...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

July 18, 2004

My Life, Preliminary Impressions

i've been slogging my way through My Life, by Bill Clinton for the last week or so. i'm about 90 pages into it. The book is written in casual prose, almost like a blog, and it's easily accessible to the least common denominator. Anyone expecting multi-syllable words and complex sentences from this "Rhodes Scholar" will be disappointed. Clinton is a competent writer, but he's no Thomas Jefferson. He's not even a Theodore Roosevelt. Further proof to my mind that those fawning ignorami who insist that he was "our smartest president" are way off base.

Clinton delights in naming people he knew as a young man, probably for their own benefit, so they can point to the book and say "hey, I'm in it," or "hey, my dad/brother/sister is in it." The first few chapters are full of anecdotes that are only marginally interesting: Bill's boyhood encounter with an angry ram, the famous confrontations with his abusive stepfather, the famous handshake with President Kennedy, the time Bill's car got stuck in the mud at a bauxite quarry.

i'm no fan of Clinton as a president. He had some successes in office, but lord knows he hurt this country in many ways, which we are only now beginning to fully realize. But as a man, as a historical character, he fascinates me. Like Henry VIII, he's a tragic leader who cannot be ignored if you have any real interest in history. And like King Henry, Bill Clinton was a sincere idealist, who left his country in a mess because he let his cock do more thinking than his head.

At this early stage in my reading, i thought it might be fun to see what Clinton had to say about the man who aspires to carry on his progressive Democratic legacy. i'm talking about the presumptive Democratic nominee for president at the time of the book's celebrated release: Massachussets senator John Kerry. As you may have heard, Clinton's book damns Kerry with faint praise. Actually there's almost no praise at all.

According to the index, John Kerry is mentioned only seven times, despite his being a "prominent" United States senator since 1985, throughout the entirety of Clinton's two terms. By contrast, Senator John McCain is mentioned eleven times. The other Kerry, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, earned seventeen mentions in Clinton's index despite having been senator for only eleven years compared to John Kerry's twenty years. In fact, all but one of John Kerry's seven apearances in President Clinton's book are in passages where he's only one name in a list of names.

Here are the seven passages that mention the "prominent" senator from Massachussets, John Kerry:

. . . America's efforts to reconcile and normalize relations with Vietnam were led by distinguished Vietnam veterans in Congress, like Chuck Robb, John McCain, John Kerry, Bob Kerrey, Chuck Hegel, and Pete Peterson, men who had more than paid their dues and had nothing to hide or prove. [p. 161]

. . .

There was support in Congress from her brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, Senators Chris Dodd, Pat Moynihan, and John Kerry; and New York congressmen Peter King and Tom Manton. [pp. 578-579]

. . .

My decision was strongly supported by Vietnam veterans in Congress, especially Senators John Kerry, Bob Kerrey, and John McCain, and Congressman Pete Peterson of Florida, who had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than six years. [p. 581]

. . .

After the meeting I went to Boston for a fund-raiser for Senator John Kerry, who was up for reelection and would likely face a tough opponent in Governor Bill Weld. I had a good relationship with Weld, perhaps the most progressive of all the Republican governors, but I didn't want to lose Kerry in the Senate. He was one of the Senate's leading authorities on the environment and high technology. He had also devoted an extraordinary amount of time to the problem of youth violence, an issue he had cared about since his days as a prosecutor. Caring about an issue in which there are no votes today but which will have a big impact on the future is a very good quality in a politician. [p. 659]

. . .

. . . [I]n July[,] I normalized relations with Vietnam, with the strong support of most Vietnam veterans in Congress, including John McCain, Bob Kerrey, John Kerry, Chuck Robb, and Pete Peterson . . . [p. 665]

. . .

At the end of the month, I announced that the Veteran's Administration would provide compensation to Vietnam veterans for a series of severe illnesses . . . that were associated with exposure to Agent Orange, a cause long championed by Vietnam veterans, Senators John Kerry and John McCain, and by the late Admiral Bud Zumwalt. [pp. 713-714]

. . .

