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Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Saturday, June 19, 2004

The New York Times' book reveiwer Michiko Kakutani seems not to care much for Bill Clinton's memoirs:
The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull--the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.

. . . it devolves into a hodgepodge of jottings: part policy primer, part 12-step confessional, part stump speech and part presidential archive, all, it seems, hurriedly written and even more hurriedly edited.

. . . Mr. Clinton confesses that his affair with Monica Lewinsky was "immoral and foolish," but he spends far more space excoriating his nemesis, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, and the press. He writes at length about his awareness that terrorism was a growing threat, but does not grapple with the unintended consequences of his administration's decisions to pressure Sudan to expel Osama bin Laden in 1996 (driving sent the al Qaeda leader to Afghanistan, where he was harder to track) or to launch cruise missile attacks against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the embassy bombings in 1998 (an act that some terrorism experts believe fueled terrorists' conviction that the United States was an ineffectual giant that relied on low-risk high technology).

. . . Mr. Clinton tries to characterize his impeachment fight as "my last great showdown with the forces I had opposed all of my life" - with those who had defended segregation in the South, opposed the women's and gay rights movements, and who believed government should be run for the benefit of special interests. He adds that he was glad that he had had "the good fortune to stand against this latest incarnation of the forces of reaction and division."
If Kakutani's review is accurate, Clinton's book fails as a work of history, yet succeeds (albeit accidentally) in fulfilling the first and highest purpose of autobiography--to hold up a mirror to its author's character: the self-serving manipulations, the smarmy self-indulgences, the pusillanimous pseudo-confessions, and especially, most especially, the utter triviality that forms the empty core of the man:
It is only because Mr. Clinton was president of the United States that these excavations of self--a staple of celebrity and noncelebrity memoirs these days--are considered newsworthy.

. . . . And yet the former president's account of his life, read in this post-9/11 day, feels strangely like an artifact from a distant, more innocent era.

Lies about sex and real estate, partisan rancor over "character issues" (not over weapons of mass destruction or pre-emptive war), psychobabble mea culpas, and tabloid wrangles over stained dresses all seem like pressing matters from another galaxy, far, far away.
Kakutani is not quite right to say the Clinton era was "more innocent." Yes, in "this post-9/11 day," the Clinton years might have seemed more innocent, if by "innocent" one means a neglect of serious matters, as Clinton absorbed the nation's attention in struggles defending and opposing his banalities, both political and personal. Indeed, in history's indictment of the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, Count One will be a charge of reckless triviality for eight years frittered away in self-absorption. Exhibit A will be his autobigraphy.

posted by Bathus | 6/19/2004 02:38:00 PM
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