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The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton by Joe Klein

 

Recommendation:

 

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He Coulda Been a Contenda

We can sometimes be too close to history to have enough perspective to examine people and events carefully. That’s what happens in Joe Klein’s attempt to deliver recent history in his book, The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. Klein is best known for his anonymous authorship of the novel Primary Colors. Klein observed the Clinton presidency as a reporter, and his attempt to make sense of what happened during the Clinton years rings false, perhaps because his biases are too clear. Our disbelief breaks down when he attributes Clinton errors like the Marc Rich pardon to Clinton working too hard. Here’s an excerpt:

“Clinton saved the Democrats from their latter-day darkness with his optimism about America’s multiracial culture, and about the possibilities of the global economy – and his ability to convince average Americans that these were opportunities, not threats.
Indeed, Clinton’s public charm – his ability to talk, to empathize, to understand; his willingness to fall behind schedule, to infuriate his staff, merely because some stray citizen on a rope line had a problem or a story that needed to be heard – will doubtless stand as his most memorable quality.”

And another:

“If Ronald Reagan had challenged the pessimism of the post-Vietnam era, liberals hoped that Bill Clinton would challenge the cynicism.
In the end, cynicism won – with a major assist from Clinton himself. But amid dashed hopes and the scandals and the bitterness, a great deal of real work was done. Bill Clinton conducted a serious, substantive presidency; his domestic policy achievements were not inconsiderable and were accomplished against great odds.”

By the end of the book, you certainly know Klein’s opinions. Clinton lovers will think Klein sells the man short. Clinton haters will think Klein lets Clinton off too easily. If you’re a political junkie of any stripe, these two hundred pages of personal perspective and ego journalism will be interesting, but not riveting. I closed the book not wanting to read another page.

Steve Hopkins, April 24, 2002

 

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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the May 2002 issue of Executive Times

 

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