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My Life by Bill Clinton
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bookshelves: academic-notations, autobiography, history, illuminating, non-fiction, politics

Whatever opinions people may have of current or past American Presidents, it struck me quite forcibly in reading Bill Clinton’s ‘My Life’ how important are the qualities of sanity and of being grounded in compatible complementary sane friendships, and having associations with smart mainstream geniuses and educated experts, and in hiring experienced managers.

Just saying.

‘My Life’ is the autobiography of President Bill Clinton, who was the 42nd President of the United States. He tells readers at length many intricate details about his childhood, education, family and friends, as well as how he became obsessed with politics (I think he was a natural) and how he became determined to work towards being a professional politician since childhood. He fully airs out and describes his (known) mistaken judgements and his character flaws (I think with reluctance, but he knows it is all out there and a part of the public record). Those errors he feels he can defend, he does.

For better or worse, Clinton gives us his insider viewpoint on why he is who he is, how his life played out, and what being President of the United States is like and what a President does every day. Most of the book is so detailed I felt he must have used personal diaries, published interviews and other public records, recorded minutes of meetings and personal notes, and his own appointment diaries.

I was alive and an adult throughout his Presidency, so I am familiar with many of the events he describes. The book fills in a lot more information beyond what was in newspaper stories, of course, and Clinton gives us his emotional and mental thoughts as well. I am not naive about autobiographies, especially political ones, but I was very fascinated. It seemed as truthful as Clinton could be, but it also was careful, especially when referencing other politicians. The sentence ”I liked him” was used most frequently everywhere. Humor was used if Clinton revealed any personal faults of others which could be derogatory, with the exception of discussions about people who were seriously defaming Clinton maliciously. But I must say Clinton also tried to honestly describe his opponents’ views and ideas from where they stood ideologically or because of the constituents who supported them. He also included the variety of beliefs and conclusions advisors gave him when presented with the same set of facts about an issue. The vastly different recommendations of advisors would have had me in a fetal position under the bed, frankly, especially when issues of military force were concerned. Wow.

I found the book to be also a remarkable work record of what decisions, appointments, responsibilities, meetings and travels a President, any President, must handle.

Within a working day, American Presidents may decide to invade and destroy with a huge military force a foreign country - or not, to shut down the funding and stop providing experts for a health program and/or begin a new health program affecting millions of people, attend a baseball game and then a medal award ceremony, dig a shovelful of groundbreaking dirt for photos in opening a new factory, select a federal judge, fire a staff member suspected of media leaks, open up a new finance auditing office, meet-and-greet rich business people to ask for campaign money, discuss and sign thirty bills passed by Congress, meet Congressional staffers and/or cabinet members and world leaders in an economic summit to discuss cellphones and iron imports and toilet-paper exports, attend the opening of a musical play, check out an interior designer’s suggestions for White House curtains and consult with a historian for moving in historical White House furniture, give ten speeches, and close out the day with a televised ceremonial dinner for a Hollywood singer.

Mix in the trading of jokes and answering rude questions with angry and cynical journalists everywhere you are, as well as the constant threat of death from a stalker, terrorist or madman, requiring the never-ending surveillance and presence of law enforcement personnel and the Secret Service, all the while being ready for unexpected close-ups from cameras and recording equipment, and trying to remember anything you say or do can be leaked to everyone in the world to see. Not to mention the books, magazine articles and Internet parodies that will circulate and follow you beyond your death, in fact the stories about you will be told for centuries whether true or not.

Also, a President who is traveling for his own or his party’s members’ campaigns, or to foreign countries, and who can end up visiting five different cities in a day while continuing to competently handle all of the above in between moments of rushing about while being camera ready at all times (however, no taxpayer-paid haircuts costing $500 allowed), needs to be physically and mentally fit, or at least appear to be.

Personally, I would find it surreal to pardon a turkey or roll an Easter egg with jokes for ten minutes with children, and then go in to meet disabled combat veterans for an emotional award ceremony for an hour, then attend a difficult finance meeting with agricultural industrialists to discuss farming policy for two hours, then next hurry out for a newspaper photo-op lunch at a local diner to honor lower-class aspirations and diversity for a half-hour, then rush back to meet with Russian President Putin (or Yeltsin, in Clinton’s case) to sign agreements about military unit placements for an hour, after which attend an arts entertainment show with Hollywood stars who have or will donate campaign money, all of whom want a selfie, for three hours, and then meet with feuding cabinet members who are arguing where they should sit around the table before discussing the latest CIA reports of who has weapons of mass destruction for three hours. Not to mention the spouse complaining about not having talked to me for days or the kids or relatives or aides or associates fighting over being scheduled to go to yet another benefit photo-op representing the administration while I am reading secret security files about activities around the world which could topple governments and start WWIII while brushing my teeth and getting ready to sleep in Abraham Lincoln’s bed.

