The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House
John F. Harris
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The definitive account of one of the most accomplished, controversial, and polarizing figures in American history
Bill 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. But with the Cold War recently concluded and the country coming off a nearly uninterrupted generation of Republican presidents, the new president’s entry into this maelstrom of events was tumultuous. His troubles were exacerbated by the habits, personal contacts, and the management style, he had developed in his years as governor of Arkansas. Clinton’s enthusiasm and temper were legendary, and he and Hillary Rodham Clinton–whose ambitions and ordeals also fill these pages–arrived filled with mistrust about many of the characters who greeted them in the “permanent Washington” that often holds the reins in the nation’s capital.
Showing surprising doggedness and a deep-set desire to govern from the middle, Clinton repeatedly rose to the challenges; eventually winning over (or running over) political adversaries on both sides of the aisle–sometimes facing as much skepticism from fellow Democrats as from his Republican foes. But as Harris shows in his accounts of political debacles such as the attempted overhaul of health care, Clinton’s frustrations in the war against terrorism, and the numerous personal controversies that time and again threatened to consume his presidency, Bill Clinton could never manage to outrun his tendency to favor conciliation over clarity, or his own destructive appetites.
The Survivor is the best kind of history, a book filled with major revelations–the tense dynamic of the Clinton inner circle and Clinton’s professional symbiosis with Al Gore to the imprint of Clinton’s immense personality on domestic and foreign affairs–as well as the minor details that leaven all great political narratives. This long-awaited synthesis of the dominant themes, events, and personalities of the Clinton years will stand as the authoritative and lasting work on the Clinton Presidency.
From the Hardcover edition.
Republican. Clinton was appalled at what seemed to be the patty-cake treatment given to Powell by the same news media that was hazing the president daily. “They’re giving him such a free ride, it’s ridiculous,” he complained to Morris. “He comes on TV like a saint, and those white liberal guilty reporters are so awestruck that they won’t ask him a damn question.” The consultant felt sure Powell would not run. The retired general could not win the election as an independent, the data showed. He
appointment, Clinton called Freeh an “amazing man,” and “my kind of guy.” Nussbaum’s last words to Vincent Foster Jr., on the morning of Freeh’s appointment and the day Foster took his life, were to remark about how the pick was a “home run.” Clinton chose Freeh after a warm two-hour White House interview that left both men thinking they had hit it off wonderfully. Freeh was a devoted Catholic and family man. One misgiving he had about the job, he told Clinton, was whether it would leave him with
answers to congressional inquiries. It galled him to make such an admission, just as it had earlier galled him to pay a fine to Judge Susan Webber Wright for his false answers in the Jones case. Clinton’s worst decisions were often the result of two factors: grievance and fatigue. Both were weighing heavily on his last night in the White House, a virtual all-nighter. He had resolved in his final weeks in office to use the presidential pardon power aggressively. There were a great number of
few days before the election that the opposition was “the enemy of normal Americans.” And within days after his victory he was denouncing both Clintons as “counterculture McGovernicks.” Citing no evidence, he alleged that 25 percent of the Clinton staff had used drugs shortly before joining the White House. Gingrich’s swagger suggested another similarity with his rivals. Like the Clintons’ misreading of their 1992 victory as a mandate for an ambitious brand of progressivism, Gingrich was reading
doing—preaching the virtues of cooperation, looking for a way to reform welfare, and pushing tax credits for education. Among the people in the audience that day were several with a better claim than he had to speculate about what FDR would be fighting for in 1995. One of them was John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard economist who as a young man had served in the New Deal. Another was a Roosevelt biographer, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who later went on to serve in the White House of Clinton’s other