Picks and Pans Review: Madhouse
by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
The average job-life expectancy of a White House aide is 18 months. No wonder. Sixteen-hour days are the norm, and worry-free weekends are as rare as fulfilled campaign promises. Take Howard Paster, who thought he’d gone to wonk heaven when he was picked as President Clinton’s chief lobbyist to Congress in 1993. But on his first day, Zoe Baird’s Supreme Court nomination tanked, and things went downhill from there. Three months later, having been whacked like a ping-pong ball between Clinton and Congress, Paster told a pal, “I’ll be either divorced or dead if this goes on.” He bailed out after 10 months.
A senior correspondent for TIME and author of The Lobbyists, Birnbaum recounts the rocky roads of six Clinton aides, including former press secretary Dee Dee Myers (unable to overcome the boys’ club atmosphere in Clinton’s inner circle) and political spinmeister Paul Begala (numbed by red tape and the Administration’s chronic indecision). Birnbaum breaks a few minor scoops about the in-house bumblings and catfights of Clinton’s first two years, but, truth be told, only political junkies are likely to be captivated by the adventures of abused aides.
As for the moral struggling to emerge from this cautionary tale, it’s that no matter how well-intentioned campaign cowboys (and girls) may be, they often fail to rise to the daunting challenge of governing. (Times Books, $25)