Monday, December 19, 2011

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Back To Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

Last week, when I left former President Bill Clinton's book Back To Work: Why Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy on the counter in the staff office at work, one of my coworkers saw Clinton's face on the cover and assumed it was a memoir.

"Why are you reading about Clinton?" he asked me. "Don't you know how it turns out? He bangs his intern. Did you get to that part yet?"

Leaving aside the question of whether that's really appropriate office talk or not, his remark illustrates one of the more depressing things about Bill Clinton. The man had a stellar--though not perfect--record when it came to the economy. Among other things, when he left office, there was a budgetary surplus. A surplus! That's the opposite of a deficit. There was no deficit. And still, what people remember about him are his indiscretions and missteps.

This slim volume of economic analysis and advice is unlikely to change the minds of anyone still thinking of President Clinton as the guy who banged his intern. Worse than that--it's unlikely to reach the people who need to hear it most. Like a lot of books related even tangentially to politics, it will likely end up being more of a preach to the choir kind of thing--read primarily by people who agree with Clinton going in.

It's a shame, really, because the book is clear-eyed, well-researched, meticulously documented and full of common sense suggestions that legislators on both sides of the aisle would do well to take into consideration. Along the way, Clinton acknowledges his own mistakes and those of his fellow Democrats and he does not hesitate to give credit where it's due, even to the staunchest Republicans.

All of this in an easily readable and compact1 package. A few bits that will stay with me:

~~"...fervent insistence on an ideology makes evidence, experience, and argument irrelevant: If you possess the absolute truth, those who disagree are by definition wrong, and evidence of success or failure is irrelevant. There is nothing to learn from the experience of other countries. Respectful arguments are a waste of time. Compromise is a weakness. And if your policies fail, you don't abandon them. Instead you double down, asserting that they would have worked if only they had been carried to their logical extreme."

~~"The status quo is represented by much more powerful lobbying groups than the future is."

~~"No one can take the future away from us. But we can take it away from ourselves."2

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Thought-provoking.3

1. 196 6"x9" pages.
2. Emphasis his.
3. The hyphen makes two words one, right?


  1. It is sad that the concept of compromise has essentially become sacrilege. I fear for this country's future if this extreme polarization continues much longer.

  2. The hyphen indeed makes two, one. I think that's the principle behind a person who retains his or her given surname, instead of that of the partner. If only it were that easy.

  3. Additionally, I appreciate the process which allows a new acquaintance [me] to get glimpses of the personalities which provide me with so much to ponder. The presentation of B.C. in any light other than the President "who banged the intern," speaks volumes. Thought-provoking. :)

  4. I'm not particularly a Clinton fan, but I agree that most political books are read only by those who share the same political views as the author or subject. Most people, I believe, do not have a very open mind when it comes to politics :)

  5. Thanks for posting this. I am also a fan of President Clinton. Whenever people bring up the intern 'scandle', I remind them that JFK had a whole separate room in the White House for his mistresses. Clinton was hardly the first President to mess around. But the public didn't know about JFK's affairs because the press wasn't allowed into every private aspect of the President's life at that time. No 24-hour news cycle.

    Nobody's perfect, and I still regard Clinton as a darn good President.

  6. I might just have to add this to my list. He is a fascinating and intelligent man...if only he could have thought exclusively with his brain!

  7. I do have respect for Bill Clinton. Yes, he made mistakes with his personal life but, as was noted, he was far from the first president to do this. More to the point, he is an intelligent and articulate leader. The personal issues that he had remain personal to me. Those issues are not the public's business. That is between Bill and Hillary. and between Bill and Monica. Mostly, I suppose, they are between Bill and Bill.
    I have been wanting to read this book and now you make me want to read it even more.

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    The book really is full of good ideas for the economy and surprisingly little political stuff. Frustrating that politics and ideology trump common sense and practical approaches.

    As for his indiscretions--I completely agree with the points made about the 24-hour news cycle, about his personal issues being personal, and definitely about it being a shame he didn't always think with his obviously intelligent brain. :)

  9. Not only is it indicative of the change in news culture to a 24-hour news cycle but also of the recent bloodthirst for tabloid gossip. Sex sells. Politics usually doesn' least not as well.

    I have a special fondness because he was the first president I had the opportunity to vote for and the first campaign season in which I was able to be fully involved. I wasn't proud of his sexual exploits but I continue to be proud of his presidential accomplishments (most of them anyway).