In Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal, the distinguished historian William H. Chafe boldly argues that the trajectory of the Clintons’ political lives can be understood only through the prism of their personal relationship. Each experienced a difficult childhood. Bill had an abusive stepfather, and his mother was in denial about the family’s pathology. He believed that his success as a public servant would redeem the family. Hillary grew up with an autocratic father and a self-sacrificing mother whose most important lesson for her daughter was the necessity of family togetherness. As an adolescent, Hillary’s encounter with her youth minister helped set her moral compass on issues of race and social justice.
From the day they first met at Yale Law School, Bill and Hillary were inseparable, even though their relationship was inherently volatile. The personal dynamic between them would go on to determine their political fates. Hillary was instrumental in Bill’s triumphs as Arkansas’s governor and saved his presidential candidacy in 1992 by standing with him during the Gennifer Flowers sex scandal. He responded by delegating to her powers that no other First Lady had ever exercised. Always tempestuous, their relationship had as many lows as it did highs, from near divorce to stunning electoral and political successes.
Chafe’s many insights—into subjects such as health care, Kenneth Starr, welfare reform, and the extent to which the Lewinsky scandal finally freed Hillary to become a politician in her own right and return to the consensus reformer she had been in college and law school—add texture and depth to our understanding of the Clintons’ experience together. The latest book from one of our preeminent historians, Bill and Hillary is the definitive account of the Clintons’ relationship and its far-reaching impact on American political life.
About William H. Chafe
William H. Chafe is the Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History at Duke University and the former president of the Organization of American Historians. The author of numerous prizewinning books on civil rights, women’s history, and politics, he is best known, most recently, for TheUnfinished Journey: America Since World War II and Private Lives / Public Consequences: Personality andPolitics in Modern America.
“Bill Clinton…is the first politician in history who has perfected the ability to cry in just one eye,” remarked Republican political operative and longtime foe—but now, oddly, friend—Haley Barbour, not unappreciatively. Clinton, as Chafe tells it, mastered the psychological survival skills necessary of a child of an abusive, alcoholic parent. Neglected and tormented as a child, he was also raised by a doting grandmother to be a force of destiny, literate by the age of three and a ham and class-time monopolizer by the time he was in elementary school. Clinton’s eagerness to please and be adored, oddly mirrored in the current president, played out politically in many episodes. One of the key moments in his early political career was being turned out of the governor’s office in Arkansas, which bewildered and depressed him, but which came as no surprise to anyone who shared the widespread view that he was “of an intent to impose ideas on Arkansas’s citizens whether they were ready for them or not.” Another key moment was the defeat of the omnibus health care act while Clinton was serving his first term as president; he had labored under the view that he could charm the opposition away, while Hillary rejected any suggestion of altering her carefully crafted bill. “The personal dynamic between Bill and Hillary helps explain why repeated possibilities for compromise were persistently rebuffed,” writes the author. Psychobiography is always suspect, particularly in the hands of someone who doesn’t possess a degree in psychiatry, but Chafe is careful to back up his suppositions with good evidence, and the portrait that emerges is both believable and of consummate interest to political junkies. – Kirkus Reviews
“Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal” by William H. Chafe
The Washington Post Book Review – September 7, 2012 (Excerpt)
William H. Chafe understands, as do too few historians and biographers, that the personal and public lives of political figures cannot be separated: “Public figures are shaped by private experiences. Their political behavior reflects personal values and choices as well as issues of public policy. Personal experiences infuse and inspire the choices that political figures make. What goes on in the family where a child grows up helps define in fundamental ways how that child responds as an adult to moments of political or moral crisis.” This may seem obvious, but it has not seemed so in the past as chroniclers of political life have, with only occasional exceptions, tended to regard that life as self-contained, only marginally connected at most to the personal side of these politicians’ lives.
Thus one of the reasons I especially admire Jean Edward Smith’s biographies of Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower is that in none of them does he shy away from exploring their boyhoods, their marriages, their extended families. Obviously no biographer of FDR can avoid the effect of polio on his subsequent political career, but that was only part of the many ways in which private pain and unhappiness affected what he did in public and how he did it. The same goes for Grant’s long struggle to rise out of poverty and Eisenhower’s deep roots in the Midwest of his youth. [Read the full article...]
Scenes From a Marriage
The New York Times Book Review – September 28, 2012 (Excerpt)
How far can a presidential marriage go in explaining a presidency?
Not far, according to most couples who occupy the White House. Life and history are smoother for them if everyone abides by the press-office fiction that the president’s spouse is more soothing accessory than sharp-eyed adviser or moral force. So while we stare endlessly at first couples, we rarely glimpse the strange vastness of their marriages: how a private conversation between two people, lying in the same bedroom where Abraham Lincoln slept, can influence an entire nation. We forget that our leaders, tossed in the maelstrom of the modern presidency, rely on their spouses as few of us ever need to, and that even first ladies who are not policy wonks still influence their husbands’ aspirations and judgments. Biographers can be complicit, often consigning wives to cameos, sometimes because the full story is just too hard to see.
The great exceptions to this rule are Bill and Hillary Clinton, who offered themselves to the nation as a package deal from the start. No one has ever doubted the influence of the Clinton marriage, but in his new book, “Bill and Hillary,” the historian William H. Chafe ups the ante, arguing that the entire Clinton presidency was powered by the psychodynamics of the Clinton union. [Read the full article...]
‘Bill and Hillary,’ by William H. Chafe
SFGate.Com Book Review – October 29, 2012 (Excerpt)
In the past two decades, much ink has been spilled, so to speak, recounting, explicating, analyzing, observing, discussing, gossiping and debating the lives of the world’s most visible first couple. The Clintons have become our royal family, complete with all that implies about our fascination, exasperation, derision, admiration of them. The title of this new book says it all, just plain Bill, but coupled with Hillary, it becomes media dynamite. The subtitle, however, promises more: “The Politics of the Personal” with all that implies about their public lives being inextricably linked with their not-so-private lives.
Taking his cue from the mantra of the second wave feminist movement that “the personal is political,” William Chafe, a distinguished Duke University historian, professes to freshly re-examine the Clinton story from that perspective. The problem is that the Clintons’ personal story has never been separate from their political narrative; it is front and center to the Clinton phenomenon. Chafe reminds us why. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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