This book tells my part of the Clinton drama. It covers two presidential campaigns and four years in the White House. From the day I met him in September 1991 to the day I left the White House in December 1996, he was the dominant figure in my life. Our relationship was intense, intimate at times, but not a personal friendship. The Clinton I know is the Clinton I show in this book: the politician and president at work, a complicated man responding to the pressures and pleasures of public life in ways I found both awesome and appalling.
As I wrote and rewrote, I came to see how Clinton's shamelessness is a key to his political success, how his capacity for denial is tied to the optimism that is his greatest political strength. He exploits the weaknesses of himself and those around him masterfully, but he taps his and their talents as well. I have not lost my conviction that President Clinton has done a great deal to advance our country, and that he has acted out of profound patriotism and concern for others. For every reckless and expedient act, there are others of leadership and vision. I don't know how President Clinton will react to the portrait presented here, but I have tried to provide a fair representation of his many-faceted personality.
I have also tried to show the modern White House at work. For most of my tenure, I held a relatively amorphous job that was an amalgam of political troubleshooter, public-relations adviser, policy expert, and crisis manager. Having vaguely defined responsibilities was often frustrating, but it allowed me to participate in a wide range of White House decisions: from preparing a budget to writing presidential jokes, from helping to choose a Supreme Court nominee to smothering another "bimbo eruption," from passing legislation to preparing for press conferences, from organizing a peace ceremony to advising on military action. So much of the excitement of being a White House aide comes from having the chance to be a witness to history, and to feel like you're making it. I hope my account will be a useful tool for presidential historians.
In the end, however, this is neither a biography of Clinton nor a comprehensive history of his first term. Its a more personal narrative, the story of what happened to me in the White House--what I saw and did, how I felt and reacted to the pressures and pleasures of public life. Theodore White once wrote that "closeness to power heightens the dignity of all men." I now know that's not always true. I know how often I let my own ambition, insecurity, and immaturity get the best of me, and I have tried to be honest about that as well. But I also know that even having the chance to make the mistakes I made was a tremendous privilege. Because for all the compromises and disappointments, for all the days when my job felt like an exquisite jail sentence, working in the White House was the greatest adventure of my life.
Morningside Heights January 31, 1999
On the Saturday before Christmas 1992, I was feeling lucky. A few weeks earlier, with my help, Bill Clinton had been elected president --and soon I'd be working for him in the White House. But first I had to visit the Rose Law Firm. If you've read John Grisham, you've got a pretty good idea what Rose Law was like --Little Rock's version of "The Firm." Not that anyone's ever been murdered there (as far as I know), but its pedigree, power, and aura of buttoned-down mystery had made it a force in Arkansas for more than a century. It was also Hillary Rodham Clinton's firm.
All that made me a little nervous as I walked through the empty streets of Little Rock. I knew my background check was just a formality and believed I had nothing to hide. Still, I couldn't help worrying as I crossed the parking lot and, as instructed, let myself in the back door.
© 1999 by George Stephanopoulos. Published by permission of the publisher, Little Brown.
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