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March 11, 2006


(paying the price for the Clinton years)
Rich Lowry – ISBN 0-895260492

Not altogether unlike 1968 (reviewed in January), wherein Kurlansky resurrects the happenings of that year, Lowry reviews, and reminds us of the Clinton years. It is, indeed, the antidote to the misrepresentations and spin of that era. And it is much more!

A hard hitting, witty, acerbic and critical appraisal of the Clinton presidency, he offers the best yet summing of that period. History, while best studied some 50 years after the fact, is still based upon contemporary reports, and Lowry goes a long way into laying the groundwork for those who will use it as a source 50 years hence. Published in 2003, it was issued in paperback in 2005.

Thruout, I was reminded of the comment made early in the Clinton administration by the columnist George Will, that some seek the presidency to do something . . . others to be someone. Legacy speaks volumes about that, without ever mentioning it.

Lowry expands upon Morris’ Because He Could (reviewed in November.) His “take” on the subject is more comprehensive--and less complimentary--but Lowry does “allow” that Clinton was not a total disaster. He shares with Morris the sense that he could have been far better. Indeed, as a centrist Democrat Clinton could have made a very real difference if not for his character faults and his “mindless excesses” which compromised his effectiveness. Perhaps the most unfortunate fact, in the end, is that Clinton didn’t matter nearly as much as he might have. “He sought to bury his personal failings beneath his own inconsequence. Mission accomplished.”

Beyond his inability to achieve much domestically—and most of that forced upon him by Gingrich and the “94 Republicans”--his reluctance to seriously engage the foreign policy issues set the stage for the current problems with Iran, North Korea, and terrorism, to mention but a few. None, to be sure, were Clinton’s fault, but by kicking the can down the road he left us with the serious problems which we now face.

Lowry carefully reviews the details of myriad failings, including the first Twin Tower bombing, Rwanda, immigration control, airport security, etc. Nonetheless he gives credit where due, with Bosnia: dealt with belatedly, but at least dealt with. “Peace deals,” Arafat, missed opportunities to capture bin Laden, the “final days”, including pardons and the rest are dissected.

Of course he deals with Hillary, but beyond direct impact she is not the primary subject of the book. He does, however, emphasize the relevance of Clinton to the recent decade’s “feminization” of the military and America, and upon the rampant sexualization of our culture. Again, he is not the proximate cause, but is the near-perfect representative thereof.

“In December 1997 Clinton complained to the New York Times about how history seemed determined to rob him of a great crisis from which he could gain a great legacy. . . . [yet] A terrorist network had nearly leveled two American embassies simultaneously. He responded with a whimper.” As well, he was offered bin Laden by the Sudan, but couldn’t imagine a “legal way” to claim that capture, and the USS Cole was attacked on his watch, an act of war over which he did nothing. What Clinton accomplished is dwarfed by what he avoided.

Overall a good read, especially when paired with Morris. Good reportage by both.

Posted by respeto at March 11, 2006 9:29 AM