Madhouse: The Private Turmoil of Working for the President.

Author:Martin, Janet M.
 
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JEFFREY H. BIRNBAUM, (New York: Random House, 1996), 261 pp. $25.00 cloth (ISBN: 0-8129-2325-1).

Time magazine reporter Jeffrey Birnbaum presents a glimpse into the lives of six aides in the Clinton White House in this lively account, and vividly illustrates the hazards of the job: "Working for a president turns out to be a lot like looking directly into the sun: a great temptation but debilitating to anyone who tries" (p. 7).

Birnbaum notes that at best the president and his staff respond to crises, "scurrying to cope as best they can. The White House is a madhouse almost all the time" (p. 7).

The subjects of this enlightening book are: Howard Paster, assistant to the president for legislative affairs; Jeff Eller, deputy assistant to the president and director of media affairs; White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers; policy advisers Bruce Reed and Gene Sperling, both deputy assistants to the president; and political consultant Paul Begala. Brief biographical sketches explain how each became associated with Bill Clinton, and landed a coveted job as an adviser to the president.

The chapters of the book take the perspective of one of these aides to illustrate the personal wear and tear that comes with the job. The narratives are drawn from interviews conducted with his subjects, as well as from a variety of news accounts. Scholars may be disappointed in the absence of any footnotes which could help identify the source and time period in which material was obtained.

In this book we see Howard Paster, as the president's chief lobbyist, working on the Clinton economic package in 1993, while at the same time, handling the routine job of ushering the president's appointments through the confirmation process (e.g., Ruth Bader Ginsburg [successfully] to the Supreme Court; Lani Guinier [unsuccessfully] to head the Civil Rights Division of the justice Department). In short order, the agenda shifts, as issues such as gays in the military or troops under fire in Somalia suddenly appear on the president's desk.

In addition, the Clinton agenda was massive, with the economic program but one item on an agenda that also included crime legislation, health care reform, reinventing government, and NAFTA. As the vignettes unfold, it becomes clear that no one on the president's staff can set his or her own course of action. And, in the Clinton White House, the lack of a strong chief of staff to help set parameters, was sorely felt, especially given an activist...

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