THE SYSTEM by Haynes Johnson


The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point
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 A sobering and sometimes maddening play-by-play of Bill Clinton's abortive crusade to reform health care. Clinton came into office, note Washington-based journalists Johnson (Divided We Fall, 1994) and Broder (Changing of the Guard, 1980), committed to making sweeping changes so that all citizens would have access to health care. However, despite his charisma, a Democratic-controlled Congress, and opinion polls showing that most Americans favored such reforms, Clinton emerged from the battle badly scarred. Johnson and Broder show that several scarcely controllable factors collided to produce the rejection of his 1,342-page bill of reform. Among them were the Republican backlash then being orchestrated by Newt Gingrich in a successful bid to become speaker of the House; lobbyists' adoption of new techniques of buying political access and manipulating public opinion; the failure of White House staffers, led by left-leaning policymaker Ira Magaziner, to communicate their ideas effectively; competition among leading Democrats to introduce health-care packages of their own; and a highly effective campaign, spearheaded by Rush Limbaugh, to discredit Bill and Hillary Clinton, so that teacup-size tempests like Whitewater came to overshadow the Clintons' legislative effort. Most of all, however, Clinton failed to reckon with the power of vested interests and of the so-called Gingrich revolution. The defeat was titanic--Clinton scarcely mentions health care these days--but the Republican victory may have been Pyrrhic: As the authors write, ``one year after the House Republicans signed their Contract with America, Congress had failed to pass 11 of 13 appropriations bills needed to keep the federal government operating, and half of the Contract's provisions were stalled by opposition or inaction.'' Hundreds of actors wander on and off stage in a sweeping narrative that deftly underscores the crisis of confidence now troubling our political system. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-316-46969-6
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1996


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