Inside the Clinton White House,
by Bob Woodward
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
This book is a lot of "inside baseball": painstaking details about the political process inside the White House, including how each protagonist felt and emoted about each phase of each issue. It's the sort of book that OnTheIssues hates -- it interests pundits and insiders, and disgusts normal voters. This one is better than most, because the author is Bob Woodward, one of the insiderest of insiders (he broke the Watergate scandal). But it's still full of the self-importance of "Look who I have access to!" and "See, I can write about the daily details from several different people's perspectives!" Who cares? We all know the process is disgusting; why disgust us more?
As an example, pp. 150 through 161 details one bill's route through Congress, sort of like the old educational TV clip, "I'm just a bill, sittin' here on Capitol Hill," except written for grown-ups and occupying many thousands of words instead of a snippy song. Woodward covers the inner workings of the White House, AND their strategy for the House, AND their separate strategy for the Senate.
Another section details minute by minute a particular vote in the House. Yes, literally, minute by minute, with the number of minutes remaining counted down interminably, and then just when you think it might be over, the customary 15-minute delay is tacked on, and another minute-by-minute countdown ensues. Evidently WHEN in the voting sequence a Member of Congress votes matters a lot to Members of Congress -- they promise "I won't kill the bill," which really means "I won't be the deciding vote against it", and the deciding vote is determined only when enough other votes have been cast or have not been cast. And evidently "momentum" counts too, since with the final dozen holdouts in that minute-by-minute countdown, several of those members might have promised Clinton they'd vote Yes only if needed (i.e., they'd make their constituents happy, and their re-election chances better, by voting No, unless the vote would otherwise lose), and some members might amend their votes too. Yikes.
From Woodward's perspective, this level of detail exposes the detailed process that citizens never otherwise get to see. In his introduction, Woodward notes that this book spans the realms of "news" and "history." Yes, it feels like an historical record -- perhaps it will become relevant to future historians at which meeting which participants got ill, or which cusswords Clinton used when bawling out which Cabinet member at that same event, and whether the cusswords were related to the illnesses. As Woodward also notes in the introduction, sometimes he interviewed 10 people up to 20 times to get those sorts of details of each such event accurately recorded. Yikes again.
It's just too much detail for anyone except consummate insiders. Look elsewhere if you want to read about Clinton or Gore.
-- Jesse Gordon, jesse@OnTheIssues.org, July 2012
Woodward has several other books excerpted by OnTheIssues, some of which are a little less tedious to read:
- The Choice: How Bill Clinton Won (2005)
- State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (2006)
- Plan of Attack: Bush at War, Part II (2004)
- Bush At War (2002)
- Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate (1999)
| OnTheIssues.org excerpts: (click on issues for details)
Budget & Economy|
Bill Bradley: Disappointed, but voted for Clinton economic recovery plan.
Bill Clinton: Drew from Robert Reich's book "The Work of Nations".
Bill Clinton: Cut the deficit in half over four years.
Bill Clinton: Reich's "human capital theory" became "Putting People First".
Bill Clinton: Economic recovery: "We're all in this together".
Bill Clinton: Raise short-term rates to keep long-term interest rates low.
Bob Kerrey: Shift the country away from consumption, to savings.
Dick Gephardt: To Clinton: Inform Congress about plans but also priorities.
Jimmy Carter: OpEd: Lacked understanding of bond market.
Robert Reich: A nation has only two resources: workers & infrastructure.
Robert Reich: Economic Security Council to coordinate from White House.
Robert Reich: Headed Clinton's economic transition policy team.
Ross Perot: OpEd: Balanced budget mania swept country in 1992.
Zell Miller: Avoid elitist social issues; return to economic populism.
Hillary Clinton: Angry at unacceptable acquiescence to greed in the 1980s.
Bill Clinton: Sister Souljah accepting LA riots was racist.
Hillary Clinton: Long journey for reform, not isolated initiatives.
Energy & Oil|
Al Gore: Broad-based energy tax to help the environment.
Al Gore: Gas tax should be higher than 4.3 cents per gallon, & wider.
Bill Clinton: Gasoline tax acceptable; BTU tax better.
Bob Kerrey: Gas tax should be 7 cents per gallon, not 4.3 cents.
Pat Moynihan: BTU tax on all fuels is just too complicated.
Bill Clinton: Eliminate tax subsidy for doing business in Puerto Rico.
Pat Moynihan: Maintain tax subsidy for doing business in Puerto Rico.
Bill Clinton: We cannot get deficit to zero until we address health costs.
Hillary Clinton: $100B to get started on healthcare reform.
John Rockefeller: $100B on healthcare reform requires large new unpopular tax.
Robert Reich: Put theory into practice as Clinton's Labor Secretary.
Principles & Values|
Al Gore: Reputation for uncommon earnestness and studiousness.
Al Gore: 1987: Only southern moderates can unite Democratic Party.
Bill Clinton: 1991: Led "New Democrats" who rejected liberal orthodoxy.
Bill Clinton: 1988: Stayed neutral on Al Gore vs. Mike Dukakis primary.
Bill Clinton: Hope and opportunity: broad themes for presidency.
Bill Clinton: $200 haircut scandal: accused of delaying airline flights.
Rev. Jesse Jackson: Outlined assets he would bring as Clinton's Vice President.
Ross Perot: 1992: Appropriated Bill Clinton's theme of "change".
Ross Perot: OpEd: Quitter for exiting presidential race; then re-entered.
Al Gore: Delaying Social Security COLA increase should be an option.
Hillary Clinton: Elderly poor are hit hardest by delays in COLA increases.
Bill Clinton: New Covenant for Economic Change: middle class tax cuts.
Bill Clinton: Refused pledge for middle-class tax cut.
Bob Dole: As Senate leader, became more conservative on taxes.
George Bush Sr.: OpEd: 1990 taxes caused right wing to rise up against Bush.
Robert Reich: Deficit reduction must include investments and growth.
Bill Clinton: Jump start economy by fast-track highway & loan spending.
War & Peace|
Bob Kerrey: Won Congressional Medal of Honor but later opposed the war.
Welfare & Poverty|
Bob Kerrey: Opposed Clinton plan because it didn't address entitlements.
Robert Reich: Guaranteed federal retraining for poor unemployed.
The above quotations are from The Agenda
Inside the Clinton White House,
by Bob Woodward.