept plugging away. If you are looking for a light book from a Clinton fan then this book will make you happy. I would suggest that the following books are better: Locked in the Cabinet (by Reich), All Too Human (by Stephenopolis) and Shadow (by Woodward). All of them give far more detail and I thought they were actually better written.
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