Magazine article The Spectator

Northward and Upward

Magazine article The Spectator

Northward and Upward

Article excerpt

Northward and upward BILL CLINTON: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY by Nigel Hamilton Century, L25, pp. 784, ISBN 1844132080

This first volume of Bill Clinton's biography, taking the story as far as his presidential election victory in 1992, comes at a peculiar time. Unlike many of the hasty invectives pronounced upon the 42nd president, Nigel Hamilton's study is written on the grand scale, drawing on much of the published record and delving further with interviews and insights. Yet it has been published too late to take account of what Hillary Clinton has to say in her recent chart-topping memoirs (soon to be a staple of second-hand bookshops). And it has been published prior to Bill Clinton's autobiography and the release of his archives. Nigel Hamilton has put in an awful lot of work for a biography that will soon be comprehensively superseded by the release of new material.

Despite these limitations, Bill Clinton: An American Journey is a gripping account of the rise of one of the most charismatic politicians of our age. The author of the best selling JFK: Reckless Youth, Hamilton is no stranger to writing long books about over-sexed leaders. Indeed, he is no stranger to writing long books trying to prise out the sex lives of those, like Field-Marshal Montgomery, where no such proclivities were thought to exist - or matter. With Clinton, there is hardly even the need to look for salacious material. It is everywhere. He appears to have had a sex life so active that one wonders how he found time to be a committed Baptist.

That Clinton's second term in office was ruined by Monica Lewinsky's revelations is hardly in dispute. But Hamilton argues that ironically it was Gennifer Flowers' sallegations (and Bill and Hillary's televised show of unity in reaction to them) that put name recognition and impetus into Clinton's presidential campaign, setting him on course for the White House in the first place.

This is not a diatribe against the Permissive Sixties. Hamilton writes of the Democrats' 'social conscience and care for the underprivileged' being pitted against Reagan's coalition of 'religious fundamentalists, racists, and selfish capitalists'. But the consequence of writing from a politically sympathetic standpoint is to show up Clinton's personal failings all the more painfully.

At so many of the critical moments he comes over as utterly gutless. Two years after becoming Arkansas's youngest ever governor, he was ousted at the polls. Rather than concede defeat with the pretence of graciousness, he got Hillary to phone his victorious opponent with the assurance 'Bill's indisposed right now and can't speak to you, and I'm calling to congratulate you. …

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