Roger Morris' Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America, Henry Holt and Company, 1996. 526 pp. Hard. Biblio. Index. $27.50.
Al Gore's estranged uncle, Gore Vidal, once said something to the effect that there are not two political parties in the US, there is just one party with two right wings. Into this tableau steps Roger Morris, who has served in both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations, resigning from the latter in protest over the war in Southeast Asia.
Beginning with Bill Clinton's obsequiousness to Colonel Eugene Holms in an attempt to obtain a slot for himself in the Arkansas National Guard, Morris' narrative relates the toll of mounting compromise. Resistance to the draft or a public stand as a conscientious objector would imperil his future "political viability," as he later wrote Colonel Holms.
Upon graduation from Yale Law School Clinton immediately sought out a political career, setting his sights on a Congressional seat held by a Republican in Arkansas's Third District. In order to establish himself among the Democratic power brokers in Arkansas he sought out the patronage of Senator J. William Fulbright for whom Clinton interned as an undergraduate.
Clinton went on to lose that election. But his style of campaigning would be portentous. Combining elements of both populism and demagoguery, the campaign reported $181,000 in campaign contributions, then the largest amount for a Congressional race in Arkansas history, outspending nearly two to one his Republican rival.
From the beginning he had decided to "work within the system," and in order to do so he played the game more shamelessly than most by amassing huge war chests of patronage and dispensing favors to a clientele of shady investment bankers and law firms.
If Morris can be faulted, it is in his inability to document some of the most sensational and devastating charges made in his book. Yet the allegations of drug trafficking surrounding Mena airport begin to make some sense in context with the recent investigation of the whole issue of possible past CIA involvement with the cocaine trade by the San Jose Mercury.
In Clinton it could be said that we have the worst of both worlds: a president who is decidedly to the right of Richard Nixon on many issues—particularly economic ones—yet who manages to subvert the demands of the left in order to propitiate his corporate patrons and attain his short-term interest of re-election.