Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book 189: A Vast Conspiracy



"Ironically, with respect to Starr, the Democrats fell into the same trap as the Republicans did throughout the Clinton years. The problem with Starr was not that he was a lawbreaker, as the questioners consistently tried to imply, but rather that he lacked judgment and reason when it came to this case. Neither Starr nor Clinton was a criminal. The errors of both Starr and his critics illustrated the perils of a world where the legal system had taken over the political system. It was never enough to prove that your adversaries were mistaken; you had to prove that they were evil as well."

Dates read: November 11-17, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Lists/awards: The New York Times bestseller

During the 2016 election, one of the most persistent themes seemed to be the constant air of scandal that floats around the Clintons, Bill and Hillary alike. Maybe that's one of the reasons she had such a hard time shaking the email stuff...there's always the assumption that they're somehow being shady, and that this little whiff of smoke MUST portend a fire somewhere. We all remember his fling with his intern, but there's also his other rumored dalliances, and then Vince Foster, and Whitewater, and it seems to go on and on. At a certain point, they're tied to so much that it feels like something surely has to be going on.

I remember the impeachment scandal, but I was like 10 or 12 at the time, so while I understood that the President had cheated on his wife and lied about it and that's why he was in trouble, I didn't really get it. After Hilary's 2016 loss, I was curious about the backstory that I "knew" but didn't actually know, so I picked up A Vast Conspiracy, Jeffrey Toobin's book on the Clintons in the 90s. It mostly focuses on the impeachment, but also spends a lot of time with Paula Jones' lawsuit and dips into the other scandals enough to give them context. After I read it, I felt much more informed...not just about the actual events of the impeachment, but about the history of the Clintons and how they've gotten to have that air of perpetual shadiness.

On one level, Toobin tells a straightforward story: a politician with a raging libido really likes getting blow jobs from women who are not his wife. When he's Governor of Arkansas, he has an encounter of some kind with a young woman named Paula, who originally seems unperturbed but eventually launches a lawsuit against him after he becomes president. While president, a young intern develops a crush and starts flirting with him and he decides to pursue her. His inability to either keep it in his pants or admit to his wife what he's been up to leads him to be untruthful when he shouldn't have been, and because of the profound dislike and determination of a special prosecutor, he comes very very close to losing his presidency. It's a compelling story, with lots of morally ambiguous parties to project either heroism or villainy onto. I understand why it transfixed the country for months when it happened.

But Toobin also ties it in to a larger story, in which the legal system has become part and parcel of the political arena. The technique was first used by liberal interests to find the victories through the judiciary that they struggled to achieve through the legislature, but as time passed, conservatives picked it up, too, and this is perfectly illustrated by the hounding of the Clintons via the courts. It's an interesting perspective, and even though I'm well-versed in both arenas I don't know that I'd made the explicit connection before. And while I ultimately think the courts do and should have a proper role in protecting and enforcing our legal rights and responsibilities, it is a double-edged sword. Judicial processes don't always lead to the results one thinks they ought to.

As always from Toobin, this is well-written and more interested with delving into the facts to take much of a side. That's not to say it's totally without a side...it does tend to favor Clinton, particularly over Starr and the scheming Joneses, but it doesn't shy away from digging into his flaws either. It seems like there's something about the Clintons that just absolutely enrages people and drives them to try to destroy them as hard as they can...which explains why there's been so much mud thrown their way, and even though relatively little of it has ever hit a mark, with that much dirt in the air everything looks dingy.

One year ago, I was reading: My Own Words (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Three years ago, I was reading: Under The Tuscan Sun

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