The Clinton Wars

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9780374125028: The Clinton Wars

An invaluable history of an extraordinary presidency, and the chronicle of a generation’s political odyssey

When in 1997 Bill Clinton appointed Sidney Blumenthal as a senior advisor, the former writer was catapulted into the front lines of the Clinton wars. From his first day in the White House until long after his appearance as the only presidential aide ever to testify in an impeachment trial, Blumenthal acted in or witnessed nearly all the battles of the Clinton years. His major new book—part history, part memoir—is the first inside account we have of the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.

The Clinton Wars begins in 1987, when Blumenthal first met Bill and Hillary Clinton. His chronicle of Clinton’s first presidential campaign and first term draws on his experiences as confidant to both the President and the First Lady, and is enriched with previously unpublished revelations about both. This remarkable personal interpretation goes far in explaining the polarizing nature of Clinton’s presence on the national scene.

The narrative of Clinton’s second term is even more dramatic. Blumenthal takes special note of the battle that was waged within the media between the President’s detractors and defenders, which he expands into a vivid picture of Washington society torn apart by warring factions. But he does not neglect the wars fought on other fronts—in Kosovo, against Congress, and for economic prosperity. His remarkable book ends with the inside story of the fight to elect Al Gore in 2000 and extend the legacy of the Clinton-Gore Administration.

Every page of this unrivaled, authoritative book, with its intimate insights into Clinton’s personality and politics, attests to Blumenthal’s literary skill, profound understanding of politics, and unique perspective on crucial events of our recent past. The Clinton Wars is a lasting contribution to American history.

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Review:

The title of journalist turned-embattled-White House aide Sidney Blumenthal's memoir/history of his tumultuous years inside the Clinton presidency is both literal and figurative, if something of an understatement; "apocalypse" would seem more to the point. Erudite and fiercely unapologetic, Blumenthal belatedly provides the overwrought saga's protagonists what they so often publicly lacked in its historical context: passionate advocacy and precious perspective. No mere presidential history, the battles chronicled here transcend politics as usual, bitter partisan campaigns whose roots Blumenthal forcefully argues extend beneath lingering class and generational resentments into the darkest heart of America's Southern racist past. Hillary Clinton's accusations of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" garnered cynical chuckles in its heyday; Blumenthal (whose own teasing White House nickname was "Grassy Knoll") merely cuts its treachery down to size, documenting the usual suspects, dates, and places with amply footnoted vengeance. There's irony to burn, from unexpected early Clinton supporters (former GOP standard bearer Barry Goldwater) and the blatant moral hypocrisy of his Congressional accusers to the Supreme Court's sole dissenting voice in arguments to reinstate the Special Prosecutor statute, Justice Scalia (who presciently warned it could easily become the tool of political witch hunts), and the heretical notion that the Clintons may have been the least cynical players in the entire drama; they certainly seem it's most tragically human. It's hardly surprising that much of the Washington news establishment has attacked Blumenthal's tome with equal ferocity; in Blumenthal's telling, the D.C. press corps that zealously safeguarded democracy during Watergate had by the advent of Clinton devolved into an insular faux aristocracy resentful of perceived carpetbaggers (especially from Arkansas) and suckers for any politically-motivated leak, rumor, or innuendo that might give them a leg up on the competition. The media's inept handling of the story is even more ironic considering much of what Blumenthal does here derives from the simple advice Watergate informer "Deep Throat" gave reporters during that crisis: "Follow the money." --Jerry McCulley

From the Inside Flap:

"Not only is [Blumenthal’s] book a roaring good read, it is extremely educational and should have a lasting effect on people’s understanding of many of the events of the 1990s." —William Jefferson Clinton

"Agree with him or not, I don’t see how anyone can expect to understand the political history of the past decade without reading [Blumenthal’s] new book." —Eric Alterman, author of What Liberal Media?

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