My Life by Bill Clinton



Book Excerpt from Chapter One
Early on the morning of August 19, 1946, I was born under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother in the Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, a town of about six thousand in southwest Arkansas, thirty-three miles east of the Texas border at Texarkana. My mother named me William Jefferson Blythe III after my father, William Jefferson Blythe Jr., one of nine children of a poor farmer in Sherman, Texas, who died when my father was seventeen. According to his sisters, my father always tried to take care of them, and he grew up to be a handsome, hardworking, fun-loving man. He met my mother at Tri-State Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1943, when she was training to be a nurse. Many times when I was growing up, I asked Mother to tell me the story of their meeting, courting, and marriage. He brought a date with some kind of medical emergency into the ward where she was working, and they talked and flirted while the other woman was being treated. On his way out of the hospital, he touched the finger on which she was wearing her boyfriend's ring and asked her if she was married. She stammered "no"—she was single. The next day he sent the other woman flowers and her heart sank. Then he called Mother for a date, explaining that he always sent flowers when he ended a relationship. Read more.


Timeline and Commentary
1976:

Clinton wins his first political race to become Attorney General of Arkansas.

1978:

Elected Governor of Arkansas, making him the youngest state governor in the U.S. at that time. He is defeated after just one term.

1982: Elected governor again, where he remained for five more consecutive terms.
1992:

Clinton wins the presidential election after defeating George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot, running on a platform that stressed domestic issues, notably a sagging economy.

"No wonder Americans hate politics when, year in and year out, they hear politicians make promises that won't come true because they don't even mean them--campaign fantasies that win elections but don't get nations moving again." --Candidate Clinton, Detroit Economic Club, August 21, 1992

1993:

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is ratified, allowing freer trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

"Being president is a job for just one person. And for the next four years that person is Hillary." --Dan Rather, Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 15, 1993

"Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations of our nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time. Well, my fellow citizens, this is our time. Let us embrace it." --President Bill Clinton Inaugural Address, January 21, 1993

1994:

The midterm elections give the Republicans control of both the Senate and the House for the first time in 40 years, causing a fierce fight over the budget and resulting in a series of brief governmental shutdowns.

"Clinton means what he says when he says it, but tomorrow he will mean what he says when he says the opposite. He is the existential President, living with absolute sincerity in the passing moment."
--Michael Kelly, The New York Times Magazine, July 31, 1994

1995:

Clinton organizes the Dayton Peace Accords in Ohio, bringing a temporary cease-fire to the Balkan States.

"For the quickest descent into the ethical quagmire, the Clinton administration has set a new indoor record." --Howard Kurtz column, The Washington Post, March 26, 1995
1996:

Clinton is elected to a second term after defeating Bob Dole and Ralph Nader.

"America demands and deserves big things from us--and nothing big ever came from being small. Let us remember the timeless wisdom of Cardinal Bernardin, when facing the end of his own life. He said: 'It is wrong to waste the precious gift of time, on acrimony and division.'" --Second Inaugural Address of President Bill Clinton, January 20, 1997
1998:

On December 19, Clinton is impeached by the House of Representatives on the grounds of perjury, abuse of powers, and obstruction of justice regarding matters related to his affair with White House aide Monica Lewinsky.

Number of U.S. households that chose watching professional wrestling over the president's televised apology in August: 6,379,000. --Harper's
Index, November 1998

1999:

In February, in a Senate vote basically along party lines, Clinton is spared impeachment.

In conjunction with a Republican-controlled Congress, Clinton balances the U.S. federal budget for the first time since 1969.

"Whether you like him or not like him, this is one of the great, get up, political fighters of all time."
--Dan Rather to Geraldo Rivera on CNBC's Rivera Live, July 8, 1999

"The light may be fading on the 20th century, but the sun is still rising on America."
--President Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan International Trade facility, December 31, 1999

2000: After protracted political wrangling by Clinton, China is accepted into the World Trade Organization, opening that vast market to goods from the U.S. and around the world.
2001:

The William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation is created to help people around the world meet the challenges of global interdependence.

"I am confident that we have the knowledge and the means to make the 21st century the most peaceful, prosperous, interesting time in all human history. The question is whether we have the wisdom and the will." --President Bill Clinton, from the Dimbleby Memorial Lecture given by the former U.S. President at the Institute of Education in London, December 18, 2001



Editorial Reviews
Amazon.com
An exhaustive, soul-searching memoir, Bill Clinton's My Life is a refreshingly candid look at the former president as a son, brother, teacher, father, husband, and public figure. Clinton painstakingly outlines the history behind his greatest successes and failures, including his dedication to educational and economic reform, his war against a "vast right-wing operation" determined to destroy him, and the "morally indefensible" acts for which he was nearly impeached. My Life is autobiography as therapy--a personal history written by a man trying to face and banish his private demons.

