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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Spring Reading Thing 2007: Book 2

I finished my second book for the Spring Reading Thing 2007. The book is The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F Harris.

According to Harris in his Acknowledgements, he was contacted in the summer of 2001 by an editor at Random House who wanted to know if he was interested in writing a history of the Clinton presidency. As a reporter for the Washington Post, Harris had reported on the Clinton presidency from 1995 until the end of Clinton's tenure.

In addition to his own source material, Harris conducted interviews with "many dozens of veterans of the Clinton White House" who shared recollections with him of what life was like there. From this, Harris managed to cull 437 pages of data to flesh out a period of the 8 years Clinton spent in office.

For the most part, I'd say Harris did a good job of sticking to historical fact, but there are spots here and there that could have used a bit more information to give a more accurate picture of who and what Bill Clinton is.

The impression I have of Clinton, and The Survivor only strengthens that perception, is of someone who decided he wanted to be President of the United States... not so much because he had some kind of vision for the country. No, instead it seemed to be more because he thought he could be more recognized and own a place in history far better if he were elected to this office. Too many times the reactions coming from him with regard to events spinning around him had to do with the public's perception of him and the job he was doing rather than the effect his budget or his legislation had on real people. Bill Clinton could say he felt our pain, but in fact, he was much more interested in sloughing off his own pain and emerging with a glowing image and legacy intact.

While Harris did touch upon the various scandals that plagued the Clinton presidency from its onset, I don't believe he gave enough attention to the matters of Clinton's connection to the Lippo Group. In fact, while Clinton was impeached for lying to a Grand Jury and obstructing justice, his behavior with the Lippo Group could have formed the basis for a more substantial impeachment that may have succeeded in driving him from office. I believe Harris left too many questions unanswered regarding that matter. Instead he chose to wrap each scandal up in a bow and allow it to speak for itself at the expense of better clarification. If one is going to write an accurate history of events, neatly packaging it for consumption with inconclusive or non-existant explanations is not acceptable.

That said, The Survivor is indeed a record of Clinton's 8 years in office. But as far as history goes, I would hardly allow this to be my only reference to an administration that was seriously flawed.

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