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A Complicated Man

A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him

Michael Takiff
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    A Complicated Man
    Book Description:

    Though Bill Clinton has been out of office since 2001, public fascination with him continues unabated. Many books about Clinton have been published in recent years, but shockingly, no single-volume biography covers the full scope of Clinton's life from the cradle to the present day, not even Clinton's own account,My Life. More troubling still, books on Clinton have tended to be highly polarized, casting the former president in an overly positive or negative light.

    In this, the first complete oral history of Clinton's life, historian Michael Takiff presents the first truly balanced book on one of our nation's most controversial and fascinating presidents. Through more than 150 chronologically arranged interviews with key figures including Bob Dole, James Carville, and Tom Brokaw, among many others,A Complicated Mangoes far beyond the well-worn party-line territory to capture the larger-than-life essence of Clinton the man. With the tremendous attention given to the Lewinsky scandal, it is easy to overlook the president's humble upbringing, as well as his many achievements at home and abroad: the longest economic boom in American history, a balanced budget, successful intervention in the Balkans, and a series of landmark, if controversial, free-trade agreements. Through the candid recollections of Takiff's many subjects,A Complicated Manleaves no area unexplored, revealing the most complete and unexpected portrait of our forty-second president published to date.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16888-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Author’s Note
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: An Endless Argument
    (pp. 1-6)

    Bill Clinton did not come to the White House empty-handed: Among the assets he brought were a dazzling intellect, unmatched people skills, a passion for good governance, an insatiable curiosity. He had been a successful and long-serving governor of Arkansas. His upbringing had left him with the ability to understand and identify with the problems of ordinary people. His campaign had succeeded in painting his chief opponent, the incumbent president, George H. W. Bush, as the candidate of yesterday and the powerful, and himself as the candidate of tomorrow and the middle class. He advertised a program of investment in...

  5. Part I Local Hero, 1946–1987

    • 1 Small Town Boy: Hope, Arkansas
      (pp. 9-16)

      On the morning of May 18, 1946, Marie Baker and Maxie Fuller were on duty at the Southwestern Bell switchboard on Second Street in Hope, Arkansas, population 7,475.¹ Both women were cousins of Virginia Cassidy Blythe, the twenty-two-year-old wartime bride of William Jefferson Blythe Jr., a salesman she had met three years earlier in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she was studying nursing.²

      Marie Baker: I answered what was an inward, public signal. This operator told me, “We want the Eldridge Cassidy residence in Hope. We have an emergency for it.” I turned around to Maxie and I said, “Oh, my lord,...

    • 2 A Big City (pop. 29,307): Hot Springs
      (pp. 17-31)

      The young family stayed in Hope only three years. In the summer of 1953, after Billy Clinton, as he was now known, had completed first grade at the Brookwood School, Roger sold his business and relocated the household to a four hundred–acre farm just outside Hot Springs, the resort town known for its soothing waters, its sparkling nightlife, and its intoxicating gambling.¹ Roger tried his hand at farming, but the simple life—featuring a wooden outhouse as the householdʹs only toilet—quickly lost its appeal for the husband and wife who loved a drink and a party. Soon Virginia...

    • 3 Positive, Positive, Positive, Positive: Georgetown
      (pp. 32-36)

      Melanne Verveer: I have these mental snapshots of him sitting on a stoop on campus and having lots of people surrounding him.

      Melanne Verveer and her husband, Phil, attended Georgetown two years ahead of Bill, she in the Institute of Languages and Linguistics, he in the School of Foreign Service. Melanne Verveer would be First Lady Hillary Clintonʹs chief of staff.

      Here he was a Protestant from a southern state coming up to Washington to a Catholic university, where there were a lot of foreign students. It was a place where he was introduced to the world in many ways....

    • 4 Man of the World: Oxford and Yale
      (pp. 36-42)

      Bill would later say heʹd been interested in a Rhodes Scholarship since high school, but as the end of his Georgetown career approached, he was further motivated by the example and urging of his boss, William Fulbright, a Rhodes Scholar during the 1920s.

      The process for selecting 1968ʹs thirty-two American Rhodes Scholars covered the entire nation. After candidates were winnowed in each state, eight regional committees selected four young men each—women did not become Rhodes Scholars until 1977—to spend two years at Oxford.¹

      Bill made the cut. He graduated from Georgetown in June, and in October he sailed...

    • 5 On the Move: An Arkansas Politician
      (pp. 42-51)

      Audacious, indeed. In the spring of 1973, before receiving his diploma from Yale, Bill wrote to the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville seeking a job on the faculty. After telling a professor involved in the selection process, ʺI have no plans at this time to run for public office,ʺ he was hired.¹ (Perhaps by ʺno plans at this timeʺ Bill meant ʺno absolutely final decision at this immediate moment on exactly which race to enter exactly when.ʺ Fortunately, he did not have to defend the truth of his words before a grand jury.)

      In three years as a...

    • 6 Too Much, Too Soon, Too Bad: Rookie Governor
      (pp. 51-64)

      Bill faced four opponents in the 1978 Democratic primary for governor, but none approaching him in prominence. ʺI just had to run hard, avoid mistakes, and go on doing a good job as attorney general,ʺ he recalled. He did all three to win 60 percent of the vote, then took the statehouse with 63 percent in November.¹

      Under Arkansasʹs constitution, the governorʹs term lasted two years.

      ʺThis may not be good.ʺ

      Rudy Moore: Because of the token opposition, we actually started the transition—in other words, getting ready for him to be governor—long before the November election.

      Rudy Moore...

    • 7 Out of the Woodshed: Exile and Return
      (pp. 64-65)

      Max Brantley: The guy was like a death in the family. He was really destroyed after losing that election.

