Dead Center: Clinton-Gore Leadership and the Perils of Moderation

James MacGregor Burns, Author, Hermes, Author, Burns, Author Simon & Schuster $27.5 (416p) ISBN 978-0-684-83778-9
As controversial as Bill Clinton's spicy personal behavior has been, Burns and Sorenson take the president to the woodshed for what they see as his vanilla political behavior. Burns, 1971 Pulitzer Prize winner for Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom, and Sorenson, director of the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland, have made presidential leadership the focus of their scholarship. Their appraisal of Clinton thus constantly compares the president to past giants such as the two Roosevelts and Truman and, not surprisingly, finds the man from Hope wanting. They concede that presidential leadership is harder to define and exercise than it once was given the current climate in which ""traditional party and ideological foundations of presidential influence are increasingly yielding to a politics of money, media and personalism."" They also acknowledge the difficulties faced by a president whose party is a minority in both houses of a Congress ravaged by petty--as opposed to principled--partisanship. Still, their verdict is that Clinton, though extraordinarily gifted, squandered his leadership role in his willingness to split the difference and triangulate. Circumstance and character, it seems, rendered Clinton too much of a politician to govern greatly. This contention is fairly persuasive, but Burns and Sorenson could have given more consideration to the argument that during the years of Clinton's presidency, as in previous periods of prosperity, the American people tended to reward bland centrism and eschew the more radical changes they have been willing to sanction during times of crisis. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1999
Release date: 11/01/1999
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