Hit & Run

Clinton and Nixon


After Charles Paul Freund's reverie of Doorman Bill, there's probably not a lot left to be said about Bill Clinton's My Life; certainly the book, however well it sells, is destined to be as unread as his wife's bestselling volume or any future 1,000-pager (god, let's hope not) by Thomas Pynchon.

As a last word on the topic, here's USA Today's take on Clinton's book:

Clinton admits in his book that his affair with Monica Lewinsky was "immoral and foolish" and hurt his family, the presidency and the American people. "That," he writes, "was no one's fault but my own." Good as far as it goes. But in the next breath, he blames his impeachment on a right-wing cabal led by prosecutor Ken Starr bent on bringing him down….

In ducking full responsibility for his downfall, Clinton is not unlike predecessors who failed to repaint tainted presidencies. Such accounts, historian Richard Norton Smith says, are "faulty vehicles" for rewriting history.

Herbert Hoover tried to absolve himself of responsibility for the Depression. Richard Nixon sought to bury Watergate, but never owned up to the depths of his involvement in the scandal. In fact, his take on his undoing was eerily similar to Clinton's.

"I brought myself down," Nixon told TV interviewer David Frost in 1977. "I gave them a sword, and they stuck it in, and they twisted it with relish."

Nixon and Clinton were similar in that they were generally atypical for their political parties. Nixon, that ardent architect of the regulatory state, was hardly a conservative of the Goldwater/Reagan sort; Clinton's big policy successes (reforming welfare, balancing the budget) cut away from the standard Dem takes. They shared a certain psychological sense of being outsiders to power, affluence, and the Establishment. And they lied a lot and bore grudges longtime. No wonder Clinton gave genuinely interesting--and quite possibly heartfelt--remarks at Nixon's funeral. (Note also the reference to the opening line of one of Nixon's memoirs and its similarity to Clinton's own first line).

Whole USA Today thing here.