Clinton and his White House staff at work, seen from the perspective of his former director of speechwriting.
Waldman (Who Robbed America?, not reviewed) joined the Clinton campaign in the summer of 1992 and worked for him until the summer of 1999. During those years he helped draft nearly 2,000 speeches, including two inaugural and four state of the union addresses. His chronology touches lightly on the 1992 campaign (“a sleepless blur”) and the chaos of the transitional period, but moves into high gear with his assignment to work on the new President’s first inaugural address. Waldman, who focused on domestic issues and the international economy, describes the atmosphere of hope and optimism at the beginning of Clinton’s presidency and the ups and downs that followed: the administration’s success in passing NAFTA in 1993; the frustrating struggle for reform of welfare, health care, and campaign finance; the budget fights of 1995; Clinton’s comeback after the Democratic loss of Congress in 1996; and the administration’s determined efforts to attend to business in the face of scandal and impeachment. Waldman, who was only 32 when his White House stint began, was plainly awed at finding himself there (which gives his account a wide-eyed quality), and—since conversational exchanges are liberally reported—either he has a remarkable memory or he kept extensive notes. While this is a far more serious and informative view of the White House than television’s West Wing, it is equally filled with images of dedicated young men pulling all-nighters in the service of their chief. What distinguishes this account is the picture of Clinton at work with words—writing, editing, rewriting, searching for the right phrase—and then delivering those words or improvising others with assurance and style.
An admiring yet not fawning look at Clinton’s persuasive powers and use of the bully pulpit.