“He remains the most compelling politician of his generation, although that isn’t saying very much.”
So writes Klein, renowned political journalist and author of the roman à clef Primary Colors (1996), in this thoughtful assessment of the Clinton presidency in all its glory and infamy. Certainly the point is well taken: compared to the blinking Al Gore, the blustering Newt Gingrich, the blithering George W. Bush, Clinton was politics personified. He is to be admired for his brilliance and studiousness, Klein tells us; he is also to be scorned for having diminished his very real accomplishments with misguided episodes of sexual predation—a natural enough outcome, one supposes, for someone “whose self-involvement, self-indulgence, and, all too often, self-pity, were notorious,” and who seemed to believe that he would never get caught. The Lewinsky scandal, Klein writes, blossomed just at the time when Clinton was finally beginning to master the art of being president, having grown into a sort of political maturity through years of trial by fire. Even so, with few true allies in Washington and a press that seemed to hate him, or at least “appeared obsessed with the President’s personal failings,” he was ripe for the fall from grace—to say nothing of the impeachment proceedings—that followed. That he survived all these vicissitudes, Klein suggests, is due mostly to the incompetence of his enemies and a public that, so long as it wasn’t bothered by wars and economic downturns, was ever willing to forgive their leader’s astounding transgressions. But, given his gifts, Clinton should have done much better by us—as Klein mercilessly shows, page by page, episode by episode, over eight eventful years.
A supremely fascinating look at a “serious, substantive presidency.” No journalist is better matched to this subject than Klein, and his analysis deserves the wide attention it’s bound to get.