Long before Barack Obama used "hope" as a campaign slogan, there was "The Man From Hope," Bill Clinton. Some argued that coming from a poor Southern background, Bubba was the first "black" president. Whatever the case, he's pretty darned smart. I don't always agree, but like Christopher Hitchens, I'd hate to face him in a public debate.
I just finished Clinton's latest book, Back to Work. He spends quite a few pages in the book defending his record as president and comparing it presidents both before and after him. Honestly, he comes off pretty good. Which, frankly, is a bit surprising. You'd be hard-pressed to find a guy who did more to torpedo his own administration.
Clinton's first act in office was an attempt to remove the ban on gays serving in the military. An immediate and fierce backlash wound up with the compromise that nobody liked: Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Bubba followed that up with his attempt to create a single payer health care system. Geez, talk about biting off more than you can chew! He and Hillary spent a lot of time and capital on that project and walked away with nothing. It seemed that the Clintons took some time to adjust to how to govern at the federal level. Starting out with two controversial topics may not have been the best way to bring critics over to their side.
Of course, the most damaging thing ol' Slick Willy did was his failure to keep his libido in check. That created such a distraction that many of his young, eager staff quit in disgust. Much of his second term was spent dealing with Ken Starr and the pending impeachment.
So, when you look back at the record he left, it really is impressive that he was able to govern at all. Of course, he concedes that he was the beneficiary of some fortunate timing, but Bubba is going to let all the credit slip away that easily. As he likes to do, Clinton overwhelms you in this book with statistics and examples proving his point. It is a mountain of evidence that makes it difficult to disagree.
However, the point of the book is not to defend his reputation but to argue for a way to the country to move forward. In contrast with his own policies, he describes the anti-government policies of the conservative Right. Again, he piles on the statistics to demonstrate that government isn't always a bad thing. He also compares our progress as a nation against our industrialized competition, and we don't come off looking so hot.
Despite being a loyal Democrat, he argues for bipartisanship and the desire to find ideas that work regardless of their origin. So, he borrows some policies from cities, states, Republicans (even Newt Gingrich), Democrats, and countries around the world. He puts these together into a vision of how the US can catch up and regain our leadership position.
It's a compelling argument. Let's face it, whether you like the dude or not, Bubba's pretty smart. He is willing to acknowledge the smart folks on the other side of the aisle and gets a little concerned about those folks who stick so strongly to their own ideology that they are unwilling to listen to anyone else.
Anywho, Bill Clinton is not my own personal favorite politician, but this book is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in where the US is today and how we can be better. It provides some encouragement to us folks who feel like the system is forever broken. Bubba holds out some hope that we can all work together again.
I give it 4-and-a-half stars,
Stevie Joe Parker