Joe Klein's Primary Concern: Bill Clinton's Biographer Wants Us to Remember the Former President for His Successes, Not His Scandals. (Biography)

Article excerpt

AS A PHOTOGRAPHER LEADS HIM through a dark, echoing tunnel in Central Park to set up a shot, Joe Klein bristles. "Oh no," he says, slapping his palms against his pants. "You're doing that whole shadowy, `anonymous' thing."

Klein's through with that schtick. It was fine for 1996's Primary Colors--his anonymously penned succes de scandale that fictionalized backstage shenanigans in the '92 Clinton campaign, a book that momentarily made Klein a pariah in the media world for insisting he hadn't written it even after it became clear he had. But now there'll be no posing for pictures in dim, mysterious places, no shots with a paper bag over his head. Jane Austen didn't shill that way when she wrote her first works as "A Lady," Klein says. Benjamin Disraeli didn't do it when he published novels as the Earl of Beaconsfield. And Klein won't do it, either. Only when the photographer protests that he's using a flash does Klein relax and cooperate.

Klein is done with Anonymous, and he's almost done with Clinton--a man whose life strangely refracts his own. The men were both born in 1946; both were actively pro-civil rights and antiwar during the 1960s, embraced a more centrist national view in the '80s and became the subject of a voracious media feeding frenzy in the '90s.

The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton is Klein's final take on the man who consumed his life for the past decade. Klein covered Clinton's campaign for the presidency in 1992 and wrote about him while a columnist at Newsweek; the latest book began as a story in The New Yorker. The slim volume is an effort, Klein says, to go beyond scandals, to critically and soberly assess Clinton's accomplishments and failings, most notably welfare and health care reform. It is also Klein's wistful remembrance of a man who defined an era of plenty and frivolity that disappeared all too quickly. …