. . . [F]our of the seven Senate candidates I had campaigned for won: Tom Harkin, Tim Johnson, John Kerry, and, in Louisiana, Mary Landrieu. [p. 734]

Besides repeating the "little-known fact" that John Kerry served in Vietnam, the best Clinton can muster is to say that Kerry knows a lot about technology and the environment. Actually, i thought that was Al Gore's bailiwick.

Sure, one might attribute the lack of extended praise to the mighty Clinton ego, but if you look elsewhere in the book you will find paragraph after paragraph where Clinton ladles extravagant compliments over the most minor characters in his life. i would think he'd have spent a little more time on the "next Democratic president of the United States" if he had really wanted to.

Then again, it's very likely that Clinton has someone else in mind to be the next Democratic president. Who could that be? Hmmmm . . . i don't know . . . Let me see . . . could it be . . . Satan?

Posted by annika, Jul. 18, 2004 |
Rubric: History


It raises a number of interesting questions, including the main point I keep trying to make:

Who on earth is the GOP going to run in 2008? The bench doesn't have any obvious young stars right now, unless folks really think the world is ready for a black woman (Rice) as president. Colin Powell is way too liberal for the hard right. Cheney is a non-starter. You have to have a pro-lifer, which knocks out Giuliani and Schwarzenegger, even if the latter can get a new constitutional amendment through. Jebbie? Not a chance, not with the infidelity issue so clear.

Posted by: Hugo on Jul. 18, 2004

Kerry a leading authority on technology? The man wants to prohibit the new manufacture of a class of firearms that are functionally no different than what was being made in the early 1900's. Assholes like him would replace the MAG-58 with a Vickers if left to his own devices.

But one thing you should keep in mind about the book: Herr Klinton is nothing if not egotistical. Any mention of anyone else will either be used to demonstrate his humility or to serve some other purpose. Don't be too shocked if he doesn't wax poetic about anyone to any degree that would overshadow him - unless of course he either A: would seem like an asshole in not doing it (i.e. talking of JFK fondly) or B: he can use it to cash in on something down the road.

The praise of seemingly minor characters in his life is easy: they pose no threat or challenge to him while bolstering his image as a "people person" (more or less). Odds are you wont' find anything so generous concerning someone he views as a rival.

I assume you've read Rand, Locke & others of similar mind so for an anti-dote after you're through reading Bill's book might I recommend something by John Ross or Boston T. Party? There are the almost polar opposite of any liberal/socilaist books flaoting around - possibly to the point where the ocnservative in you would find them extreme, but a little extremity is good for ya.

BTW, you do realize by mentioning that you're fascinated with slick willy you're just reinforcing your pro-lizard stance don't ya? :D

Posted by: Publicola on Jul. 18, 2004

I KNEW she looked familiar!!

Posted by: Brent on Jul. 18, 2004

Clinton isn't a "Rhodes Scholar" any more than Annika is an admiral. He dropped out. Only people who finished the program are entitled to that title.

Posted by: Eric M. Johnson on Jul. 18, 2004

"Clinton is a competent writer, but he's no Thomas Jefferson."

And TJ didn't even have the army of ghost writers that one presumes did most of Bill's real work.

Posted by: Dave J on Jul. 19, 2004

Kerry shows up seven times in Clinton's book? Wow! I think that's more than he showed up for critical votes in the Senate last year, and probably a few more times than Slick and Satan were actually seen together in public (er, I mean Santa).

Posted by: d-rod on Jul. 19, 2004

So when you are done with the book, I offer $5 (plus shipping) for you to send it to me, so I can be highly entertained as well : ) Since, you don't want to KEEP it do you? : )

Posted by: Jennifer on Jul. 19, 2004

Maybe he tried to dumb the book down so his fans could read it? ;) Just one idea, LOL. And that was one great photo there -- scary.

Posted by: 2flower on Jul. 21, 2004