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I just finished reading Joe Klein’s book The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. The book is billed as an important work of political history, being the primary chronicle of Clinton’s eight years in the White House, but in reality it is neither. It is a slight volume — barely 220 pages of primary material — and many topics are glossed over. The book is really an expansion of several magazine articles Klein wrote (primarily for The New Yorker) about the Clinton Administration, and it reads as such — not a whole lot of corroboration, little rigorous journalism, a lot of breezy narrative. Still, the book serves a purpose well: it at least provides the outlines, in broad strokes, of the 42nd President. Klein’s take is that Clinton is a man of extraordinary gifts and talents who, while accomplishing a great deal, never was able to really mold his achievements into greatness and who allowed his own personal failings to nearly derail him completely. Klein tells us a lot about the President, but ultimately the book still leaves Clinton as a somewhat foggy figure. A criticism that dogged Clinton from the time he entered the 1992 Presidential campaign is that one never could be sure just what he really believed, and after reading Klein’s book that charge still stands as fairly accurate. (Particularly frightening is the fact Klein cites that the Clinton Administration spent more on polling than every previous administration combined. Many conservatives used to complain that Clinton governed by the public opinion poll, a charge that was not entirely without merit.) Those interested in the political history of the 1990s will find a good starting point here; but the truly definitive work on that decade is still in the offing.

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