Sunday, August 22, 2004

Political: A review of My Life by Bill Clinton

(Originally posted on

It pains me a wee bit to write this review because I am an avowed FOB. But sometimes tough love (and tough editing) are the only ways to demonstrate true friendship. Right?

My Life, by Bill Clinton.
And he MEANS it! If you think there will be one anecdote, one quip, one facet of his vida loca not discussed in these 900+ pages, you don't know Billy.

Disclaimer: I have not yet completed the entire book. I am up to Chapter 17. Not bad, eh? Except that he has just lost his first race for the House from AR and has yet to marry Hillary...

You think I'm kidding.

Many of his detractors vigorously propound the theory that Bill Clinton is a "taker," be it politically, sexually, romantically or socially; that he is a man who receives rather than gives, by his very slick and selfish nature. Not so, gentle reader, if My Life is any indication. Not only does he give every last detail of almost every last conversation he has ever had with anyone he remembers, but he also gives you the INTERPRETATION of those events and their effect on his later life.

To wit, President Clinton's writing style can be summarized thusly:

One and a half pages of story (generally about his childhood, people he knew in Arkansas, his mom's husbands, the salt-of-the-earthers down at his Papaw's general store, so on and so forth), followed by a rather ham-handed statement such as, "and that's why as President I fought to increase the tariffs on Sri Lankan molasses byproducts, because I always thought back to Stinky Faubus and his hardworking family...," followed by a further interpretation and explication of how and why the events of his childhood would lead him to make certain decisions, even decades later.

You see, Billy is such a Giver, he doesn’t want you to have to wait till you read in Chapter 32 about his fight against Sri Lankan molasses byproducts to achieve the mental “aha!” upon reflecting back to Chapter 4’s story of Stinky Faubus. No, he TELLS you right up front what you are supposed to glean from his rememberings. One wonders why President Clinton’s editor did not do as most 10th grade English teachers do: caution the student to write the story, evoke the emotion, and let the reader make the interpretation and the intellectual leap to the conclusion.

I was beginning to get irritated with his lack of faith in me as a reader, but, as he always does, the Comeback Kid had me once again feeling the love in short order. Because I realized that My Life is not a Book. It is Bill Clinton’s conversation with himself about himself; a conversation to which you, the reader, are privy. If, rather than reading the words he has written, you HEAR him speaking the words in your mind, you suddenly can hear the rhythm, the cadence, the pause for lip-biting, the one-eye closed pause for thought, the catch in his voice as he talks about his mother and his daughter. And you finally get it. This is a man who has had years of therapy after some of the most public humiliations and defeats any of us could imagine. As a result of that therapy, he has had epiphanies all over the place. He has finally achieved an understanding of why he did the things he did, and he is drunk with the joy and peace of that understanding. And, like any religious convert or recovered addict, he actively, genuinely, unashamedly wants to share that joy and that peace with those whom he has injured.

This book is certainly about Bill Clinton’s concern with his legacy, as his detractors repeat derisively. Although IMHO such a concern is not shameful in and of itself (see the multiple vanity oeuvres by Bill O'Reilly, Newt Gingrich, Tucker Carlson, for proof of same). What the book truly represents is Bill Clinton closing the book on an era, his life to date, with a view to beginning the next era afresh. In that regard it is perhaps a success. Where it fails is in ensuring that I will be able to witness that next installment without a herculean effort on the part of a working person with other responsibilities to finally, at long last, complete his account of THIS era.

Short Story Long: Still love ya, Billy. But next time, resist the urge to ignore your editor.

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