A presidential scholar selects portions from 400 hours of conversations with insiders about the Bill Clinton White House campaign, tenure, and aftermath to present a densely informative oral history.
Riley (The Presidency and the Politics of Racial Inequality, 1999, etc.) is the co-chair of the Miller Center Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia, a program that has previously collected oral histories about the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. In this account of the Clinton story, the author divides the narrative into "Beginnings" (the decision to seek the presidency, staffing the campaign, primary elections, the Democratic Party nominating convention, defeating the incumbent, the transition to governing); "Domestic and Economic Policy" (health care, welfare reform, North American trade, and other highly publicized issues); "Foreign Policy" (parts of Africa, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and Haiti); "Politics and the Clinton White House" (Republican Party opposition, alleged and actual scandals, impeachment); and "People" (including separate chapters on Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Clinton). Like all oral histories, some of the interviews were partly self-serving, and various interviewees contradict each other. Because not all interviewees granted permission to publicly share what they said during the compilation of the material, Riley decided some topics had to be omitted due to incompleteness, such as White House negotiations in the Middle East. Despite the selectivity, the book contains plenty of insights, such as disagreements among key players about whether the welfare reform as put into place should be considered beneficial for the nation overall or cruel from the standpoint of the truly disadvantaged. Among dozens of others, significant interviewees include Madeleine Albright, Tom Daschle, Václav Havel, and Leon Panetta.
Every chapter crackles with anecdotes and serious discussions for political junkies, including Clinton partisans and Clinton detractors.