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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Dissing the Prez BY ROBERT SHERRILL THE AGENDA Inside the Clinton White House. By Bob Woodward. 352 pages. New York: Simon & Schuster. $24. SHADOWS OF HOPE A Freethinker’s Guide to Politics in the Time of Clinton. By Sam Smith. 278 pages. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. $22.50. THESE TWO BOOKS are, in a way, a perfect introduction to the unfairness and insanity of contemporary book publishing. Sam Smith, editor of the Progressive Review, has for three decades been what is correctly called an “alternative” journalist in Washington, D.C. Alternative to what? Well, for one thing, to that quasi-adjunct to the federal government, the Washington Post, which employs the celebrated Bob Woodward as assistant managing editor for investigations. What I mean by unfairness and inequity is that Sam Smith probably couldn’t even get his book accepted by a major publishing house, which is why he wound up at Indiana University Pressa first-rate publishing house, by the way, but very, very small pumpkins compared to Simon & Schuster, which has been Woodward’ s cash cow since the days when he was writing about Watergate. My guess is that Smith’s . advance wasn’t a dime over $10,000, if he got any advance at all \(most university presses the rumors of what he got for his other books, is that Woodward got at least a million bucks up front. If Smith sells 5,000 copies, he’ll be lucky. Woodward’s book has been Number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks. AND YETI don’t exaggerate Smith’s book is by far the wiser and more useful and certainly the more entertaining of the two. Leonard Robert Sherrill, a former Observer editor, is a freelance writer in Tallahassee, Florida. Downie Jr., executive editor of the Washington Post, is said to have once instructed his staff to “cleanse their professional minds of human emotions and opinions.” The tone of Woodward’s book indicates he has succeeded in following those instructions. Smith’s book overflows with “human emotions and opinions.” If you read all 334 pages of text in the Woodward book, you will have more evidence, offered in driblets, of Clinton’s character, but never so succinct a summation as Smith offers in one sentence: “Clinton could cut ethical corners on two wheels without squealing.” Woodward spends the first 50 pages on Clinton’s campaign, but it is told with a lifelessness that suggests he really doesn’t care that much about politics. His judgments, where he works up the energy to make any, are purely mundane. Smith, on the other hand, is turned on by politics the way Moll Flanders was turned on by a roisterer’s wink. His saucy judgments remind one of the way H.L. Mencken handled presidential campaigns: “There were times during the campaign when Clinton’s versions of his past reminded one of the Raymond Chandler character: ‘smart, smooth and no good.’ Tracking a Clinton explanation, whether of past actions or present policy, could be like trying to dance on a floor covered with marbles.” There was a boobishness to Clinton’s campaign that Woodward completely misses, but which Smith catches perfectly: “To a few, the convention reintroduction via film and telethon rhetoric was bizarre and tasteless. Imagine, one Democrat suggested, FDR on the podium telling the full story of his struggles with polio or Harry Truman turning offstage a la Clinton and saying huskily, ‘I love you, Bess.” Which isn’t to say that The Agenda does not have some flashes of drama and perhaps some usefulness. It contains an abundance of evidence of Clinton’s lack of an inner compass, and of staff members who recognized that shortage. Woodward tells of a disgruntled Clinton adviser who drew a square on a piece of paper, tapped it with his pen and asked rhetorically, “Where is the hallowed ground? Where does he stand? What does he stand for?” But for the unforgettable example to go with those questions, you have to turn to Shadows of Hope, where Smith points out that Hillary Clinton, speaking on behalf of her husband, told reporters, “We also abhor the craze for the death penalty. But we believe it does have a role.” This \(as Smith 50 new capital crimes in his first year and who, as a candidate, “left the New Hampshire campaign to oversee the execution of a lobotomized black murderer named Rickey Roy Rector, a man so removed from reality, reported Richard Cohen, that `at his last meal, he set aside a slice of pecan pie so he could have some later.’ Standing-for-nothing-in-particular is, of course, not an attribute unique to Bill Clinton. It is, in fact, the core philosophy of that group called the neo-liberals or New Democrats, of whom Clinton is momentarily the prize example. The hallmark of the New Democrats is fuzzy thinking and meaningless jargonlanguage \(Smith fact being completely devoid of sense, such as ‘recognizing the integrity of people dealing with each other.’ Some of it is Orwellian reversal of meaning such as the president’s pronouncement after his first budget squeaked through: ‘The margin was close, but the mandate is clear.’ This is the language not of the rationalists that the communicators claim to be, but straight from the car and beer ads.” Woodward writes of the pre-campaign Clinton: “Though not well known on the national stage, Clinton was a leader in a movement of self-styled ‘New Democrats’ who rejected the party’s liberal orthodoxy. Mostly Southerners, they were trying to convince the middle class that the Democratic Party could be strong on foreign and defense policy, moderate on social policy, and disciplined in spending tax money, and taming runaway government. While retaining the ideals of the New Deal and Great Society, New Democrats sought more efficient activism. Clinton had been traveling the country saying that these ideas were neither liberal nor conservative, but both, and different.” Since the neo-liberals are, by Woodward’s count, “mostly Southern,” it is fair THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19