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The Clinton Wars
Cover of The Clinton Wars
The Clinton Wars
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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term draws on his experiences as confidant to both the President and the First Lady, and is enriched with previously unpublished revelations about both.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.

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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  • Copyright © 2003 by Sidney Blumenthal All rights reserved


    ONE

    The Challenge to the Old Order

    I

    Bill Clinton had been president for only a few weeks, less than half of the fabled First Hundred Days by which all presidents have been early judged since Franklin D. Roosevelt's first burst of the New Deal. "Action, action, and more action," FDR had demanded. Now it was March 1993, sixty years later, and President Clinton was coming to Hyde Park.

    I arrived early because I wanted to wander around Roosevelt's presidential library to soak up the atmosphere before the clamorous entourage wheeled in. Usually, the press corps traveling with the president misses any sense of place. The media are everywhere and nowhere at once. Acrobats in the circus get to see more of where they are while the tent is pitched. The press corps lives with the motorcade. My White House pass, showing that I represented The New Yorker magazine, got me quickly past the checkpoints of the local police and the sentries of the Secret Service. Their cordon for the new president made this plot of land something of a sanctuary, untrammeled by tourists or even stray scholars burrowing in the yellowing archives.

    The cold gray sky cast no shadows down the long lawn stretching from the road to the single-story library. I walked undisturbed and alone past the exhibits. The whole Roosevelt life was encapsulated there. A bronzed statue of the lanky, carefree boy Franklin lounged on his back. Campaign buttons and banners traced the journey from the New York state senate to his last race for the presidency in 1944. Around the corner was the matter-of-fact typewritten letter from Albert Einstein in 1939 urging Roosevelt to develop an atomic bomb before the Nazis did. The artifacts displayed in the old oak cases were like pieces of bone in a natural history museum. The fragments could just hint at the passions, hatreds, and turmoil aroused by the squire who often conducted the swirling business of the nation from his serene Hudson Valley estate. Neatly contained, row after row, from beginning to end, from bucolic boyhood to world statesman, here it was: the past under glass. The story has been drummed into us as though foretold. Every chapter makes complete sense because we know every twist and turn, including the death of the President near Easter in 1945 on the eve of a redemptive victory in war, as Lincoln's death had been. The story, told in retrospect through our parents' lives in the Depression and the Second World War, remains vibrant in almost every family.

    But to those who bore its responsibilities, much of this story of an American president appeared as an unlit passage, and the ghosts were not speaking. Their silence was a false signal that what had occurred before was, if not simpler, then always clearer to those working their way through the events. Roosevelt and those around him, even those in his "brain trust" who had been ascribed omniscient understanding, could not predict the storms that would envelop them. No matter how bold their devices, they were constantly disrupted and recast. The president and his advisers could not see around every turn or know when dangerous obstacles might suddenly appear. Often, they could not predict the consequences of their own plans. Exactly what destiny they would arrive at and by what rendezvous they could not say. It is easy to imagine the past as an epic, like a movie seamlessly edited and comfortably paced; it is hard to imagine it as it was experienced. No matter how vivid a vision of the future one may have, the real future is always wrapped in obscurity.

    I could hear my own footsteps as I walked past black-and-white photographs of FDR grandly gesturing to roaring crowds....

About the Author-
  • Sidney Blumenthal wrote for The Washington Post and The New Yorker before serving as assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton from August 1997 until January 2001. He is the author of several books, including The Permanent Campaign, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, and Pledging Allegiance: The Last Campaign of the Cold War. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife; they have two sons.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 1, 2003
    Blumenthal's 800-page gorilla of a book is the former Clinton adviser's indictment of his, and his boss's, pursuers: Republicans in Congress, Kenneth Starr and his minions and the journalists he says were their patsies. It's also a defense of his own role in the Clinton scandals and a loyal account of Clinton's presidency as a highly successful one dedicated to progressive values. The heart of the book is an often tediously detailed account of the Whitewater investigation, the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment, in which his own role was notable-accused of smearing the opposition, he was known to the anti-Clintonites as "Sid Vicious" and was the only presidential aide called to a deposition at the Senate impeachment hearings (which culminate in a hilarious "Alice in Wonderland" q&a session). The scandals are sandwiched between drier, partisan accounts of Clinton's policies and actions both before and after impeachment, but with only rare glimpses of Clinton the man. Blumenthal argues that there was "an Italianate conspiracy" arrayed against Clinton, "an intricate, covert, amoral operation bent on power," funded by Richard Mellon Scaife and fronted by a ruthlessly vindictive Starr. But Blumenthal is most damning about his onetime colleagues in the press (he wrote for the New Republic and the Washington Post); journalists admitted to him, he says, that they couldn't criticize Starr because they needed leaks from his staff for their stories. Blumenthal paints nasty portraits of Matt Drudge (who accused him of wife-beating), the late Michael Kelly (who here displays an irrational hatred of him) and Christopher Hitchens ("capable of doing harm without conscience or regret"). Often fascinating and undoubtedly controversial, Blumenthal's book will receive much media attention, but most readers will wish it were a whole lot shorter.

  • -Robert Dallek, The New York Times Book Review
    "A welcome addition to the literature on Bill Clinton's tumultuous second term . . . Blumenthal brings a reporter's keen eye for telling detail and a columnist's talent for considered analysis and unmistakable opinion to his reconstruction of what he calls 'the Clinton wars' . . . Powerful . . . Persuasive . . . For anyone who wants to revisit the political acrimony of the Clinton years, Blumenthal's book is the place to begin."
  • -Adrienne Miller, Esquire "A riveting read . . . Blumenthal's account of the 'right wing conspiracy' which sought to annihilate Clinton is both chilling and irrefutable."
  • -Adam Joyce, Associated Press "Uncompromising and compelling."
  • -Eric Alterman, MSNBC News "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."
  • -Martin Walker, United Press International "Terrific and engaging . . . It reflects the extraordinary contradictions and gargantuan follies and achievements of the Clinton years."
  • -Andrew Sullivan, The New York Observer "Brutally revealing."
  • -Bill Bell, Daily News "There hasn't been this much anticipatory buzz about a political memoir in years, and for once, it is justified."
  • -Jack Bass, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Provides the first full sweep of the Clinton presidency, as told by an insider . . . Blumenthal tells it all."
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    Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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