      Soon after he left office in January 1981, Bill went to work for Wright, Lindsey and Jennings, a large law firm in Little Rock.

      Ellen Brantley: I don’t think he did much legal work. I think he stayed in his office and was calling all his political contacts.

      Carolyn Staley: Bored stiff. Lost. At sea. He didn’t want to be there. He thought a hundred dollars an hour—whatever it was—was outrageous to be making as a lawyer, even as...

    • 8 Busy, Busy, Busy: Governor Again
      (pp. 66-78)

      Kent Rubens: When Frank White defeated him, I think he took a paralyzed oath that he’d never again be for something that 51 percent of the folks were against.

      You see in Clinton a view that getting elected is more important than a principle. He has some clear exceptions. Women’s rights is probably the biggest one that comes to my mind—he’s been stalwart there. But in terms of seeking compromise, he always does it. And makes no pretense about it.

      Martha Whetstone: He learned that good ideas aren’t enough. And you can’t ignore the values of the state.


    • 9 Comfort Level: Bill and Black Arkansas
      (pp. 79-83)

      If its school board had had its way, Little Rock would have desegregated its public schools with much more ease, and much less infamy, than many other cities in the South. Only a year after the Supreme Court struck down segregated public education inBrown v. Board of Educationin 1954, the Little Rock board unanimously endorsed a plan to gradually integrate the townʹs schools, beginning with the 1957–1958 academic year. But Governor Orval Faubus saw opportunity in the situation—opportunity to win white votes by inflaming white passions. And so, when nine African American students walked through a...

    • 10 Not Bad, But …: Potential Unfulfilled
      (pp. 83-84)

      Max Brantley: I don’t think you achieve anything by losing, by rolling a bunch of stuff out and then getting beat on. But sometimes you get something hammered into such a consensus that it doesn’t accomplish a whole lot. I was wondering the other day if somebody ever had the time and energy to go through point by point these dozens and dozens of pieces of legislation he used to introduce at every legislative session, and look at which ones passed—most of them did—and then what, if anything, came as a result of them. I’m guessing for a...

  6. Part II Rising Star, 1987–1992

    • 11 National Democrat: Moving Toward the White House
      (pp. 87-100)

      Bill kept running for reelection and kept winning—to another two-year term, in 1984, and to four-year terms, in accordance with an amendment to the state constitution, in 1986 and 1990.¹ The longer he served, the better known he became nationally—if not among the general public, then certainly among the political class.

      John Breaux: His reputation always preceded him. He was always being introduced as the next new leader.

      John Breaux, a Democrat, represented Louisiana in the House of Representatives from 1972 to 1987 and in the Senate from 1987 to 2005. Tom Brokaw is a reporter for NBC...

    • 12 Going for It: Candidate
      (pp. 101-107)

      As 1992 approached, Bill had no doubt: It was time to run for president. First, though, during the summer of 1991, he had some business to attend to.

      Gene Lyons: He went through this absurd charade of asking people’s permission to run for president.

      Max Brantley: He’d gotten cornered in a TV debate during the 1990 campaign for governor and pretty well directly said that if he were elected he would serve out his term. Then came the opportunity to run. He went on this listening tour around the state, supposedly to see if people would release him from his...

    • 13 Near-Death Experience: New Hampshire, 1992
      (pp. 108-122)

      Dave McCurdy, a founding member of the DLC, represented Oklahoma in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1995.

      Dave McCurdy: In 1991, we both looked at running for president; I finally decided not to run. The next day, Bill Clinton calls and says, “I want to come see you.”

      “Great. When?”


      He flew up from Arkansas and met with me in my office in the House office building with his legal counsel, Bruce Lindsey.

      He said that he knew how disappointed I was, but that my decision made him the happiest person in the world. He wanted my...

    • 14 All Roads Lead to Madison Square Garden: Nominee
      (pp. 122-130)

      After Kerrey took South Dakota on February 26, seven states voted on March 3. Bill took only one, Georgia, but Kerrey came up empty and promptly withdrew from the race. Billʹs victory in South Carolina four days later chased out Harkin. Brown remained, but the press never took ʺGovernor Moonbeamʺ seriously. Only Paul Tsongas stood between Bill and the nomination.

      Mike McCurry: When you get through New Hampshire, campaigns very quickly become binary events, because the press needs a point-counterpoint. The press has a hard time accommodating a multicandidate field after New Hampshire.

      The press took the traditional model and...

    • 15 A Bubba, Not a Bozo: President-Elect
      (pp. 131-144)

      James Baker: There were three reasons we lost. The first one was that we’d been there twelve years. President Bush had been an incumbent vice president for two terms under Reagan, and then he’d been president for a full term. There were a lot of people who were tired of us.

      The second is that we had Ross Perot running.

      Leading Democrats do not share this view of Perot’s impact. (See Chapter 19.)

      The third problem was of our own making. In January of ’92, when President Bush had a stratospheric approval rating after Desert Storm, we didn’t go up...

  7. Part III Stumble, 1993–1994

    • 16 Not an Admiral: Transition
      (pp. 147-149)

      The disarray that nearly overwhelmed Billʹs administration at its inception was foreshadowed in the weeks leading up to his taking office.

      James Woolsey: I was not part of Clinton’s inner circle.

      James Woolsey served in national security posts in the Carter, Reagan, and Bush 41 administrations before becoming Billʹs first director of central intelligence.

      I’d met him just twice and had no expectation of being in the Clinton administration. I got a call from Warren Christopher on a Friday morning in late December ’92.

      Warren Christopher, who would serve as secretary of state for the first term of the Clinton...

    • 17 Bedlam at Birth: Getting Started
      (pp. 149-150)

      Tom Brokaw: I think it’s a bigger job than he realized.

