Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Clinton Tapes

Taylor Branch -- author of 'The Clinton Tapes' and roommate to Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham 40 years ago in a small apartment in Austin -- provides interesting answers to questions about Bill and Hillary over at GQ. Branch is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and civil rights historian. Here are a few highlights that I particularly enjoyed:

Q. The Bill Clinton in this book is very different than the version we came to know in the press. You describe a guy who was steadfast and idealistic, very different from the wishy-washy, flip-flopping caricature who let Dick Morris tell him what to do.

A. It was almost like a credential for old liberals to look down on Clinton, because if you looked down on Clinton, you could say, “He’s betrayed liberalism,” but you didn’t have to uphold anything yourself. All you had to do was talk about what a shit he was or what a sellout he was and you could get this cheap credential.

Q. Meanwhile, you’re seeing this guy whose face is red with allergies, he’s so tired that his eyes are rolling back in his head.… He’s the last fighting baby boomer.

A. Well, yeah. For example, I admire Obama greatly, but if you compare Clinton and Obama on the National Rifle Association, Obama said, “It’s not worth it.” Right from the get-go. “You can’t win.” And Clinton was going after the NRA and assault weapons and cop-killer bullets the whole time. And he paid for it, and maybe it was a mistake, because it certainly hurt him in the 1994 congressional elections. But he did stick to his guns, as it were. He took risks. On Haiti—restoring Aristide. I would hear him say it: “This is going to hurt my presidency.” Or, “I could go down the tubes for this.”

Q. It was interesting to read your descriptions of Bill and Hillary. Halfway through the impeachment trial, the doorman at the White House refused to let you in because they were making out in a hallway.

A. Well, that only happened once. I don’t know if their relationship is romantic, but it’s not cold. Sometimes when I tell people that they finish each other’s sentences, people say, “That’s because it’s a power alliance.” Like a medieval marriage between the prince of Spain and the queen of Austria. But there’s warmth there. There’s communion. They would hold hands. How much eroticism is in there, I have no idea. But it was striking.

Q. Have you shown them the book?

A. I just took two copies up to Chappaqua last week. Hillary has it in Africa now, and he’s been off on this North Korea thing. But he did call. He’s called a couple of times to fuss about things. But he has enormous tolerance for honest criticism. I think he can take it raw, as long as he doesn’t detect that it’s done for malice. I was trying to show him the way he really is, and I think he respects that.