Clinton Memoir Will Remind Voters What They Want in a Leader

Posted June 21, 2004 at 2:56pm

You’ve got to hand it to Bill Clinton. As always, his timing is perfect. With Americans deeply polarized along partisan lines and the presidential election in a virtual tie, Clinton’s new book, “My Life,” should serve as a reminder to voters of what Democrats stand for: building strong alliances around the world, helping win the war on terror and delivering prosperity at home. Knowing the former president, he’ll hit a home run for the party. [IMGCAP(1)]

I have no doubt that Americans will rush to devour all 957 pages of Clinton’s tome in an effort to learn more about what makes perhaps our most fascinating president tick. As the author of a new book, “Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics,” I am sure the former president’s autobiography will “stir up” the electorate. And we need it. At a time when our country is fighting the global war on terrorism and trying to bring security and stability to Iraq, Clinton will remind voters how important it is to have a strong, steady and determined leader in the White House.

While most press coverage has and will doubtless continue to focus on his personal life, early reviews (a mixed bag from what I’ve seen) indicate Clinton will delve into the details of some of the early public policy decisions of his presidency and the impact they had on our country. That’s a good thing, as readers will hopefully come to better understand the importance of the political process in helping to solve some of our pressing problems like the economy and rising budget deficits.

Personally, I am not going to spend a lot of time dwelling on his treatment of the scandals or his enemies’ obsessive attempts to destroy and derail his presidency, or the massive waste of funds that fueled the witch hunts. In many ways, some Democrats, including Sens. Tom Daschle (S.D.) and John Kerry (Mass.), are still fighting those same reactionary, extremist right-wing forces.

Both men, as well as every Democrat running this fall, should take a chapter from Clinton’s book and figure out how to hit back at their opponents just as hard. The release of Clinton’s book will also bring back to the political table some of the talented leaders the former president surrounded himself with and should enliven the Democratic Party’s “war room” to counter any negative spin. There is no question that Clinton’s enemies will not give him a free pass. They have begun in earnest a national campaign to “trash” the former president and his political supporters by recirculating old rumors and gossip. Pity them and tell them to get a life. The rest of us have moved on.

But, as a progressive, liberal Democrat, I want to read the book for another reason. How did this self-proclaimed centrist reconcile his personal views while handling many controversial and contentious issues such as welfare reform, affirmative action and mandatory minimum sentencing? Did he stand firm on his convictions, or did he bend to the prevailing winds to appease his detractors? Although he made several institutional changes in the direction of the party, many observers believed at the time that much of the policy issued under his leadership benefited his presidency more than the party in general. How will he respond to questions on the book tour about the plight of Democrats across America and in his native South?

During the upcoming book tour, I am sure the Clinton that many of us know and admire will have a great time talking about his life, what led him to a career in public service, the people who motivated and inspired him and what he sought to do while in office. By telling his story now when it is fresh, I hope he inspires a new generation of young people to choose a career in public service to our nation. They can surely start by registering to vote this fall.

What’s more, Clinton can use this national forum and attention to shine a spotlight on some areas he neglected while in office. That is why many of us are deeply touched by Clinton’s recent pursuit to help ease the pain and suffering of people with AIDS in developing countries.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) proved by her remarkable book sales that the American people still are excited about the leadership the Clintons provided to our country. By writing this book, Bill Clinton reminds us of what most Americans crave in their public officials: grace and humility. At this stage in the election cycle, we could use a pinch of grace and a pound of humility. Yet again, his timing is perfect.

I expect “My Life” will draw a diverse range of people to bookstores in the coming weeks. After all, the famous novelist and essayist Toni Morrison once referred to him as “our first black president.” The great thing about voting at the cash register is that you can vote twice. I just hope today that when readers flock to vote at the cash register to purchase Clinton’s book, they will buy a copy of his little black sister’s book as well.

Donna L. Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grassroots political consulting firm.