DEAD CENTER by James MacGregor Burns


Clinton-Gore Leadership and the Perils of Moderation
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Pulitzer-winning historian Burns (Univ. of Maryland; Government by the People, 1997, etc.) and political scientist Sorenson (Williams Coll.) offer a dyspeptic deconstruction of the Clinton presidency. William Jefferson Clinton aspired to greatness upon assuming the presidency, but, say the authors, he pursued a leadership strategy that assured he would never achieve it. From the outset, Clinton was a centrist, moving slightly to the left or right as expedience necessitated but always returning to an ill-defined middle ground. A day-to-day incrementalist, a policy wonk, Clinton might justly point to a long list of minor accomplishments, but few if any transformative changes in the great issues confronting the nation, from crime to class, from the environment to education. A politically cautious man in early life, he brought the same to the White House and raised it to the level of doctrine, with the help of such ill-advising advisors as Dick Morris. Missing in Clinton, or willingly dispatched with, was the intellectual and moral creativity and courage to change the nation. Events of his presidency—the early defeat of his health care program, the electoral victories of the Republicans in Congress in 1994—have only more firmly lodged him in the center. Vice President Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton, minor players in this tale, might in other circumstances have been more bold but were obliged to serve the president’s caution. Beyond Clinton, the authors meditate on the nature of modern politics: the atomistic struggle of running for office where personality, not party, matters and few politicians have a strong party base from which to operate; the ideological rigidity—and undemocratic tendencies—of a Republican congressional majority Clinton, astonishingly, tried to bargain with; the indifference of an electorate bombarded by blandness and bombast while little changes for the good. This is neither a “fair” nor an impartial book. It is a call for boldness and courage in public life, written with a passion the authors find so missing in Clinton.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-83778-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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