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The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton


The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton

It is nearly impossible to think objectively about Bill Clinton,
the man or his administration. In THE NATURAL, Joe Klein, the
once-anonymous author of PRIMARY COLORS, gives us a concise,
balanced history of the Clinton presidency. He provides a fair
account of Bill Clinton: we are not spared his self-pity or the
scale of his appetites and indulgences, but we also see the
seriousness and vision he brought to the nation's leadership.

The Clinton administration had a rocky beginning, noted for its
naïve political blunders. Remember Travelgate? How about the
mere possibility of universal health care? The Clintons relied
heavily on their friends, who were not always the wisest or most
capable choices. One of the strengths of THE NATURAL is its
portrayal of key relationships. We learn a lot about the former
president through Mr. Klein's account of his complex marriage and
Mrs. Clinton's formidable, imperfect influence. He also describes
the similarities and differences between Bill Clinton and Newt
Gingrich, who led the failed Republican revolution and masterminded
one of the nastiest, most counter-productive political arenas in
American history.

It is unfortunate that Bill Clinton's comprehensive understanding
of economics will not be what history remembers about his
presidency. Mr. Klein points out that balancing the budget was a
tremendous gamble and the budget surplus Clinton left the next
administration was unprecedented. His sound policies --- welfare
reform, Internet commerce, the earned income tax credit ---
provided a base for financial prosperity that we are unlikely to
see again. One of the melancholy notes of the book is the sense of
squandered talent and opportunity. What else might Bill Clinton
have accomplished if he had not been so distracted?

Bill Clinton was under constant attack from the right wing and the
scandal-hungry media. He fended off investigations into his
avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War, his use of
marijuana, his finances, his extramarital affairs, his wife's law
practice and not one of the fanatics determined to destroy him made
the slightest impact until he lied under oath about his affair with
a White House intern. Why did he give his assailants such a wealth
of ammunition to use against him? How could such a smart man make
such a stupid mistake? We may never know what he was thinking, but
the disappointment and disillusionment of the president's staff and
supporters practically soak through the page.

The strange thing about THE NATURAL is how distant the Clinton
presidency seems. September 11, 2001 was a moment of such enormous
import in American history that the overwrought peccadilloes Bill
Clinton became known for now seem trivial. Bill Clinton never faced
a challenge to the presidency like al-Qaeda's attacks; he made his
own challenges. It will take a much longer, more in-depth book to
really examine Bill Clinton's complicated character, but THE
NATURAL captures his administration, a time that is simultaneously
recent history and a long time ago.

Reviewed by Colleen Quinn ( on January 22, 2011

The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton
by Joe Klein

  • Publication Date: February 11, 2003
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway
  • ISBN-10: 0767914120
  • ISBN-13: 9780767914123