Fun Read

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wasn’t a big Bill Clinton fan while he was in office. Frankly your Maximum Leader isn’t a Bill Clinton fan right now. Okay… Your Maximum Leader jokes about Bill Clinton working to improve the US’s image one vagina at a time; but those jests are only half-jests at best…

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader hasn’t read Bill Clinton’s memoirs. He doesn’t plan to frankly. But there could be a Clinton book out there that he would want to read. Did you see on USA Today how Clinton and historian Taylor Branch met in secret 79 times throughout Clinton’s White House years and recorded interviews about what was going on in Bill’s head at the time? Your Maximum Leader didn’t know. Apparently, until a few days ago, no one knew. Now USA Today knows and has written about it.

Here are some highlights…

Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and civil rights historian, would pick up a notepad of questions and two microcassette recorders and drive his truck down Interstate 95 to Washington. Parking on the South Lawn, he would head to the White House family quarters for interviews so secret Clinton stored the tapes of them in his sock drawer.

What followed sometimes seemed like one of the bull sessions the two had two decades earlier when they shared an apartment in Austin, running George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign in Texas.

In these interviews and a new book that has followed, Branch says he tried to capture Clinton’s unvarnished perspective on the events swirling around his presidency, from the consequential to the occasionally comic.

Reluctant to discuss the affair with Monica Lewinsky that led to his impeachment, Clinton once lamented that it occurred when he felt sorry for himself and that he “just cracked” under the pressure of personal and political setback.

He also relayed how Boris Yeltsin’s late-night drinking during a visit to Washington in 1995 nearly created an international incident. The Russian president was staying at Blair House, the government guest quarters. Late at night, Clinton told Branch, Secret Service agents found Yeltsin clad only in his underwear, standing alone on Pennsylvania Avenue and trying to hail a cab. He wanted a pizza, he told them, his words slurring.

The next night, Yeltsin eluded security forces again when he climbed down back stairs to the Blair House basement. A building guard took Yeltsin for a drunken intruder until Russian and U.S. agents arrived on the scene and rescued him

Branch says the two conferred several times about it during the administration’s opening months. Clinton proposed Branch fill the role Arthur Schlesinger Jr. played in the Kennedy administration, a sort of court historian on the White House staff. Branch declined. Clinton tried dictating a diary but found it unwieldy; he said he needed to be interacting with someone.

In September 1993, Branch agreed to do oral history interviews with Clinton until the president could train someone on his staff for that role. No one else was ever trained, and their sessions continued until Clinton left office in 2001.

The president was determined to keep them secret to avoid what he saw as inevitable demands for disclosure.

“I was constantly wrestling with, ‘What is my job?’ ” Branch says. “Basically, my first goal was to say, ‘This is about history. … I want to get as much raw material on the record as possible.’ But it was never that simple.”

Branch was there as a historian but he also was a friend, and Clinton at times would seek his advice. From 1998 to 1999, Branch’s wife worked at the White House as a speechwriter for Hillary Clinton. As Bill Clinton finished his memoirs, he surprised Branch with a $50,000 “bonus” for his help in laying the groundwork for them.

Publication of Branch’s book has underscored the conflicting agendas of friend and historian.

Clinton on several occasions had encouraged Branch to write a book about their sessions, albeit at some undesignated point in the future. The author used the advance he received from the publishing house Simon & Schuster to have his own tapes transcribed; he had stored them in a safe deposit box at a bank.

Those tapes will be available to researchers next year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The former president had planned to use the interviews he had given when he wrote his book, but there is little sign he did. As he neared the deadline to submit his manuscript in 2004, he invited Branch to Chappaqua to read the first 700 pages. Branch was stunned to find that with only a month or two to go until his deadline, Clinton was just beginning to write about his time in the White House.

This looks like good stuff… Your Maximum Leader might actually spring for a copy when it is published. It sounds like it would be a better purchase than the money spent on “Dutch.”

Carry on.

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