Book - The Clinton Tapes

The Clinton Tapes

Steve Taylor-Bryant discovers that truth really is stranger than fiction in US politics as he reads The Clinton Tapes by Taylor Branch...

Whether you like politics or not, Democrat or Republican, none of the above, perhaps you can't stand the political environment in your own country let alone the United States, it doesn't really matter. We have all asked a question of our elected officials at one point or another and that is "why did they do that?" In the majority of cases you are publicly lied to when and if you try and get an answer or secrecy is the blanket response that allies those in power to evade the electorate. Occasionally though you come across a leader that will give you a glimpse into a decision making life and Bill Clinton is one of those leaders.

William Jefferson Clinton was elected the 42nd President of the United States of America and took office in January of 1993 for the most turbulent media frenzied terms the White House has possibly ever experienced. Yes, Clinton courted the media, he knew early on the power that modern news holds when it comes to getting across your message and, as it turned out, he realised what a double edged sword that life is. In the October of ’93, his old friend and colleague from their time in Arkansas, historian Taylor Branch, arrived at the White House, tape recorder in hand and started what would become 79 conversations about Clinton and his policies, thoughts and decision making process over the next 8 years.

What the book gives us is everything you'd expect if you were viewing your own family. Chelsea struggling with her studies, Hillary without make up, Clinton making himself Nachos and, whilst this in itself would make for the worst book ever, it all adds to story of Clinton’s reign and removes some of the mystery of what goes on in the White House. Haiti, the Middle East, budget reform, the hiring and firing of cabinet officials are all covered, as is the womanising aspects that plagued Clinton all his life.

It's no secret that Branch and Clinton are old friends dating back to anti war rallies in the 1960's and working together for George McGovern's unsuccessful campaign against Richard Nixon and those who maybe have an agenda against Clinton will question Branch being the man who gained these insights. I totally understand that view but it's so rare to get unprecedented access to history being made that you have realise that any other historians or journalists wouldn't have got what Branch achieved. No one in their right mind would open up about everything to someone who is full of distrust or doesn't know them so I just stand back and applaud Branch and Clinton.

The book can be heavy going in places and reading it with hindsight is quite hard as you have to dismiss your own concrete thoughts about the president and events but it is fascinating and a welcome view of modern politics, terror threats, disaster, peace, policy making and the toll the top job takes on a man. Was Clinton the best president? That's for Americans, historians and time to work out. Did I get an insight into Clinton the man and world leader? Yes. More than I ever imagined and so much more than any memoir or professor’s thoughts would ever give me. What I wish for now is for Branch to have his tapes returned to him and for an accurate history of Clinton and his presidency to be written but I fear that won't happen, in which case this is the only book worth reading on the matter currently published.

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