      On Saturday, January 16, 1993, at Little Rock National Airport, Bill addressed the several hundred Arkansans gathered to see him off.¹

      My friends—No one not in my situation can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.²

      The Clintons flew to Virginia. At the home of Thomas Jefferson they and the Gores boarded a bus to take them the 120 miles to the nationʹs capital.³

      Tom Brokaw: I rode with him on the bus from Monticello...

    • 18 Bill Asks, Colin Tells: The President, the Gays, the Military
      (pp. 150-158)

      Michael Dukakis: He’s walking around the capitol building in Arkansas with a cup of coffee in his hand for the annual Veterans Day ceremonies. And Tom Friedman of theNew York Timessays, “What about gays in the military?” Clinton gives him the same answer he had given during the campaign a thousand times: “I don’t think people ought to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.” “Including the military?” “Including the military.”

      Ping! All of a sudden, front page,New York Times:Clinton thinks gays ought to be in the military.

      Bill, November 11, 1992, discussing the...

    • 19 New Kid in Town: Permanent Washington Greets the Clintons
      (pp. 158-168)

      ʺWelcome to Washington,ʺWashington Postcolumnist Sally Quinn greeted the new First Family just after Billʹs election, ʺBut Play by Our Rules.ʺ A leading arbiter of social customs in the nationʹs capital, Quinn further instructed her unschooled charges to remember this: ʺWhen the Clinton administration is gone and forgotten, the Congress, the media and the establishment will remain.ʺ¹

      Much of permanent Washington—reporters, pundits, tenured legislators, lawyers, lobbyists, Georgetown hostesses—greeted Bill and Hillary with the condescension of people who just know better. Early press coverage reflected this attitude.

      Gene Lyons: It seems like a lot of the worst aspects...

    • 20 Debt on Arrival: Recharting an Economic Course
      (pp. 168-172)

      It was ʺthe economy, stupid.ʺ But how?

      Robert Rubin: I would say that he inherited a real economic morass.

      Robert Rubin began the Clinton administration as head of the National Economic Council, then served as secretary of the treasury, 1995–1999.

      Long-term interest rates were over 7 percent, unemployment over 7 percent. You’d had a recession. You now had a year of some growth, but nevertheless there was a high level of anxiety and concern.

      During the campaign Bill had laid out an ambitious program to revive the economy, centered on a ʺmiddle-class tax cutʺ and large-scale investment in America’s...

    • 21 A Casino for Jesus: The Budget Bill
      (pp. 173-177)

      The most contentious legislative battle of Billʹs first year in the White House took place over the federal budget, as the new president sought to put into effect the economic policies he and his team had settled upon.

      As unveiled by Bill in an address to a joint session of Congress on February 17, his budget would slice $140 billion off the annual deficit by 1997, with a cumulative total of nearly $500 billion over four years. About half the reduction would be achieved by budget cuts, including $60 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, the other half by raising taxes...

    • 22 The Yanks Are Coming: Navigating a Post–Cold War World
      (pp. 178-184)

      The day after Election Day, Bill vowed that during the opening six months of his presidency he would ʺfocus like a laser beam on this economy.ʺ¹

      Within hours of his inauguration, however, gays in the military emerged as the first diversion of the laser beam; from beyond American shores, others soon arose. In foreign affairs, Billʹs initial efforts were not auspicious.

      Merrill McPeak: When he came to town, if you asked him a question about health care, you’d better sit down because it’s going to be an hour before he’s done. Or if you asked him about what to do...

    • 23 Trade War: Passing NAFTA
      (pp. 184-190)

      After Congress approved his budget in August 1993, Bill geared up for his next major legislative goal. The budget had passed with no Republican votes. NAFTA wouldnʹt.

      James Baker: When Clinton was president, he asked me to come be one of four speakers—he, Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, and myself—in the East Room to support NAFTA, which was, of course, a Republican initiative, and passed with Republican votes.

      President Clinton was a really stand-up guy on that, because it was an initiative that was very important to the economic well-being of the United States, but was thoroughly detested by...

    • 24 Heroic Measures: The Fight to Reform Health Care
      (pp. 190-196)

      Accepting his partyʹs nomination at Madison Square Garden in August 1992, Bill promised

      an America in which health care is a right, not a privilege. In which we say to all our people: Your government has the courage, finally, to take on the health care profiteers and make health care affordable for every family.¹

      In early 1993 he set out to make it happen.

      Chris Jennings served as Bill’s senior White House adviser on health care through all eight years of the Clinton administration. Judy Feder held a high-level position in the Department of Health and Human Services. Both played...

    • 25 Stand-Up Guys: Bill, Boris, Jiang, Fidel
      (pp. 196-201)

      Meanwhile, as Bill devoted himself to his bread and butter, domestic legislation, the world continued to demand attention.

      ʺThey just plain liked each other.ʺ

      While at Oxford with Bill, Strobe Talbott had translated the memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev. Now he served as Billʹs top Russia hand in the State Department. Policy toward Russia centered on Boris Yeltsin, the new countryʹs president and one of the few people Bill would ever encounter with a personality larger than his own.

      Strobe Talbott: There were a range of foreign policy issues where working with Yeltsin, and cultivating a personal relationship between Yeltsin and...

    • 26 Action, Inaction: Somalia and Rwanda
      (pp. 201-207)

      In April 1992 the United Nations authorized a small relief mission aimed at heading off famine in Somalia, a land riven by the clan warfare that had toppled its government a year earlier. But armed factions prevented supplies from reaching people in need, especially in rural areas, so in August, American forces began to airlift food from Kenya to airstrips in Somaliaʹs interior. American troops were neither distributing the food on the ground nor providing security for someone else to do it.¹

      Merrill McPeak: The gangs would capture the food and sell it. We couldn’t provide a relief operation until...