Clinton approaches the story of his youth with gusto, sharing tales of giant watermelons, nine-pound tumors, a charging ram, famous mobsters and jazz musicians, and a BB gun standoff. He offers an equally energetic portrait of American history, pop culture, and the evolving political landscape, covering the historical events that shaped his early years (namely the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK) and the events that shaped his presidency (Waco, Bosnia, Somalia). What makes My Life remarkable as a political memoir is how thoroughly it is infused with Clinton's unassuming, charmingly pithy voice:

I learned a lot from the stories my uncle, aunts, and grandparents told me: that no one is perfect but most people are good; that people can't be judged only by their worst or weakest moments; that harsh judgments can make hypocrites of us all; that a lot of life is just showing up and hanging on; that laughter is often the best, and sometimes the only, response to pain.

However, that same voice might tire readers as Clinton applies his penchant for minute details to a distractible laundry list of events, from his youth through the years of his presidency. Not wanting to forget a single detail that might help account for his actions, Clinton overdoes it--do we really need to know the name of his childhood barber? But when Clinton sticks to the meat of his story--recollections about Mother, his abusive stepfather, Hillary, the campaign trail, and Kenneth Starr--the veracity of emotion and Kitchen Confidential-type revelations about "what it is like to be President" make My Life impossible to put down.

To Clinton, "politics is a contact sport," and while he claims that My Life is not intended to make excuses or assign blame, it does portray him as a fighter whose strategy is to "take the first hit, then counterpunch as hard as I could." While My Life is primarily a stroll through Clinton's memories, it is also a scathing rebuke--a retaliation against his detractors, including Kenneth Starr, whose "mindless search for scandal" protected the guilty while "persecuting the innocent" and distracted his Administration from pressing international matters (including strikes on al Qaeda). Counterpunch indeed.

At its core, My Life is a charming and intriguing if flawed book by an equally intriguing and flawed man who had his worst failures and humiliations made public. Ultimately, the man who left office in the shadow of scandal offers an honest and open account of his life, allowing readers to witness his struggle to "drain the most out of every moment" while maintaining the character with which he was raised. It is a remarkably intimate, persuasive look at the boy he was, the President he became, and man he is today. --Daphne Durham

Book Description
President Bill Clinton's My Life is the strikingly candid portrait of a global leader who decided early in life to devote his intellectual and political gifts, and his extraordinary capacity for hard work, to serving the public.

It shows us the progress of a remarkable American, who, through his own enormous energies and efforts, made the unlikely journey from Hope, Arkansas, to the White House--a journey fueled by an impassioned interest in the political process which manifested itself at every stage of his life: in college, working as an intern for Senator William Fulbright; at Oxford, becoming part of the Vietnam War protest movement; at Yale Law School, campaigning on the grassroots level for Democratic candidates; back in Arkansas, running for Congress, attorney general, and governor.

We see his career shaped by his resolute determination to improve the life of his fellow citizens, an unfaltering commitment to civil rights, and an exceptional understanding of the practicalities of political life.

We come to understand the emotional pressures of his youth--born after his father's death; caught in the dysfunctional relationship between his feisty, nurturing mother and his abusive stepfather, whom he never ceased to love and whose name he took; drawn to the brilliant, compelling Hillary Rodham, whom he was determined to marry; passionately devoted, from her infancy, to their daughter, Chelsea, and to the entire experience of fatherhood; slowly and painfully beginning to comprehend how his early denial of pain led him at times into damaging patterns of behavior.

President Clinton's book is also the fullest, most concretely detailed, most nuanced account of a presidency ever written--encompassing not only the high points and crises but the way the presidency actually works: the day-to-day bombardment of problems, personalities, conflicts, setbacks, achievements.

It is a testament to the positive impact on America and on the world of his work and his ideals.

It is the gripping account of a president under concerted and unrelenting assault orchestrated by his enemies on the Far Right, and how he survived and prevailed.

It is a treasury of moments caught alive, among them:

  • The ten-year-old boy watching the national political conventions on his family's new (and first) television set.

  • The young candidate looking for votes in the Arkansas hills and the local seer who tells him, "Anybody who would campaign at a beer joint in Joiner at midnight on Saturday night deserves to carry one box.... You'll win here. But it'll be the only damn place you win in this county." (He was right on both counts.)

  • The roller-coaster ride of the 1992 campaign.

  • The extraordinarily frank exchanges with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole.

  • The delicate manipulation needed to convince Rabin and Arafat to shake hands for the camera while keeping Arafat from kissing Rabin.

  • The cost, both public and private, of the scandal that threatened the presidency.

    Here is the life of a great national and international figure, revealed with all his talents and contradictions, told openly, directly, in his own completely recognizable voice. A unique book by a unique American.

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