A fresh look at the political rise and fortunes of the Clintons, a saga conditioned, writes Chafe (History/Duke Univ.; The Rise and Fall of the American Century, 2009, etc.), by the best and worst in their natures.
“Bill Clinton…is the first politician in history who has perfected the ability to cry in just one eye,” remarked Republican political operative and longtime foe—but now, oddly, friend—Haley Barbour, not unappreciatively. Clinton, as Chafe tells it, mastered the psychological survival skills necessary of a child of an abusive, alcoholic parent. Neglected and tormented as a child, he was also raised by a doting grandmother to be a force of destiny, literate by the age of three and a ham and class-time monopolizer by the time he was in elementary school. Clinton’s eagerness to please and be adored, oddly mirrored in the current president, played out politically in many episodes. One of the key moments in his early political career was being turned out of the governor’s office in Arkansas, which bewildered and depressed him, but which came as no surprise to anyone who shared the widespread view that he was “of an intent to impose ideas on Arkansas’s citizens whether they were ready for them or not.” Another key moment was the defeat of the omnibus health care act while Clinton was serving his first term as president; he had labored under the view that he could charm the opposition away, while Hillary rejected any suggestion of altering her carefully crafted bill. “The personal dynamic between Bill and Hillary helps explain why repeated possibilities for compromise were persistently rebuffed,” writes the author. Psychobiography is always suspect, particularly in the hands of someone who doesn’t possess a degree in psychiatry, but Chafe is careful to back up his suppositions with good evidence, and the portrait that emerges is both believable and of consummate interest to political junkies.
An illuminating glimpse behind the scenes, though fans and detractors alike will find much room for debate.