By MICHIKO KAKUTANI writing in The New York Times, September 24, 2009
In an interview near the end of his two terms in office Bill Clinton talked about wanting to “demystify the job” of being president. “It is a job,” he declared, and “there’s a lot to be said for showing up every day and trying to push the rock up the hill.” His folksy, down-home style of campaigning and his lackadaisical 2004 memoir “My Life” promoted this accessible view of the presidency, as does “The Clinton Tapes,” a book based on nearly 80 conversations recorded during his years in the White House with his longtime friend Taylor Branch.
THE CLINTON TAPES
Wrestling History With the President
By Taylor Branch
707 pages. Simon & Schuster. $35.
The book depicts Bill and Hillary Clinton as sharing a close, easy domesticity, often mentioning the first lady, dressed in a bathrobe, padding in to chat or review the day with her husband. At the same time the book reinforces the view of many reporters and former administration insiders, who have hailed Mr. Clinton as a brilliant retail politician and masterly policy wonk while contending that his presidency was hobbled at times by his indecisiveness, lack of focus and tendency to lurch from crisis to crisis.
As in a host of earlier books and articles Mr. Clinton emerges in these pages as driven, charismatic, boyish, brainy, self-indulgent, prescient, given to dark moods and yet remarkably resilient and eager to please, a politician riven by contradictions and adept at compartmentalizing different parts of his life, by turns empathetic and profane, defensive and oddly passive. We learn that he wrote the sections of his autobiography dealing with the two terms of his presidency in a startling three months, rather than ask for a deadline extension (which explains why those sections feel so perfunctory and rushed). And we learn that he accepted part of the blame for the failure of health care reform because he felt, in Mr. Branch’s words, that “he had pushed change too rapidly for voters to digest.”