    • 27 No Way to Run a Railroad: Fixing a Dysfunctional White House
      (pp. 207-213)

      Leon Panetta: It was pretty obvious, during the time I was director of the Office of Management and Budget, that the operations of the White House were chaotic.

      Jonathan Alter: The thing about Clinton in those early years is, the process would be very messy, it was like watching sausage being made. He had a way of coming out with the right result, but the process was so transparent that the messiness would erode his credibility and reputation for competence.

      The White House is always a reflection of the guy at the top, and in so many conscious and unconscious...

    • 28 From Humiliation to Celebration: Haiti
      (pp. 214-216)

      Although Bill had broken his campaign promise to reverse the Bush policy of refusing asylum to Haitian refugees intercepted at sea, he quickly distinguished himself from his predecessor by inviting ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to make his first visit to the White House in March 1993. In July, Aristide and General Raoul Cédras, the strongman running the country, came to an agreement ostensibly designed to reinstate Aristide, but the accord meant little as Haitiʹs junta continued to pursue a program of political violence intended to crush its opposition.¹

      In October, Bill sent a navy troop ship, the USSHarlan...

    • 29 Picturing Peace: The Oslo Signing
      (pp. 216-221)

      In August 1992 Yitzhak Rabin, recently elected prime minister of Israel, was in the United States for talks with George Bush at the Bush family home in Maine. Also on the Israeliʹs schedule was a meeting in Washington with the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

      Martin Indyk advised Bill on Middle Eastern affairs during the 1992 campaign and, later, from posts at the State Department and National Security Council. He served two stints as U.S. ambassador to Israel, 1995–1997 and 2000–2001.

      Martin Indyk: I went down to Miami, to the Doral Country Club, to brief Clinton. I...

    • 30 Something Is Rotten in the State of Arkansas: Whitewater, the Scandal Begins
      (pp. 221-232)

      David Terrell: What a crock!

      Whitewater, the all-purpose scandal that started with a bum land deal along an obscure river in rural Arkansas and ended with the near removal from office of the most powerful person in the world, entered the national consciousness with an article that appeared in theNew York Timeson March 8, 1992, two days before Billʹs primary victories on Super Tuesday. ʺClintons Joined S. & L. Operator in an Ozark Real-Estate Venture,ʺ the headline announced.¹

      At the root of the story lay the 1978 investment of $200,000 by Bill and Hillary, and friends Susan and Jim...

    • 31 Golfing with Willie Mays: Bill Among Friends
      (pp. 232-237)

      Whenever possible, Bill would escape the pressures of his job by returning to Arkansas.

      Carolyn Staley: He still says that his staff can tell when he hasn’t been home, that he gets short-tempered, that he gets a little less fun to be with. When he comes to Arkansas and has a chance to see friends, have barbecues, see the seasons, he recenters. It’s refreshing for him.

      Paul Leopoulos: Every time he came home he would stay at Hillary’s mom’s house in Little Rock. Not at a big expensive hotel. We’d go up there and play hearts until like 5 and...

    • 32 Rebuke: The 1994 Midterm Election
      (pp. 237-240)

      As the midterm elections of November 1994 approached, Republicans smelled blood.

      Scott Reed: Our focus in ’94 was bashing Clinton, raising a ton of money, and recruiting the best candidates we could everywhere, because by April or May we started to feel the tide was rising. He’d made a few missteps—they’d had the health care debacle. So every piece of direct mail we did, and we did millions of pieces, was very tough anti-Clinton.

      We were getting an incredible response. Incredible! We’d come in on Mondays, and we’d have boxes of mail to the ceiling. That gave us a...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
  8. Part IV Recovery, 1995–1996

    • 33 Picking up the Pieces: The Aftermath
      (pp. 243-246)

      Harold Ickes: He had campaigned hard around the country making the case for what his administration had done, what the Democrats had done. The constant thematic with him was, “Harold, if I could just tell everybody what we’ve done, we could certainly stay the course.”

      It was a real slap in the face to Democrats, to the Democratic Congress, and to the Democratic president. It had a profound effect on him.

      Rebuked, Bill & Co. faced an uncertain landscape as they pondered reelection in 1996.

      Terry McAuliffe: On election night 1194 they had a party at the White House.

      In 1994...

    • 34 Relevant: Newt versus Clinton
      (pp. 246-247)

      When the 104th Congress went to work in January 1995, Bill had a rival for the national spotlight.

      Joe Gaylord: There’s no question that Newt was thrust into the role of leader of the opposition.

      Joe Gaylord was a key political adviser to Newt Gingrich.

      For having led us out of the wilderness after forty years he was hugely admired by grassroots Republicans across the country. And because this hadn’t happened in so long, the news media paid so much attention to everything he did or said that by definition he became the alternative president. That lasted for a while....

    • 35 Pastor to the Nation: Oklahoma City
      (pp. 247-252)

      Don Baer: The turning point started with this speech he gave to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, in Dallas, on April 7, 1995.

      Don Baer joined the White House in early 1994 as Billʹs director of speechwriting. He would later be White House communications director.

      It was basically, “I was not sent here to stack up a pile of vetoes. I was sent here by the American people to get things done and that’s what the Congress and I should be doing.”

      A lot of what we were trying to do was to present the president as the person...

    • 36 End of an Era: The Road Back
      (pp. 252-255)

      Harold Ickes: Leon Panetta came back from a meeting and said, “I need to take a shower.”

      I said, “What are you talking about?”

      “This guy, Charlie. He’s just awful.”

      “Who are you talking about?”


      “Charlie who?”

      “This guy Dick Morris.”

      “Is that asshole over there?”

      Although Dick Morris had been instrumental in Billʹs Arkansas political rise, the brash pollster and strategist had for several years been advising mostly Republican politicians, like Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, when Bill asked him in 1995 to help with his own reelection.¹ Because of Morris’s toxic reputation, Bill at first kept the consultant’s...

