Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Death of American Virtue

The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. StarrI realize that Keen Gormley's book on the Clinton scandals may be a bit more than some people want to read about Whitewater and the rest of the work of the Independent Counsels who spent millions of dollars investigating the President.  But I thought this very well researched book was fascinating.  It is a long book.  To complete his task Gormley did hundreds of interviews.   From my perspective, as one who believed Clinton was guilty of a number of offenses, I could not discover any significant bias in Gormley's explanation of what happened.   The book is an excellent attempt to explain the events by doing a good profile of all of the key players in the events.  He points out the similarities of Ken Starr and Clinton.  He also does great descriptions of the McDougals, the lawyers on both sides of the issue, the members of the Lewinsky family and Bill Ginsberg.  These individual portraits form an interesting tapestry.
Here are some of the conclusions I drew from this book.   Starr was ill-suited to be an independent counsel.  I think he was sincere in his belief of trying to discover the facts but he had little experience in prosecutions and it showed.  Bill Ginsberg had little experience in these kinds of matters and was hired because he knew Monica Lewinsky's father.  Surprisingly he was able to keep Monica out of jail. He acted like a jerk but his grandstanding confused the prosecutors. The entire Lewinsky family come off as immature self-absorbed morons.  The McDougals come off as small time hustlers.   Eric Holder comes off (surprise) as a not very ethical, political lawyer.   Janet Reno seems to be out of it on much of the events.   David Kendall who did a spirited defense of Clinton that was ultimately successful comes off as a very talented lawyer.  I think he represented his client very well - based on the presumption of innocence - but I believe some of the key events and facts were obfuscated to the detriment of history.  That may be the problem with issues like this against a sitting president.  Ultimately the inescapable conclusions of the book are two - a) the allegations against the Clintons had some merit but were probably small time scandals that were blown out of proportion.  b) The Clinton sex scandals undoubtedly had a lot of merit, but the ultimate conclusion (of impeachment but not conviction) may have been the right decision in the end.  The book is well worth the time for getting the details of this period of history right but also for an excellent opportunity to reflect on the effect of our hyper confrontational news cycle and its effect on our institutions.

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