Surprised? It’s all Bill, all the time
Ever since former President Bill Clinton launched his autobiography, “My Life,” almost two weeks ago, it’s been all Clinton all the time in the national media – a full hour on “60 Minutes,” the cover of Time magazine etc. etc. I’m sick of it but probably not as sick as Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, who suffers in silence while Clinton sucks the oxygen out of the senator’s struggling presidential election campaign.
That’s why I feel some sympathy for the Massachusetts senator, who has scarcely been seen or heard from since ex-President Ronald Reagan died last month; that’s when Kerry suspended his campaign and went off on vacation. Basically, Kerry disappeared from public view while the high-profile Clinton book tour hogged the national media spotlight during the runup to the Democratic national convention.
But that’s the story of Clinton’s life; it’s all about him and he’s doing what he most enjoys – talking about himself in search of a legacy that doesn’t begin and end with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Besides, he doesn’t care if Kerry loses because if he does, that will clear the way for his wife, Hillary, to run for president in 2008.
The reviews of “My Life” have been devastating. The 957-page book “is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull,” wrote New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani. “In many ways, the book is a mirror of Mr. Clinton’s presidency: lack of discipline leading to squandered opportunities; high expectations undermined by self-indulgence, and scattered concentration.” Ouch! And this from a liberal newspaper that usually loves Democrats almost as much as it loves advertising revenue.
Reviewer Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times, another Democratic daily, said the book is “fascinating but ultimately unsatisfying” because large sections of it “read as if the former president simply sat with his office diaries and filled in everything he could remember about a particular day.”
An Associated Press reviewer wrote that it was like “being locked in a small room with a very gregarious man who insists on reading his entire appointment book, day by day, beginning in 1946.” Would you spend $35 to read about the shaving habits of the former president’s high school math teacher? Me neither. On the conservative side of the political spectrum, Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes dismissed Clinton as “Calvin Coolidge without the ethics and the self-restraint.”
Nevertheless, hysterical Bubba fans shouted “Bill, we love you,” as they lined up outside bookstores all over the country when “My Life” went on sale 12 days ago. Clinton has signed thousands of books in a national media blitz designed to recoup the $10 million advance that his publisher, Barnes & Noble, paid him to write the opus. “I hope this book will in some way be a gift to black America,” Clinton said with lip-biting sincerity as he signed books in Harlem.
The AP reported that one young New York City woman “was in tears, speechless, after her book was signed” by the Great Man himself. “Another woman was heard telling her friend, ‘That was intense. Oh, my God!'” For them, $35 was a small price to pay in order to be in the presence of such greatness. It looked and sounded like a Kobe Bryant rally. “Kobe, we love you!” … that sort of thing. Of course the NBA basketball star is charged with rape while Clinton’s legal transgressions were limited to lying under oath and obstructing justice, so there’s a difference. He avoided the rape charge.
As expected, Clinton casts himself as the victim in the Monica Lewinsky saga. He’s the victim, Independent Counsel Ken Starr is the villain and “that woman” is scarcely worth mentioning. In his book, Clinton admits that his tawdry Oval Office affair with Ms. Lewinsky was “immoral and foolish,” but he expends far more effort excoriating Starr and the media, which simply covered the scandal that the ex-president brought upon himself. When it comes to Clinton, it’s always someone else’s fault.
Clinton also “writes at length about his awareness that terrorism was a growing threat,” the New York Times noted, but he doesn’t deal with the unintended consequences of his decisions to pressure Sudan to expel Osama bin Laden in 1996 – driving the al Qaeda leader to Afghanistan, where he’s harder to track – and to launch cruise missile attacks against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.
Some observers, including the Times’ reviewer and your humble correspondent, believe that Clinton’s tepid responses to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the embassy bombings convinced the terrorists that the United States was “an ineffectual giant that relied on low-risk high technology.” Which could have led to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but we’ll never really know for sure.
As I write, Clinton is still barnstorming America on his celebrity book tour, and thousands of Bubba fans are lapping it up. As for me, I’m deep into a rival best-seller, “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” by Prof. Azar Nafisi, who recounts how she and a small group of her female English literature students defied fundamentalist Islamic authorities by reading and studying “prohibited” books.
One reviewer described Prof. Nafisi’s book as “a celebration of the liberating power of literature.” In contrast, the Los Angeles Times commented as follows on the deeper meaning of ex-President Clinton’s autobiography: “Socrates instructed us that the unexamined life is not worth living. As it turns out, the superficially examined life is only fitfully worth reading.” So I’m glad that I saved $25 by buying the Nafisi book instead of Clinton’s awkward attempt to rewrite the history of the 1990s.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.