Have no doubt about what is the best book written about the Clinton Administration. It is Christopher Hitchens's No One Left To Lie To (Verso, 1999), and I have loved it for a long time...as I still love Hitchens, warts and all, may he rest in peace. Here is just one reason why:
Two full terms of Clintonism and of "triangulation," and of loveless but dogged bipartisanship, reduced the American scene to the point where politicians had become to politics what lawyers had become to the law: professionalized parasites battening on an exhausted system that had lost any relationship to its original purpose (democracy or popular sovereignty in the first instance; justice or equity in the second). The permanent political class and its ancillaries held all the cards by the 2000 campaign, controlled all the money, decided on all the predigested questions in all the manipulated polls. They did their job almost too well, leaving insufficient room for illusion and inadequate grounds for maintaining any steady or principled party allegiance. As a result, the only realists were the cynics.You won't find a better summary of what Bill Clinton's two terms accomplished in American politics or of what has been, in hindsight, a significant factor contributing to the rise of Donald Trump. The Clintons gave us the remarkable falseness that pervades our political discourse--not dishonesty necessarily in every case so much as the nagging ring of inauthenticity that has turned so many Americans off the party system entirely. That's an important irony to bear in mind this year.
But just to be clear about it and to avoid any subtlety--I don't like Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton at all. I never have.
Still, I face the same choice everybody else will face in 2016. And, now comes this new book from a former-Secret Service agent assigned to the Clintons' protection detail in the 1990s. It's core claim can be found in its title. Byrne believes that Hillary Clinton lacks the character to be president.
The advance press has disclosed little about the specifics of what Mr. Byrne witnessed that 'made him sick.' But what we have seen about his book already actually is nothing new. Keen observers of the political reporting have known for a long time about Hillary and Bill Clinton's White House shouting matches, the coarse language, and even about a time when Hillary threw a lamp at Bill. None of this, or anything like it, is new information.
I have no doubt that it all will play like new information, though, or that Donald Trump will seize on it and dominate a few news cycles. That is, after all, why this book exists and those are the politics we have. (Ironically, we can thank the Clintons largely for that. But I repeat myself.)
But let's slow down and think about it for a minute.
If Hillary Clinton has a short temper, she hardly is alone. If she has had an ugly argument with her spouse, let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone. These are not deep character flaws. They are human foibles. They are nothing remarkable. Every president has had his share.
For the record, I don't think Hillary (or, Bill) Clinton has the right character for the Oval Office, and I've felt that way since pre-Lewinsky. There are a lot of other reasons to feel that way, reasons that have nothing to do with shouting matches. But we no longer live in that simpler time when I formed that opinion, and things look a little different in 2016.
Here is the good news about Hillary Clinton. She is thoughtful about public policy and keenly aware of the things government can and cannot do effectively. Her campaign promises specific policy positions that are based on reasonable conclusions from data. I do not agree with her about much. But I have to say this--she is practicing something I can recognize as politics.
By contrast, Clinton's 2016 opponent is a blow-dried, cyberbullying reality-TV star whose issue positions seem to be settled by a method something like letting Bull Connor, David Duke, and the drunkest, angriest uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table take turns on the spinner from Twister.
I'm sorry to say that the 2016 contest for president of the United States does not rise to the level of being a contest about character. The question we face this year is something more essential and simple--do we choose to solve our common problems by means of politics, or not?
I believe in politics, and the only candidate nominated by a major party to be president who also believes in politics, unfortunately, will be Hillary Clinton. That's the sad fact of where we are.
Hillary Clinton would be a bad president. But voting for her would not be the same kind of destructive act that a vote for Trump would represent. Both lack character. But at least one still represents something of the political system that we all have always believed in. The best that can be said for Hillary Clinton is that she still makes arguments about issues. Hillary Clinton is not a raging, race-baiting Id spewing ad hominems. That is literally the best thing I can say, and it is no endorsement...except, in 2016.
But that's not much of an endorsement, and it's not enough for me. So when I don't vote for Clinton or Trump (and, skip the race entirely) it won't be because Gary Byrne persuaded me of anything about Hillary Clinton. I won't even read his hardcover tabloid. When I skip the presidential race, it will be because neither Clinton nor Trump would pass a test of character, and that still bothers me even in 2016 when most American voters don't really seem to be interested in one. Or, in issues.
To all appearances, Gary Byrne's book is perfect for those American voters today. We are polarized and struck by fame, and Byrne trades on both of those. But he does not make anything like an argument about character. Hitchens did. And, Gary Byrne is no Hitchens.
Instead, Gary Byrne has traded on his access to famous people while he was sworn to protect their lives, and he's chosen to sell that access to score political points and make some money.
The wall of his glass house shatters anew for every copy of his book hurled at Hillary Clinton.