Joe Klein, The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton

The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton


Joe Klein possesses the gift of pithiness. His White House bio — The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton” — weighs in at less than 300 pages, but it’s packed with revealing details. As a journalist (Klein writes for The New Yorker), he can summarize a subject in a single well-phrased sentence. ”The Clinton era is likely to be remembered more for the ferocity of its prosecutions than for the severity of its crimes,” he writes.

Klein uses broad strokes, depicting Clinton as the Über?baby boomer, ”the apotheosis of his generation’s alleged sins: the moral relativism, the tendency to pay more attention to marketing than to substance, the solipsistic callowness.” Clinton emerges as a complex, often paradoxical character. Klein doesn’t shy away from documenting Clinton’s ”angry, adolescent side,” but he gives him credit for ”a coherent, sophisticated political vision” that resulted in improved lives for millions of Americans.

The chief exec’s personality comes through most clearly in the discussions of his administration’s defining crisis: the Lewinsky scandal. Klein bemoans the ”selfishness, crudeness, and banality” of Clinton’s affair, then marvels at how he turned the congressional investigations to his advantage, bringing down archrival Newt Gingrich in the process. At times, Klein seems to know his subject too well, relating one incident of chumminess that’s disturbing in its intimacy. On the eve of the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Klein bowled a late-night game with Clinton and recalls, ”As we stood there, waiting for our balls to return down the alley, he’d lean up against me — a strange feline sensation.”

With a politician this accessible, it was perhaps inevitable that the writer would insert himself into the narrative. Klein mostly mentions himself only when it’s relevant to a larger event — for example, when, in 1996, he anonymously published the Clintonian roman à clef ”Primary Colors.”

The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton
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