When Bill Clinton completed his term of office in January, 2001, he faced the immediate task of writing his memoirs, under contract to Alfred A. Knopf. It is rumored that Clinton actually hoped to fulfill his contractual obligation to Knopf by writing two books, one detailing the years leading up to his governorship in Arkansas and one detailing his political growth during four terms as governor of Arkansas, then as a major figure during his two terms as president of the United States.
Although his publisher allegedly urged him to write a single book, My Life is, in a way, two books. The first part is a perceptive analysis of what made Clinton the man he became. Had he not entered an extensive course of family counseling following the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it is doubtful that he would have possessed the insights to view his first thirty-odd years with the clarity that he brings to this analysis of his early life.
The second part of the book focuses on Clinton's political activities and of his rise from the lowest paid governor in the United States to president. Much of this portion of My Life is an extended catalog of the many functions and involvements in which Clinton was involved as president, but these details are far more than a mere recounting of his presidential activity. The book, written at breakneck speed, has a locomotive force that, despite its bulk of 957 pages plus forty-three additional pages of index and acknowledgments, quickly draws readers into its drama and dynamics, making it compelling reading.
Clinton repeatedly refers to the parallel lives he has lived. Of his father, William Jefferson Blythe, Jr., who died in an automobile crash three months before Clinton's birth on August 19, 1946, he writes, “My father left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people, and that if I did it well enough, somehow I could make up for his life.” The theme of parallel lives pervades the book, but Clinton takes this theme beyond the obvious dichotomy between the public and private figure and delves as well into the inner consciousness, the psychological substrata, of each.
Clinton's was not a typical childhood. Not only was his father dead when he was born, but his mother, Virginia, soon had to go to New Orleans for training as a nurse anesthetist, leaving her infant son in the care of her parents, who were thoroughly good, loving people. Upon his mother's return to Arkansas and her remarriage to Roger Clinton, young Bill adopted the surname of his stepfather, with whom he was generally on good terms.
Roger Clinton, however, became mean and violent when he drank, leading to frequent crises within the household. Finally, during one of Roger's drunken physical attacks upon Virginia, Bill, still in his teens, stood up to his stepfather and threatened him with a golf club as he was beating his mother. Recalling the incident, Clinton writes, “I suppose I was proud of myself for standing up for Mother, but afterwards I was sad about it, too. I just couldn’t accept the fact that a basically good person would try to make his own pain go away by hurting someone else.” The family tensions Clinton endured were lodged deep within him and not shared with anyone. From his earliest years, Bill became adept at keeping secrets and repressing emotions.
During the years that he lived in Roger Clinton's home, Clinton learned to distance himself psychologically from the tumult that often surrounded him there. Throughout his career, he relied on his ability to keep separate the diverse strands of his life, making it possible for him to rise above many of the attacks upon him during his years as a public official. During the impeachment woes that threatened to destroy his presidency, Clinton attended to affairs of state simply by closing from his mind the immediate threatening pressures upon him.
Shortly into his presidency, intimations of financial improprieties surrounding his involvement in Whitewater came to light. Clinton, convinced that he and his wife, Hillary, had nothing to hide, urged the appointment of a...
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