    • 37 This Town Ain’t Big Enough: Shutdown Showdown
      (pp. 255-263)

      If Billʹs preaching in Oklahoma City installed him as the nationʹs comforter in chief, it was his battle with Newt Gingrich, beginning in early 1995 and culminating in the two government shutdowns at yearʹs end, that cemented his place as protector in chief—protector of average Americans against the depredations of a band of extremists out to make middle-class lives less secure and less safe. Cultural issues had sunk Bill in 1994, casting him as champion of homosexuals and persecutor of gun owners; in 1995, bread-and-butter issues would recast the national argument and complete Billʹs rehabilitation in the eyes of...

    • 38 Shalom, Chaver: The Death of Yitzhak Rabin
      (pp. 263-268)

      On the evening of Saturday, November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin addressed the more than 100,000 people gathered in Tel Avivʹs Kings of Israel Square to show their support for the Oslo peace process—and to answer increasingly virulent demonstrations staged by its opponents. As the rally concluded, the seventy-three-year-old politician walked toward his car. Before he could enter the vehicle, Yigal Amir, a twenty-five-year-old Jewish law student, fired his pistol three times at him. Two bullets struck Rabin, who was pronounced dead less than two hours later at Tel Avivʹs Ichilov Hospital.¹ The assassin, who was apprehended...

    • 39 I’ll Show You Mine If …: The Big Mistake
      (pp. 269-270)

      Mike McCurry: The shutdown was odd in many ways. You were not allowed to set foot on the campus unless you were deemed essential. I had my staff calling me from home saying, “Whatever we can do from home we will do.” And I’m thinking, “There’s really nothing going on here. I’m going to have to do a briefing at some point, but we have the interns.”

      And that was exactly where Monica came from, because the interns were running the show. Because they weren’t paid, they could show up and answer phones and staff the functions. I ran the...

    • 40 A Commander in Chief (Finally) Commands: Bosnia, Solved
      (pp. 271-276)

      The war in Bosnia continued during 1994, and the United States and its NATO allies continued to dither. In February a Serb mortar attack killed sixty-eight Muslim civilians in a Sarajevo marketplace. Starting in April, NATO would mount sporadic, limited air strikes on Serb positions. The attacks did little more than reroute or delay Serb movements—they did nothing to alter the course of the conflict—and thus earned their derisive nickname: ʺpinprick strikes.ʺ¹ U.N.-NATO troops remained on the ground in Bosnia but were too small in number to defend the beleaguered Muslims.

      That autumn the situation continued to deteriorate....

    • 41 Ballot-Box Missionary: Irish Troubles, Irish Votes
      (pp. 276-284)

      During the 1992 campaign, recently retired Congressman Bruce Morrison sought out his law school classmate to impart some advice:

      Bruce Morrison: “Pay attention to the issue of Northern Ireland, which cuts broadly in Irish America, even among people who have been here generations.”

      Morrison has a special connection to Irish Americans for his sponsorship in Congress of a visa program for citizens both of the Republic of Ireland and of Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom.¹

      I knew, first of all, that Bill Clinton is a child of the civil rights movement in the United States. He...

    • 42 A Deal. With the Devil? Ending Welfare as We Know It
      (pp. 284-288)

      Tom Brokaw: One of his enduring legacies will be welfare. That was a bold step.

      Acting on his campaign promise to ʺend welfare as we know it,ʺ Bill in June 1994 submitted a bill that would for the first time impose a time limit on the payment of welfare. To help recipients make the transition ʺfrom welfare to work,ʺ the proposal called for $9.3 billion to be spent on job training, child care, and job subsidies.¹ But by this time Billʹs health care initiative, and with it his legislative might, had taken such a battering that Congress never took up...

    • 43 Slippery or Steadfast? Shapeshifter
      (pp. 288-292)

      Billʹs shift toward the center in 1995 and 1996, his outmaneuvering of Republicans on their signature issues of crime, welfare, values, and fiscal responsibility, won him comfortable reelection. But the tactic only intensified the mistrust of many critics to his right and to his left.

      Fred Barnes: He brought out some primal instincts among conservatives.

      Arne Christenson: I interpret the venom much more in terms of personal unreliability than in terms of ideology—there are a lot of strong liberals who don’t attract venom. I didn’t think Clinton was an intransigent liberal. There was just a sense that you didn’t...

    • 44 Piece of Cake: Reelection
      (pp. 293-300)

      Sam Donaldson: I thought it was breathtaking when Bill Clinton declared, “The era of big government is over.” Signing the welfare-reform bill against the wishes and vocal condemnation of the leftist members of his party was another indication that he couldn’t get tagged like other Democratic nominees. And so by the end of the second two years, he was back. He’d positioned himself as a president who could get things done, who had helped save the country at the time the Republicans wanted to shut it down.

      And he was running against Bob Dole.

      In the 1996 GOP primaries Dole...

  9. Part V Humiliation:: 1997–2000

    • 45 Reckless, Stupid, Human: Wasting a Precious Gift
      (pp. 303-306)

      Bill, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1997:

      The American people returned to office a President of one party and a Congress of another. Surely they did not do this to advance the politics of petty bickering and extreme partisanship they plainly deplore. No, they call on us instead to be repairers of the breach and to move on with Americaʹs mission. America demands and deserves big things from us, and nothing big ever came from being small. Let us remember the timeless wisdom of Cardinal Bernardin,* when facing the end of his own life. He said, ʺIt is wrong to...

    • 46 Big Bucks Bedroom: Scandal of the Year, 1997
      (pp. 307-308)

      But first . . .

