MADHOUSE by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

MADHOUSE

The Private Turmoil of Working for the President
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Serving the president of the United States may seem like a dream job. But as senior Time correspondent Birnbaum persuasively shows in these portraits of six anguished aides and their short careers in the Clinton White House, it's really a nightmare. Disparate in many ways, these Clinton supporters--Howard Paster (at 48, by far the oldest), Jeff Eller, Paul Begala, Dee Dee Myers, Gene Sperling, and Bruce Reed--had one thing in common: They all arrived in Washington full of conviction that government mattered and that their work would make a difference. Within weeks after Clinton's inauguration, however, an array of mini-scandals and artificial crises conceived and driven by opposition politicians and the media had paralyzed the White House. Paster, a lobbyist responsible for building a working relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill, found that he had an impossible task; the two houses of Congress rarely spoke with a unified voice on anything. Blamed by congressmen for White House gaffes, and by the president's staff for failing to develop a harmonious relationship with Congress, worn down by the relentless stress and the endless hours away from his family, Paster quit after little more than a year. Media affairs director Eller, responsible for a key Clinton administration health care initiative, found himself bogged down in ``Travelgate.'' Despite the administration's rhetoric about diversity, press secretary Myers found that her gender shut her out of the ``white boys' club,'' as she termed it. Stymied by an unruly Republican-controlled Congress, policy advisers Sperling and Reed found it impossible to successfully promote any programs. Even political illusionist Begala was frustrated by scandals and Clinton's lingering image problems, overwhelmed by the workload, and ultimately blamed for the Democratic electoral disaster that resulted in the loss of both houses of Congress. Birnbaum deftly sketches the challenges of being a presidential aide and limns the disturbing boundaries of modern presidential power. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 6th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8129-2325-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1996