At least, if I was like the 44 Presidents who have taken the job seriously, I definitely would have many moments of exhausted unreality, worry and considerable consternation. Being human, I would hope people would have a little charity and have forgiveness for my mistakes or foolishness, and that perhaps history might laud me in the weighing of my accomplishments against my stupid failures.

I think I can safely conclude Bill Clinton did his best based on what other biographers of his life have written, as have all the Presidents of the United States before him, and this autobiography supports my thinking.

But what if a President comes along who is not like any of the previous 44 Presidents?

What if I, for argument's sake, was a slightly demented, uneducated rich person who couldn’t care less about the higher-calling aspirations of being the President of the United States and I believed the average person was lazy ignorant trailer trash by nature and not nurture? What if I was delighted instead at the chance to prove my negative ideas about the values of the American public and my opinion of the utter inconsequential utility of the existence of the government of the United States to ordinary people and the world. I might jump at the chance to prove that Americans are all ignorant lowlifes, and that that lifestyle is more enticing to people than trying to be the best they can be. I would demonstrate how promises of making vulgar culture and predatory business practices and identity politics the conversation will seduce and divert people from being their better selves. I would wall out all of the more noble yearnings, endeavors and passions of a country by an avalanche of vulgar twitterings. I might believe people should be left to indulge their vices and live fast die young in ignorance, rather than have the support of a government that gives society tools and leadership to help people become empowered to build communities that work together and to build a productive future for themselves and have happy healthy children.

If such a short-sighted, morally-depraved, narcissistic, secretly self-hating insecure man became President, he might feel he needed revenge on elite Yale- and Harvard-educated political science graduates full of workable governance theories and hopes of doing public good because they are better, smarter people than he ever will be. He might also want revenge on the self-important conservative political establishment pretending publicly to a dedication to democratic values and religious faith while lining their pockets and sneering secretly at scammed voters and vulgar lascivious people such as himself. Such a limited small-minded self-centered intelligence, twisted by personal demons and public slights, might feel the Presidency should be an opportunity to destroy enemies, wipe out past accomplishments and hose conventional morality down into the sewers. He would give people permission to act out their worst instincts, especially himself, instead of working for the common good. Such a person sees only the darkness in people, not the light.

Gee whiz, wouldn’t such man be horrible as President of the United States? Good thing the men who made it to the Oval Office, whatever their faults and ideological party, have always wanted to make the world a better place, not worse, and have always worked hard to allow a space for people to be the person their pet dogs and children believe them to be, right?

The book was fact-checked by the publisher. Clinton also had a professional editor. An assistant researched and examined historical documents, diaries, memoirs and notebooks by Clinton and hundreds of others. An index and pictures are included.
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Reading Progress

July 27, 2017 – Started Reading
July 27, 2017 – Shelved
July 27, 2017 –
page 134
July 31, 2017 –
page 288
August 4, 2017 –
page 471
44.6% "The chapters on Clinton's transition seem particularly interesting to me. The book has a ton of info on insider politics/strategies. If nothing else, the inside info makes the book a good read so far."
August 18, 2017 –
page 584
August 19, 2017 –
page 865
81.91% "It is remarkable how much newspapers and TV shapes a politician's record, actually. What I mean is, is in the record when a President signs twenty bills in one day, 3/4ths of them being fantastically positively life-changing for millions, agreed on in Congress, yet the media may focus on only three of the bills, or even only one, with the one of them maybe being scandalous, writing nothing about the 19 'good' bills."
August 20, 2017 – Shelved as: academic-notations
August 20, 2017 – Shelved as: autobiography
August 20, 2017 – Shelved as: history
August 20, 2017 – Shelved as: illuminating
August 20, 2017 – Shelved as: non-fiction
August 20, 2017 – Shelved as: politics
August 20, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ Fantastic review, April.

message 2: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne April said, "it struck me quite forcibly in reading Bill Clinton’s ‘My Life’ how important are the qualities of sanity and of being grounded in compatible complementary sane friendships, and having associations with smart mainstream geniuses and educated experts, and in hiring experienced managers."

It seems you might possibly have an opinion or two about how things are going in DC? ;)

aPriL does feral sometimes Thank you for your comments!

Jeanne - ya think?

: p

message 4: by Janebbooks (new)

Janebbooks Just a guy from Arkansas that likes French fries and hamburgers! What a "real" guy...and how fortunate we are that we were old enough or young enough to have Bill Clinton as our Potus...

You did him good...

message 6: by Cecily (new)

Cecily "The book was fact-checked by..."
How very quaint.

Seriously though, thanks for such an enlightening and provocative review.

message 7: by Randolph (new)

Randolph Calvin Coolidge looks good in retrospect.

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