MY LIFE, by Bill Clinton. ISBN 0-375-41457-6.

Yes, its a big book. Huge, some might say. Our 42nd president is known for never using a sentence where a paragraph might fit. Do not let this deter you from enjoying this book. Whatever your personal feelings on Clinton and his presidency, you owe it to yourself to tackle it. For all his volubility, Clinton writes both clearly and well, and the result is a quick and interesting read. One must admire much of his overall world view, however it was played out. On the civil rights issues, and the essential liberties of Americans, he sings with the angels (my opinion, of course).

It's an autobiography, of course, and so one has to expect negatives to be downplayed, and positives extolled. Keeping this in mind, I was able to understand more about the workings of American politics during a time of unparalleled prosperity. Don't read this to be titillated by the Monica affair; it is covered, but is not given prominence. Much more space is given to the substantive topics, the health care fiasco, civil rights, and such. Perhaps the best way to illustrate Clinton's thinking is to lift a few quotations. Speaking of professor Quigley, an admired college professor, he wrote:

"His second lasting insight concerned the key to the greatness of Western civilization, and its continuing capacity for reform and renewal. He said our civilization's success is rooted in unique religious and philosophical convictions: that man is basically good; that there is truth, but no finite mortal has it; that we can get closer to the truth only by working together; and that through faith and good works, we can have a better life in this world and a reward in the next. According to Quigley, these ideas gave our civilization its optimistic, pragmatic character and an unwavering belief in the possibility of positive change. He summed up our ideology with the term 'future preference,' the belief that 'the future can be better than the past, and each individual has a personal, moral obligation to make it so.' From the 1992 campaign through my two terms in office, I quoted Professor Quigley's line often, hoping it would spur my fellow Americans, and me, to practice what he preached."

Writing about his own position as a college professor, Clinton observes that he challenged his students to analyze seriously ethical issues. On Roe vs. Wade, he writes: "In 1975, I didn't know or care much about the politics of abortion. I was interested in the Supreme Court's herculean effort to reconcile conflicting convictions about law, morality, and life. In my opinion they did about the best they could do, lacking access to the mind of God . . . Whether my students agreed with me or not, I wanted them to think hard about it. I made them delve deeper, because I thought then, and still believe, that Roe v. Wade is the most difficult of all judicial decisions. Whatever they decided, the Court had to play God. Everyone knows life begins biologically at conception. No one knows when biology turns into humanity, or, for the religious, when the soul enters the body."

Clinton quotes with approval Ernest Becker, who wrote (in his book THE DENIAL OF DEATH), "Whether we succeed or fail, we are still going to die. . . . [But] there must be a Creator, one to whom we matter and will in some way return. . . . Who knows what form . . . life will take us in the time ahead . . . . The most that any one of us can seem to do is to fashion something . . . make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force."

On his Southern Baptist background, Clinton writes: "I knew the dark side all too well. Since I was a boy, I had watched people assert their piety and moral superiority as justifications for claiming an entitlement to political power, and for patronizing those who begged to differ with them, usually over civil rights. Yet he was also proud of his heritage as a "thinking" Christian.

Clinton has harsh words for some who opposed him, Newt Gingrich, who called him "the enemy of normal Americans," and Richard Scaife, who pumped millions into vilifying him in the presidential campaigns. He has an interesting analysis of how George Bush beat John McCain in the South Carolina primaries; Senator McCain has a child adopted from Bangladesh, and a telephone campaign reminded many South Carolinians that he had a "black baby." How McCain and Bush eventually reconciled is a another story.

Relive the 90s with this book. It reads well.

John W. Burgeson
Rico, Colorado
11-2-2005

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