      The name Monica Lewinsky would not surface until 1997 ended, and the to-do over the Whitewater land deal had, for the most part, run its course by the time 1997 began. However, the first year of Billʹs second term did not lack for a scandal to keep the press and the opposition nipping at his heels. The subject was the fund-raising for Billʹs reelection.

      Information had begun to trickle out during the last few weeks of the 1996 campaign concerning illegal fund-raising by the Democratic National Committee. Most ominous in the reports were suggestions that...

    • 47 Nailed! Linda and Lucianne
      (pp. 309-311)

      Meanwhile . . .

      ʺWe talk every night.ʺ

      Lucianne Goldberg: Tony Snow,* who had been a longtime friend of mine in Washington, called me and said—this must have been in, oh gosh, ’96—“There’s this great gal who worked for me when I was a speechwriter at the White House.”

      Lucianne Goldberg is a New York literary agent specializing in conservative themes.

      She spent the Bush years there and now she’s at the Clinton White House, and she is very upset about what she’s seeing—the differences between the Bush White House and the Clinton White House. She wants...

    • 48 Pants on Fire: The Jones Deposition
      (pp. 311-317)

      On May 8, 1991, Paula Corbin—she would later marry Steve Jones—and a coworker were staffing the registration table at a conference put on at Little Rockʹs Excelsior Hotel by their employer, the Arkansas Industrial Development Corporation. According to Paula Jones, a state trooper approached her to say that the governor wanted to meet her in his room. The officer accompanied the twenty-four-year-old woman upstairs, leaving her alone in the room with Bill. There, Jones would claim, Bill clumsily tried to seduce her—ʺI love the way your hair goes down your bodyʺ—then exposed himself, asking her to...

    • 49 The Bombshell Wears a Beret: Enter Monica
      (pp. 317-324)

      In the early morning hours (Washington time) of Sunday, January 18, less than a day after Bill had given his deposition, Matt Drudge published what he had been told by a lawyer connected to the Jones case.¹

      Mike McCurry: The Drudge Report hinted over the weekend thatNewsweekhad killed some story on some sexual liaison that Clinton had had.

      Newsweekʹs Michael Isikoff, who had been in contact with Lucianne Goldberg and Linda Tripp, as well as with the OIC, wanted his magazine to publish his findings on Monica in the issue about to go to press, but his editors...

    • 50 Scandal? What Scandal? Compartmentalization
      (pp. 324-326)

      Once the initial revelations had sunk in, and once the State of the Union was done, once it became clear that neither the scandal nor Bill was going away, the White House and the president needed a modus operandi to carry on doing the peopleʹs business.

      Paul Begala: Podesta,* took charge right away. He said, “We’re going to have this team of lawyers and a couple political people. They will handle this. Everybody else, swim in your lane. Don’t ask, don’t get involved.”

      We settled on a formulation, which was for him to say to the public, “I have a...

    • 51 The Puritan and the Pol: Starr versus Clinton
      (pp. 326-329)

      If the pursuit of policy resided in one White House compartment, in another dwelled the pursuit of political survival.

      Sam Donaldson: The White House employed four tactics, which proved successful: They lied, they stonewalled, they delayed, and they attacked. They attacked the independent counsel, they attacked the press, they attacked the vast right-wing conspiracy.

      It was a grim time at the White House.

      Fred Barnes: They politicized it and made it a partisan issue. It was a shrewd strategy and it worked. When you see the votes on impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate, they were overwhelmingly...

    • 52 Respite: A Tour of Africa
      (pp. 329-332)

      As previous presidents have done when embattled at home, Bill turned his attention overseas—in fact, all over the globe: toward Africa, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, the Middle East. Paralyzed in domestic policy, in foreign policy Bill chalked up important achievements—and one grand failure.

      He began with a continent usually neglected by American presidents.

      ʺHe put on kente cloth.ʺ

      On March 22, seventeen days after Vernon Jordan completed a second day of testimony in front of Ken Starrʹs grand jury, nine days after the transcript of Billʹs Jones deposition was made public, seven days after Kathleen Willey told60...

    • 53 Today’s Word Is Is: The Grand Jury
      (pp. 332-336)

      Abbe Lowell: The president was cornered, put in a position where an average person would never be put. He had no option not to testify in the grand jury once Ken Starr wanted to make it a public event. And yet, testifying in front of the grand jury was a setup.

      The attorney Abbe Lowell served as counsel to the Democratic minority on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment hearings.

      Average people can take the Fifth Amendment. Public offcials, let alone the president of the United States, cannot.

      After months of delay, Ken Starr’s office finally reached an immunity...

    • 54 Speech Defect: An Unapologetic Apology
      (pp. 337-340)

      Nina Totenberg: He gave that speech in August where he finally had to admit everything, but he couldn’t bring himself to apologize to the American public for lying to them. It was a very defensive speech, and it’s not that he didn’t have other drafts in front of him. He did.

      Bill, August 17, 1998:

      Good evening. This afternoon in this room, from this chair, I testified before the Office of Independent Counsel and the grand jury. I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life, questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.

      Still I must...

    • 55 Sine Qua Non: Ulster’s Peacemaker
      (pp. 341-343)

      Only a week after Bill returned from Africa, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, in talks chaired by George Mitchell, reached a historic accord. Promising ʺa fresh startʺ after the ʺtragedies of the past,ʺ the Good Friday Agreement, signed in Belfast on April 10, 1998, set out a schedule for disarming the militias and held both sides to a ʺtotal and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues.ʺ¹

      Peter King: How could he find the ability to focus and concentrate? The Saint Patrick’s Speaker’s Lunch in March of ’98—that was a day...

    • 56 Softcore: The Starr Report
      (pp. 344-346)

      On September 9, 1998, Ken Starr delivered his report on the Lewinsky matter, all 445 pages of it, to Congress. On the eleventh, at Newt Gingrichʹs command, the report was published on the Internet; on the twelfth it appeared, in whole or in part, in newspapers around the country.

