Former Bush speechwriter David Frum was a sworn enemy of the Clinton presidency. But now that the man is out of power, and maturing fast, there may be reason to rethinkby David Frum / October 23, 2004 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2004 issue of Prospect Magazine
Reviewers have almost unanimously dismissed Bill Clinton’s mammoth memoir as dull. It is easy to see why: much of it is an undigested mass of diary entries, apparently re-dictated without reflection. Old speeches seem to have been pasted in randomly in the same manner.
And yet, if you gird yourself to read the book through, you keep stumbling across odd moments of revelation. Like this one: in the summer of 1971, young Bill Clinton had just been appointed co-ordinator of southern states for George McGovern’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The trouble was that Clinton’s new girlfriend, Hillary Rodham, had got a summer job at a law firm in Oakland, California. So Clinton quit the campaign and headed west. “During the day when Hillary was at work,” he writes, “I read books in the parks and coffee shops.”
Here was Bill Clinton’s first major political responsibility and he shrugged it off to chase a girl and spend his summer in coffee shops. History sometimes really does repeat itself.
The book suffers, too, from Clinton’s habit of reverting to lawyerly language for purposes of concealment. Here, for example, is his version of the episode in 1998 when a former White House aide, Kathleen Willey, accused him of having kissed and fondled her: “She claimed I had made an unwanted advance toward her while she was working in the White House. It wasn’t true.” Any reader who knows anything about Clinton knows enough to ask what, exactly, “wasn’t true.”
Yet My Life can surprise you, often agreeably. When he wishes, Clinton can be both frank and lucid, and his stories often ring with more truth than presidential autobiographers usually permit. Here is his account of how he persuaded one Arthur Barbieri, the Democratic boss of New Haven, Connecticut, to endorse George McGovern in the 1972 primary: “When I walked into his office and introduced myself, Barbieri was cordial but businesslike. He told me that… he h…