A professor’s seduction by President Clinton.
Liberal thinker Barber (Political Science/Rutgers; Jihad v. McWorld, 1995, etc.) obviously wanted to write a memoir about his experiences in the Clinton White House. He had one problem: He wasn’t a member of the Clinton White House. His solution was to try to spin attendance at a couple of White House schmooze fests for academics into an investigation of the impact Big Ideas had on the administration. It doesn’t quite work, especially because he barely addresses ideas other than those he himself has written about. More importantly, his connection to the White House was simply too tenuous to sustain his account. When he writes simply as an analyst, it’s to great effect, as when he convincingly argues that Clinton’s inability to secure a legacy can be attributed to the fact that the president never provided the American people with an overarching political ideology to accompany the administration’s laundry lists of popular policies. Unfortunately, most of what’s here consists instead of the tedious recounting of presentations by liberal academics. Barber’s half-conscious, slightly creepy obsession with Clinton (he self-mockingly calls it an affair) gives the impression that he was a bit of a delusional stalker: canned compliments left him shuddering with joy, he read fate into seating arrangements, and imagined rivals were sniped at with adolescent aplomb. When presidential aides asked for brainstorming ideas, Barber prepared full speeches—then got miffed when they didn’t emerge from the president’s mouth on television. His unsolicited campaign to run the National Endowment for the Humanities reduced him to pathetic actions worthy of a Philip Roth protagonist—one only wishes Barber had Roth’s comic gifts.
While it’s fascinating to watch Clinton’s infamous powers of seduction (and equally infamous need for toadies and hangers-on) in action, it still doesn’t justify a work for which the material simply isn’t there.