From best-selling, award-winning biographer Nigel Hamilton, this is an insightful, prodigiously researched, and wonderfully readable account of Bill Clinton's first term in office. It shows how a well-meaning but naïve new president failed to assert true leadership in his first two years, and then illustrates how, in an astonishing act of self-reinvention, the president turned defeat into victory. Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency is a gripping tale of hubris and redemptionand a chronicle of one of the most dramatic reversals of fortune in modern American politics.
This second volume of the author's biography casts Clinton's first term as a Miltonian epic of fall and redemption. The years 1993 1994, culminating in the Democrats' loss of Congress in midterm elections, are Paradise Lost : a disastrous failure caused by a weak White House chief of staff (Mack McLarty), Clinton's own promiscuous openness to ideas and indecisiveness and, most of all, co-president Hillary's baleful influence. 1995 1996 are Paradise Regained : a new chief of staff (Leon Panetta) restores order, Hillary learns her place and Clinton grows a spine, comforts the nation after the Oklahoma City bombing, humiliates Newt Gingrich and wins reelection. (Alas, enter Monica Lewinsky, a luscious fruit in the Garden of Eden, eager to be plucked. ) Hamilton styles this arc, with many military metaphors, as a study of Clinton's maturing capacity for command as he grows from arch-baby boomer to undisputed leader of his country. Unfortunately, this focus on character often overshadows the substance of policy (the treatment of Hillary's byzantine health-care plan is especially sketchy) and is not entirely convincing, since the early, feckless Clinton seems to have accomplished more than the determinedly presidential later Clinton, with his third way politics of triangulation. At the celebratory end of Hamilton's account, Clinton's comeback is a merely personal triumph, devoid of political significance.