ON THE MAKE: The Rise of Bill Clinton by Meredith L. Oakley

ON THE MAKE: The Rise of Bill Clinton

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A judicious yet jam-packed survey of Bill Clinton's life, by a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Most Americans recognize that, from high school onwards, Bill Clinton has been the consummate politician. Oakley's lucid biography provides all the supporting evidence. No issue is left untouched here: draft-dodging, extramarital infidelities, Arkansas politics, brother Roger, and, of course, Hillary. While Oakley offers only rare and sporadic analyses, she puts forth a comprehensive panorama of Clinton's political progression from senior class president to Rhodes scholar, and from governor to president. The Clinton she depicts -- contrary to his wonky image -- was a less than dedicated student at Oxford and at Yale Law School, where he was prone to last-minute cramming and got by largely on his smarts. With no desire to muckrake, Oakley provides a measured treatment of Clinton's ascent. Only hopeless political junkies will thrive on the middle section, which copiously details the nitty-gritty of Little Rock politics. Still, Clinton's various trials and tribulations as five-term governor offer a window into the Clintonian worldview (most particularly, following his humbling 1980 gubernatorial defeat). Perhaps most illuminating is the social and political evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Depicted as reflective and attentive to human suffering (and without the calculating baggage of her husband), she is seen -- well before the 1992 campaign -- as a serious figure in her own right. Despite Oakley's silly adjectives (unsmiling, unflinching, unadorned, humorless, headstrong), the first lady emerges as the real hero of her spouse's biography. Those expecting a Whitewater exposÉ, however, will be disappointed, since that latest albatross makes only a cameo at the very end. No surprises here. Oakley's book only confirms the adage that to be president, one must truly be passionate for politics itself. Bill Clinton fulfills that thesis splendidly.

Pub Date: July 15th, 1994
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Regnery Gateway -- dist. by National Book Network