The last two days I “reviewed” Jim Stewart’s #1 best-seller on the Clintons, Blood Sport. What Stewart found, basically, was that there was very little “there” there.

  • Vince Foster really did kill himself.
  • Whitewater was the most passive of investments for the Clintons — a dumb one, but who of us has not made dumb investments?
  • Hillary’s $100,000 commodities profit was not a scandal after all.
  • The travel office really did seem to have been mismanaged (even though the White House handling of it was at least as badly mismanaged).

Blood Sport is by no means a white wash. The Clintons must hate it — examining only their flaws, as it does, with little mention of their achievements. But the bottom line of the book is really quite positive. This terrible thing called Whitewater that taxpayers have spent tens of millions of dollars investigating is about as minor and petty a deal as you’ll find. Dislike the Clintons for their stand on abortion or free trade or civil rights or the Brady Bill, if you will; or for raising taxes on the rich and pushing through the earned income credit for the working poor; or for attempting to make health insurance universal — or for whatever reasons you choose. But Whitewater? Please.

All this brings to mind another supposedly anti-Clinton book from a couple of years ago, Bob Woodward’s The Agenda. Like Blood Sport, the talk-show impression you got was that it was a knock against the Clintons — that it showed the amateurishness and disorganization of the Clinton White House (especially in that first year). But it’s worth pointing out that book’s bottom line: that when all was said and done, the President came through with the right decision. At the expense of some projects he dearly wanted, he did what he had to to lower the budget deficit enough to satisfy the bond market, turn interest rates around, and rejuvenate the economy.

And guess what? Interest rates did fall sharply, millions of new jobs were created, and the stock market flew to the moon.

A record to “build on, not sit on,” the President will be quick to acknowledge — big problems remain. But The Agenda recounted the budget-making process that set us on the course toward smaller deficits and a stronger economy long before anyone was talking about a Contract with America. A sloppy process . . . contentious. But the bottom line is that the job got done.

It’s the negative spin that sells, and all the better if it involves something easy to grasp, like the First Lady’s hair, or the President’s haircut. But on the big stuff — the economy, civil rights, world peace, world trade, education — it’s harder to find grounds to criticize (though I feel confident this series of comments will generate some).

Tomorrow: Diners Club: Good Deal


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