Thursday, June 24, 2004

MY LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES


I'm two thirds of the way through Bill Clinton's auto-encyclopedia now, and I'm starting to understand how #42 earned the nickname "Bubba." Reading this book is like sitting on the park bench with Forrest Gump--a really smart and powerful Forrest Gump. Bill Clinton runs into all kinds of famous people and finds himself wrapped up in all kinds of historically significant moments.

Of course we should expect this of an ex-president, however the book strikes me as rather surreal in how it reads: a long, circuitous recounting of seemingly discrete memories strung together as one, punctuated only with a generous dose of down-home colloquialisms. I get a haunting feeling that I am being told the same things over and over again (I just can't quite remember whether I had already read that same paragraph some 200 pages ago, and before my brain can sort it all out, Clinton is on to the next colloquialism and tale of meeting Boris Yeltsin, etc.). Somehow, Gumpifying the tale of his life makes the historic seem less significant, but not in the comical way that a half-wit from rural Alabama does.

Clearly the book was written to personalize the man that has been so demonized by the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" and to atone for failings in his personal life. I've heard a number of media pundocrats refering to the tome as part memoir, part personal expose, and part policy seminar. Don't believe the latter. There is no depth to the treatment of the Clinton White House's internal policy making process or how and why he reached important decisions that reshaped this country and the world.

For example, there is no discussion of how or why Clinton decided to table the push for health care reform (which had been a central tenet of his 1992 campaign) in favor of passing a controversial trade and investment treaty that was the progeny of the past 12 years of Republican policy (which ultimately split his own party and depleted his political capital such that health care reform was no longer feasible). After discussing the his administration's lobbying effort on behalf of the Reagan-Bush trade treaty (consequently omitting the massive lobbying in Washington effort by the Mexican government and the major multinational corporations), Clinton writes: "it was becoming clear that a vote on health care reform would not come until the following year." (p. 547).

Now, imagine Forrest Gump on the park bench: "And that's all I have to say about that." Except when Forrest Gump says it, we know that did not make the leap that connects one event or concept or action to another, nor did he question why things happened a particular way, he just accepted that they did. Reading Bubba, on the other hand, we know that there is just a huge piece of the story missing.

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