HIGHWIRE by John Brummett

HIGHWIRE

From the Backroads to the Beltway--the Education of Bill Clinton
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An assessment of the first year of Bill Clinton's presidency with no major scoops but with long-term insight into Clinton's style and character. Brummett, a veteran Arkansas journalist and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, here competes not so much with fellow Arkansas reporter Meredith Oakley (On the Make, p. 614), who exhaustively portrays Clinton's gubernatorial reign, but with ur- investigator Bob Woodward (The Agenda, not reviewed). Though he can't claim Woodward's access or propound verbatim conversations, Brummett did move to Washington and spoke to Clinton, former chief of staff Mack McLarty, and other White House officials. ``Bill Clinton is a man of awesome talent and troubling personal weaknesses,'' Brummett declares at the outset, and his account of Clinton's major efforts and crises bears that out. He grounds Clinton's cautious liberalism and winning personal style in home- state politics and shows how Clinton thrives extemporaneously and dies by TelePrompTer. America needed either ``a great moral leader or a clever policy synthesizer,'' the author argues, and Clinton is the latter, as shown in his budget plan. Brummett's treatments of missteps like the Waco disaster and the White House travel-office scandal add little new. He finds himself sympathetic to Clinton-- ``a victim of his own optimism''--regarding his withdrawal of the Lani Guinier nomination. Brummett is more pointed on the suicide of White House chief deputy counsel Vincent Foster: He discounts talk of a scandalous cover-up but argues that any veteran of Arkansas politics should have been prepared for Washington nastiness. While his defense of Clinton's foreign policy performance is weak--he blames subordinates--Brummett notes credibly that Whitewater pales in comparison to previous executive-branch violations of the public interest like Iran-contra. Ultimately, Brummett is optimistic that Clinton will grow into the job--or, if defeated in 1996, return ``Ö la Nixon for us to kick around some more.'' Weaker on policy than politics, but with nuance and psychological truth.

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1994
ISBN: 0-7868-6046-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994