Bill Clinton: An American Journey, a biography of 745 pages, by Nigel Hamilton covers Clinton’s life up until the time he was elected president. Random House published this book, and a second volume has been written but not yet published on Clinton’s life after ascending to the presidency. The author seeks to explain how Clinton, born August 19, 1946, rises from being born 30 yards from the Missouri Pacific lines, where up to one hundred trains a day passed, to a widowed working class mother living in her parents depression era home and of uncertain parentage to become president in forty six years.
The author analyzes Clintons life in the context of the cultural, social an political changes that occurred to the post World War II generation.
This biography is an insightful look at Clinton’s life as the first baby boomer to reach the presidency. I found it to be a serious work and very enjoyable reading. Hamilton is a gifted intellectual biographer and not just an academic assembling a long line of undigestible chronological facts.
Before I read this book I had already read David Mariniss’ biography of Clinton, Joyce Milton’s biography of Hillary, Joe Klein’s books on Clinton, the books on Whitewater and other aspects of Clinton’s life and friends and of course the many articles and stories in the press. The author has covered the written work available and also interviewed many of the Clintons friends, associates and observers but not the Clinton’s themselves who had and have their own books to write. Many fascinating people were not interviewed because they were either dead or I assume otherwise unavailable or maybe the author thought their views were already on record and to quote what was already in writing would be enough. Those are the roadblocks and decisions of a biographer that make or break his work. I would have liked to hear from someone on the staff in Fulbright’s office, his professors at Yale and Georgetown and other mentors on his way up. This book has extensive interviews from student contemporaries, both male and female and some of his girlfriends and lovers. One aspect that seems to be a very strong thread throughout the book is Clinton’s sex life. In fact it is a predominant thread, which is coupled with the changes in moral priorities seen in the baby boom generation. Also the author recites the social theory that Alpha males are predestined by evolution to spread their sperm to as many females of the species as possible and Clinton certainly falls in the Alpha category. While we know Clinton is a sexual being as everyone else is on the planet including the women he alleged to have had relationships with this biography seeks on too many occasions to define Clinton in a sexual context only.
In addition the author points out that since his birth in 1946 we have had the development of the Pill, the Drug Culture, the Draft and the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and the vast economic development of the United States that changed the stratification of society, made class change from one generation to another easier and opened up huge opportunities for those able to perceive and take advantage of these changes in society. Bill Clinton with his near genius or perhaps genius intelligence and his social personality traits was able to do this.
One thing the reader should not forget is that despite all the cultural, social and psychological ideas advanced in this book, that Bill Clinton is a self made man, who with the help of the gifted woman he married, reached his goal of political power and hung onto it through eight years of attacks from right wing political zealots and fundamentalist religious persons such as Kenneth Starr a millionaire lawyer who represents tobacco interests, Pat Robertson, a senator’s son who became a multimillionaire religious broadcaster on the donations of his listeners, Jerry Farwell a minister who preached the antichrist is among us and that he is most probably Jewish, Richard Mellon Scaife the heir to the Mellon fortune who financed numerous right wing tirades against the Clintons based on unfounded facts and spurious thinking and to other sour grapes politicians and fortune seekers of all stripes who attacked his character for personal or political gain.
This book stops at the point where he wins the presidency however the author points out that Arkansas politics was just as divisive as politics on the national scene. The author advances the idea that Clinton is the product of his times and environment and underplays the fact that Clinton’s determination, willingness to play the game and ability sidestep calamity and comeback from devastating losses such as his failure to be reelected to a second term as Arkansas Governor, a defeat form which no prior Arkansas governor had ever been able to overcome, are what made him.
Clinton had the gifts and character traits that would have made him a successful politician at any time in American history. Hamilton doesn’t seem to recognize this. He is English and a product of the English public school system with all its class distinctions. This is perhaps his blind spot. England has seen very few politicians rise from humble beginnings to leadership while America has many. Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter are to name just a few. This book sees Clinton too much through the eyes of what the media thought was important and never reaches the inner Clinton the political man. In this respect the book lacks depth. Despite this I look forward to the second volume which I expect to be a unique look at Clinton from another point of view.