The definitive account of one of the most accomplished, controversial, and polarizing figures in American historyBill Clinton is the most arresting leader of his generation. He transformed American politics, and his eight years as president spawned arguments that continue to resonate. For all that has been written about this singular personality-including Clinton's own massive autobiography-there has been no comprehensive, nonpartisan overview of the Clinton presidency. Few writers are as qualified and equipped to tackle this vast subject as the award-winning veteran Washington Post correspondent John F. Harris, who covered Clinton for six of his eight years in office-as long as any reporter for a major newspaper. In The Survivor, Harris frames the historical debate about President William Jefferson Clinton, by revealing the inner workings of the Clinton White House and providing the first objective analysis of Clinton's leadership and its consequences.Harris shows Clinton entering the Oval Office in 1993 primed to make history.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Harris, who covered the Clinton presidency for the Washington Post from 1995 to 2001, uses that experience to write the best and most impartial investigation of the administration to date. Clinton spent much more time and political capital fighting to survive scandals of his own making and the congressional conservative onslaught than he spent advancing his own moderately progressive agenda, concludes Harris. A fascinating discussion arrives at the arguable conclusion, further, that Bill and Hillary Clinton were both hated by their non-supporters not because they were Democrats but because of the first couple's assumed "pious" posturing. The author also says that had Clinton begun his administration by seeking welfare reform, which had bipartisan support, rather than with a radical attempt at universal healthcare, he might have avoided the Republican takeover of Congress led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1994. While Clinton's presidential reputation remains unsettled, Harris laudshim for deficit reduction, large-scale job creation, and an engaging populist style that connected with the public. However, his flaws and the difficulty of being a progressive president in a conservative era tarnished his legacy. This illuminating investigation, along with David Maraniss's First in His Class, provides the most authoritative accounts of the roots and presidency of Bill Clinton. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Karl Helicher,Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 30, 2005
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Excerpt from The Survivor by John F. Harris
Bells OF Hope
Gong! Gong! Gong! From coast to coast, and even in outer space, bells would ring for America's new leader. That was the plan. As Bill Clinton finished the grinding work of his transition in Little Rock, the impresarios of his inaugural festivities were in Washington dreaming of grand ways to launch the celebration. The result was an idea of breathtaking presumption: the "Bells of Hope." Clinton thought it was splendid.
At 6 p.m. on January 17, 1993, just after the president-elect crossed Memorial Bridge over the Potomac and into Washington, citizens of the Republic were invited to let loose with chimes. Orbiting above the earth, astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour were encouraged to do the same.
The president-elect and his wife devoutly believed that the results of the 1992 election had been a cleansing event in national life, well worthy of bells. Except there was a problem. Nearly 60 percent of the American electorate had voted for someone other than Bill Clinton. Many in the 43 percent who backed him did so only after swallowing doubts. That left few who regarded Clinton's ascension to power as an occasion for a clanging continental catharsis. The Bells of Hope rang in less celebration than the Clintons had hoped. Loyal Democrats joined in, and the National Park Service dutifully struck the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. NASA, though, informed the inaugural planners that the astronauts would be asleep at the assigned hour. A compromise allowed them to record their bell-ringing in advance, with the video played on large screens in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Mainly, echoing gongs announced the illusions of Washington's new team. "The bell-ringing seemed a little pretentious to hail great change--when the evidence mounts that there will be precious little," wrote Mary McGrory, grande dame of liberal commentators, in her column in the Washington Post the next day.
McGrory's sour review reflected the oddly conflicted mood of Washington that January. The capital was charged with excitement and anticipation on the eve of the inauguration, awaiting the fresh flow of energy and ideas that inevitably accompanies a new administration. Even in a city of cynics, the formal transfer of power, democracy's most sacred ritual, commands a measure of reverence. Yet the news from recent days had made plain that Clinton was bleeding power even before he assumed it. Instead of having the clean start customarily afforded new presidents, Clinton arrived in Washington deeply stained by wounds taken during his departure from Little Rock, wounds that caused new doubts about whether the president-elect was a man of his word. This credibility crisis was not about extramarital affairs or a draft history; it was about the foundations of the agenda on which Clinton had run.