      The highlight (or lowlight) of the report—the material everyone turned to upon first seeing the document—was a comprehensive, dated account of the ʺsexual encountersʺ between the president of the United States and his young friend, details definitely included. Among the items the report contained were:

      During their encounter on...

    • 57 For Mature Audiences Only: A Committee, a TV Show
      (pp. 346-351)

      The Starr Report closed with eleven possible grounds for Billʹs impeachment, each backed, it said, by ʺsubstantial and credible information.ʺ The alleged acts behind grounds one through ten were: false testimony at the Jones deposition and before the Starr grand jury; obstruction of justice in the Jones case by, among other actions, helping Monica get a job in New York in exchange for her false affidavit; and obstruction of justice in the Starr investigation by lying about his relationship with Monica to people who would appear before the grand jury. The last ground cited the private and public lies and...

    • 58 DeLayed Reaction: The Midterms and the Majority Whip
      (pp. 351-354)

      Howard Berman: I’ll never forget Newt Gingrich telling me in mid-October, because we had lockers near each other in the House gym, that he thought they were going to pick up twenty seats. They lost five. And he resigned as speaker.

      As the 1998 midterm elections approached, Republicans thought they had a winning issue.

      Arne Christenson: There was a lot of talk about, “This is the elephant in the room. Is there any way that we can use this?”

      Joe Gaylord: There were four or five different firms that we had producing spots for the congressional committee. All of them...

    • 59 Impeach the Rapist! Fifty Boxes, Four Articles
      (pp. 355-358)

      If the House at large needed prodding, post-midterms, to resume the drive toward impeachment, Henry Hyde and his fellow Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee never pulled back.

      Abbe Lowell: After the election, there began to be talk of some sort of censure. But the people who were pushing impeachment never relented—Chairman Hyde, the leadership—they were just regrouping.

      The means that the Republicans used to reach their end was, they were having Republican members of Congress go into the evidence room to look at raw material that had been acquired but was not part of the impeachment recommendation...

    • 60 Amazing: A Speech in Gaza
      (pp. 358-360)

      Dennis Ross: Arafat comes over to me—it was just before we went to Wye—and he said, “It’s amazing that with everything that’s happening to him, he’s ready to do this. We’ll never forget it.”

      In October 1998 Bill summoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to the Wye River conference center on Marylandʹs Eastern Shore. Nine days of negotiations, with Bill intimately involved, yielded the Wye River Memorandum, signed by Netanyahu and Arafat. Aimed at the implementation of Oslo and of the Interim Agreement of September 1995, the document outlined steps to be taken...

    • 61 Bad Guys: Going After Bin Laden and Saddam
      (pp. 361-367)

      With the Judiciary Committeeʹs work in hand, the full House was ready to move forward with the matter of impeachment. Before it could vote, however, two events —one foreign, one domestic—intervened.

      ʺWe used a missile attack.ʺ

      The foreign event in December was a companion piece to one that had taken place in August.

      Samuel Berger: Al-Qaeda was not distinctly on our radar screen until the mid-nineties, and then particularly after the bombing of our embassies in Africa. At that point, al-Qaeda became something that we paid a great deal of attention to.

      On August 7, 1998, at about 10:30...

    • 62 The Hypocrisy Police: Bob Livingston, Porn Star
      (pp. 368-371)

      The second interruption in the drive toward impeachment came from the ruler not of a nation but of an adult-entertainment empire.

      ʺThey started yelling, ʹNo, you resign.ʹʺ

      After the midterms, Republicans in the House wanted a change in leadership.

      Arne Christenson: Within a couple days, Livingston announced that he was going to run for speaker. It was all based on the election results. If we had picked up ten seats, there would have been no concerns about Newt staying on.

      Just three days after Election Day, Gingrich announced that he would step down as speaker and would resign from Congress...

    • 63 It’s Official: Impeached
      (pp. 372-373)

      With Saddam Hussein and Bob Livingston both taken care of, the full House could finally vote on impeachment.

      Bill was working the phones up to the last minute.

      Charles Stenholm: I was one of five Democrats who voted to impeach the president.

      I spent thirty minutes on the phone with him the day before, with him trying to talk me out of casting the vote. I finally told him, “Mr. President, I can’t. I’ve made too many speeches back home to kids. You break the law, you’ve got to pay the price. And Mr. President, you broke the law.”


    • 64 It’s About Sex: The Trial
      (pp. 374-379)

      Jonathan Alter: At the end of 1998 I went to Renaissance Weekend and he, in his state of denial, gave a long speech—full of statistics—about how much better things were in the United States. And it was all true. It was the middle of the biggest boom in the history of the country, and a lot of people were coming out of poverty. He reviewed everything that happened that year, except that he didn’t mention one word about the fact that just a couple weeks earlier he’d been impeached.

      Usually right around midnight on New Year’s Eve at...

    • 65 Seventy-Eight Days: Kosovo
      (pp. 380-384)

      If the 1995 Dayton Accords did not usher in the peaceable kingdom in Bosnia, a modicum of normal life did return to that troubled land. But while Bosnia stabilized, Serbia destabilized, as the years of warmaking, coupled with economic sanctions imposed by the West, produced a crippled economy that led citizens to demonstrate en masse against the corrupt and repressive rule of Slobodan Milošević.

      Milošević responded with more corruption and more repression. He also returned to the tactic that had worked before to strengthen his following in Serbia: coarse nationalist demagoguery. The target this time was a familiar one: the...

