As a writer myself, I'm baffled by Taylor Branch's decision to follow up his epic work on the truly historic Martin Luther King, Jr. with a book on a historical footnote like Bill Clinton. I just don't get how you go from such genuinely important subject matter to tabloid-level stuff. Call me crazy, but hey - he's Taylor Branch, so who am I to question him? Really, he can do whatever he wants - I just don't get the choice.
That said, from the excerpts, I see there's some telling - if not really "newsworthy" - snippets in the book. In particular, check this out:
Clinton exploded in rage during an interview with Rolling Stone's William Greider when the journalist confronted him about the economic impact of NAFTA on America's working class. He yelled at Greider, telling him "You are a faulty citizen. You don't mobilize or persuade, because you only worry about being doctrinaire and proud," and lumping him in with "bitchy and cynical" liberals." Clinton told Branch: "I did everything but fart in his face."
We know from John R. MacArthur's fantastic book The Selling of Free Trade that corporate CEOs were bragging that Clinton was deliberately using NAFTA to run "over the dead bodies" of workers and the environmental movement. So the revelation about Clinton's interaction with Greider isn't groundbreaking, but it is telling.
Greider is one of the best journalists in the last few decades - his body of work and his willingness to cover the forgotten stories puts him right up there with Bill Moyers. Similarly, NAFTA was one of the most consequential economic policies debated and passed in the last few decades. And yet, here we had a president being asked substantive questions by one of the best reporters about one of the most important policies, and here we had that president call that reporter "a faulty citizen" and later brag that he "did everything but fart in his face." Perhaps even worse, that same president insisted the concerns about millions of jobs lost and families crushed came out of some petty desire to be "doctrinaire."
That tells you everything you need to know about the inner workings of the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. these days: Expressing concern for working people - or, godforbid, legislating on their behalf - is worthy of having your face farted on.
Maybe that attitude, expressed on so many other working-class issues, is why, as I said to start, Bill Clinton is such a historical footnote.