Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President

By Chafe, William H. | The Historian, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President


Chafe, William H., The Historian


Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President. By Patrick J. Maney. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2016. Pp. 344. $34.95.)

This new book on Bill Clinton is both illuminating and frustrating. Beautifully written, it mines multiple sources to describe Clinton's policies on deficit reduction, free trade, welfare reform, health care, economic policy, and foreign affairs. Yet, the author underplays key issues and ignores people that helped shape the Clinton administration. Moreover, it offers no overarching thesis to help readers understand the often contradictory events of the Clinton years.

Patrick Maney's chapter on the years leading up to the presidency effectively encapsulates the critical turning points for Clinton during the late 1970s and 1980s, particularly his role in becoming leader of the Democratic Leadership Council, the new centrist rallying point for the party. Similarly, Maney's description of key appointees to the administration--Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Robert Reich, Leon Panetta, Laura Tyson--gives the reader a clear sense of the age, temperament, and character of those who came to play a critical role in domestic policy. Maney devotes more space to economic policy than any other major subtopic and helps make comprehensible otherwise difficult-to-penetrate issues like bank reform, antitrust policy, hedge funds, and derivatives.

Yet the book lacks an overarching thesis about Clinton's politics overall. Although in one paragraph Maney calls Clinton one of the most "conservative" Democratic presidents of the twentieth century, that does not constitute a framework for the entire book. It would have been far more effective to describe Clinton, throughout its pages, as an "Eisenhower Republican," who--with the exception of health care reform--pursued policies (NAFTA and free trade, welfare reform, deficit reduction, a tough crime bill, one hundred thousand more police on the streets) that were much more associated with Republicans than with liberal Democrats. …

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