    • 66 Down to the Wire: Camp David and the Clinton Ideas
      (pp. 385-392)

      In May 1999 the Israeli electorate ousted the Likud government led by hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu and replaced it with a Labor government headed by Ehud Barak, a former general who vowed to follow in the peacemaking footsteps of Yitzhak Rabin.¹ From then on, through the final days of his presidency, Bill would invest enormous time and energy in seeking to bring about the peace his hero had died for.

      First, Bill sought to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. He called Barak and a Syrian delegation to a meeting at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, just after the New Year,...

    • 67 In Denial: Bill Clinton and the Election of 2000
      (pp. 392-396)

      While Bill was concentrating on the Middle East, the American public was choosing his successor.

      Michael Dukakis: Had Clinton not gotten involved with Monica Lewinsky, Gore would have won by fifteen points.

      It’s the only thing Bush had going for him. What else did he have? It was a very successful administration. Gore had been a part of it, an important part of it.

      On the stump in 2000, Bush would end his speech by raising his right hand and placing his left on an imaginary Bible to act out a personalized version of the inaugural oath:

      When I become...

  10. Part VI Citizen Clinton, 2001–

    • 68 Parting Shots: Leaving the White House
      (pp. 399-403)

      With his tenure as the nationʹs chief executive about to end, Bill spent his spare time sorting through his eight thousand books and two thousand CDs—including his prized collection of the music of jazz saxophonists—choosing which to give away and which to take with him to the eleven-room home he and the newly elected junior senator from New York had purchased in tony Westchester County, just north of New York City.¹

      There was still time to make an impact in one area: the environment. In his closing days as president he issued a flurry of decisions, including one...

    • 69 Convening Power: The Clinton Foundation
      (pp. 403-410)

      Bill has led a double life since leaving the White House: As a public person he does good works; as a private person he pads his bank account. In 2008 he added a temporary third identity: he returned to being a political person—with disastrous results.

      ʺItʹs the kids who are still dying.ʺ

      Terry McAuliffe: It was hard for him. He was fifty-four years old when he left, and he had to go sit on the bench.

      In 2002Newsweekʹs Jonathan Alter conducted Billʹs first postpresidential interview. Bill spoke of his plans for his foundation.

      Jonathan Alter: He was committed...

    • 70 Chasing a Buck: Making Multimillions Multinationally
      (pp. 411-413)

      The underside to Billʹs globe-trotting, high-powered philanthropy has been his globe-trotting, high-powered personal money making.

      During his nearly twelve years as governor, Bill was paid an annual salary of $35,000—Hillary had been the breadwinner before the family moved into the White House.¹ During his eight years as president heʹd been paid more handsomely, but his annual income of $200,000 hardly allowed him to save enough to cover the expenses he faced upon leaving: his new home in Westchester, another in Washington to accommodate a senatorʹs schedule, the sky-high legal bills heʹd been presented by the lawyers who had battled...

    • 71 Bill in a China Shop: Hillary for President, 2008
      (pp. 414-420)

      By 2008 memories of Marc Rich and Monica Lewinsky had receded; in their place was the image of a resourceful philanthropist who undertakes impossible tasks and gets them done. Bill could legitimately claim to be not only whatEsquirecalled him in 2005, ʺThe Most Influential Man in the World,ʺ but also among the most popular. Even in his home country, where people know his flaws, admiration for him was widespread and growing.

      Then came Hillaryʹs campaign for president.

      Elaine Kamarck: In 2008 he wanted, desperately, to help his wife, and he was extremely rusty.

      Jonathan Alter: His political skills...

    • 72 Unintended Consequences: Clinton-Era Deregulation and the Financial Crisis of 2008–2009
      (pp. 420-422)

      If one highlight of Billʹs legacy, his contribution to race relations, suffered in early 2008, another, his stewardship of the U.S. economy, came into question a few months later. Insofar as the federal government was responsible for the financial crisis and recession of 2008–2009, most commentators have cast blame on the policies of the Bush 43 administration. However, some experts have pointed as well to Clinton-era deregulation of the financial-services industry.

      Bill did not invent deregulation of the American economy in general (begun in earnest during the Carter administration) or of the financial sector in particular (advanced during the...

    • 73 Envoy: A Visit to North Korea
      (pp. 423-424)

      The beating Billʹs reputation took on the 2008 campaign trail began to heal with his generous speech endorsing Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention that August. Another opportunity to repair his image came a year later, because two American journalists strayed across a river in Asia.

      On March 17, 2009, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, working on a documentary for Al Goreʹs Current TV about the trafficking of North Korean women into China, were captured by North Korean border guards on the frozen Tumen River separating the two countries. Three months later a North Korean court sentenced the two...

    • 74 And Now? The Future of Bill Clinton
      (pp. 424-428)

      Paul Begala: He probably had a harder time with Hillary’s loss than she did. As soon as the primaries were over, she was ready to help elect this guy. I think it took him a little longer.

      The feeling was mutual.

      Jonathan Alter: It took quite a long time before Bill Clinton worked his way back into the good graces of the Obama team. There’s still tension.

      Shortly after Barack Obama won election on November 4, 2008, he began discussions with Hillary about her becoming secretary of state. Bill approved of her taking the job, but his enthusiasm came with...

    • Epilogue: Closing Argument
      (pp. 429-434)

      Sam Donaldson: I think Bill Clinton will go down as a successful president, but I don’t think there will be a huge mark by his name. I don’t see a legacy that so far has surfaced that future generations will go back to and say, “This started it, right here, and this man gets the credit, or he gets the blame, for what’s happened since.”

      Charles Stenholm: I guess the first word to pop up—he wasn’t a failure. Were it not for the moral indiscretions, it would have had a much better feeling about it. But I can say...

  11. Speakers in A Complicated Man
    (pp. 435-444)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 445-476)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 477-478)
  14. Photo Credits
    (pp. 479-479)
  15. Index
    (pp. 480-496)