Watch CBSN Live

Cliffs Notes For Clinton's Book

This valuable reader service is provided by the The Weekly Standard.

CHAPTER 1: Shreveport, Louisiana, 1943. Our future president's father, William Jefferson Blythe Jr., escorts "a date with some kind of medical emergency" into a hospital where our future president's mother is working as a nurse. While the other woman is rushed away for treatment, Blythe flirts with Mother and decides to dump his ailing girlfriend on the spot. Two months later, the new couple is married. Three years after that, William Jefferson Blythe III is born in Hope, Arkansas, "under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother" -- the senior Blythe having meantime died in a freak auto accident. For the longest time, young Billy Blythe knows next to nothing about his father's life and character. Then, in 1993, the Washington Post reports that "my father had probably been married three times before he met Mother and apparently had at least two more children." The president later meets his half-brother. But, "for whatever reason," he never meets his half-sister.

CHAPTER 2: Until he's 4, the toddler is cared for largely by his maternal grandparents. Mother is often elsewhere, especially after she decides to seek training as a nurse-anaesthetist in New Orleans, which is then "an amazing place" with "over-the-top haunts like the Club My-Oh-My, where men in drag danced and sang as lovely ladies." In retrospect, Clinton figures "it wasn't a bad place for a beautiful young widow to move beyond her loss."

CHAPTER 3: Having "dated several men in New Orleans and had a fine time," Mother returns to Hope and marries Roger Clinton, the owner of the local Buick dealership and the man who supplies Papaw, Billy's grandfather, with the bootleg liquor they sell at the family grocery store. "Not long afterward, I started calling myself Billy Clinton," and entered a "new world" that "was exciting to me." For instance: Clinton humiliates himself by tripping over a nonmoving jump rope and breaking his leg. Also, his new "Daddy" has a bad drinking problem, and there are violent incidents at home that require the attention of the local constabulary. Suchlike experiences help mold Clinton's sense of self. "For cartoons, I preferred Bugs Bunny, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Baby Huey, with whom I probably identified."

CHAPTER 4: On a whim, Daddy Clinton sells the Buick dealership and moves the family to a farm outside Hot Springs. There is no indoor toilet. "Later, when I got into politics, being able to say I had lived on a farm with an outhouse made a great story." But the farm grows tiresome quickly, and the Clintons soon relocate to a nice, big house downtown. Hot Springs in the 1950s has a little of everything, in just the right proportions. There is organized crime, for example, but only within strict limits: "The garages of two houses were bombed, but at a time when no one was home." And all kinds of law-abiding people live there, too. "The Jewish residents owned some of the best stores and ran the auction houses," Clinton remembers. All in all, he concludes -- with the mastery of ambiguous sentence construction for which he is justly famous -- "my friends and I led pretty normal lives, apart from the occasional calls to Maxine's bordello and the temptation to cut classes during racing season, which I never did."

Trending News

CHAPTER 5: Clinton's brother, Roger Jr., is born in 1956. In 1957, "even though I wasn't yet 12," Clinton is forced to buy a full-price, adult ticket to a showing of Bridge on the River Kwai; he is so big, the cashier thinks he's lying about his age. "It was the first time in my life someone refused to take my word," which "hurt," of course, but also gave him valuable "preparation for life in Washington, where no one takes your word for anything." Entering junior high soon thereafter, Clinton recognizes "the first stirrings of sexual feelings toward girls." Alas, not everyone is attracted to him in return. It is around this time that Clinton has to "face the fact that I was not destined to be liked by everyone, usually for reasons I couldn't figure out."

CHAPTERS 6 AND 7: In fact, "I tended to make enemies effortlessly, just by being me, or, after I got into politics, because of the positions I took and the changes I tried to make." Mother, too, has a knack for making enemies, and she, too, unfairly suffers for it in her career -- as when certain unspecified "problems with a couple of her operations" later derail her anaesthesiology practice. Whatever. "High school was a great ride." In the junior class play, Clinton performs a scene that involves kissing "a tall, attractive girl" named Cindy Arnold. Otherwise though, he isn't at this point doing "bad things" -- nothing "beyond petting with girls,"at any rate.

CHAPTER 8: John F. Kennedy is assassinated and Clinton overhears someone in the school band, "an attractive girl," remarking that she's sort of glad he's dead. "It was my first exposure . . . to the kind of hatred I would see a lot of in my political career, and that was forged into a powerful political movement in the last quarter of the twentieth century." For several months during his senior year, "I dated Susan Smithers, a girl from Benton, Arkansas." After graduation, "I went with Mauria Jackson to our senior party at the old Belvedere Club."

CHAPTER 9: In 1964, when Clinton arrives at Georgetown University, "I could actually take a date to dinner for fourteen dollars, sometimes a movie too, though I had to let the girl order first to make sure our combined order plus a tip didn't go over my budget." Besides which, "in the first few months I didn't have a date every Saturday, so I was often a little ahead on my budget." When alone like this, Clinton often eats at the Hoya Carry Out. Rose, one of the proprietors, has "a nice face, and a great figure, which she showed off to good effect in tight sweaters, tighter pants, and spiked heels." On a freshman trip to New York with the Georgetown band, Clinton sees "my first streetwalker" and is both "tempted and terrified," though he does not have sexual relations with that woman. Later that year, he takes up with "my first long-term girlfriend," Denise Hyland, "a tall, freckle-faced Irish girl with kind beautiful eyes and an infectious smile."
CHAPTER 10: Clinton returns to Arkansas the summer after his sophomore year and does volunteer work for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate. One of the other volunteers is "Leslie Smith . . . a beautiful, smart girl from a powerful political family who had been Arkansas Junior Miss." The candidate's wife and two young daughters are active on the stump, and they're all "attractive," as well. "Somehow I was chosen" to be their chauffeur.

CHAPTERS 11 AND 12: Clinton reminisces about Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright. In the '50s, Fulbright had co-sponsored the resolution censuring Joseph McCarthy, a move Clinton will admire more and more as time goes by -- since McCarthy "would have been right at home in the crowd that took over the Congress in 1995." During his junior year at Georgetown, Clinton's part-time job as Fulbright's Capitol Hill messenger boy gives him a chance to peek at "material stamped 'confidential' and 'secret' that . . . showed clearly that our country was being misled about our progress" in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Clinton considers "dropping out of school and enlisting in the military" because "I didn't feel entitled to escape even a war I had come to oppose." Such diffidence about "the System" alienates him from some fellow students; Clinton is defeated in a run for president of the Georgetown student council. "Because of my good relations with the school administrators, my job and car, my orthodox campaign, and my glad-handing manner, I became the establishment candidate." Also, some of his friends are caught tearing down his principal opponent's posters. When summer arrives, Clinton attends a Ray Charles concert with "Carlene Jann, a striking girl" who has "long blond hair."

CHAPTER 13: Clinton wins a Rhodes Scholarship. "Applying in Arkansas was a big advantage." He favors Bobby Kennedy over Gene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential primaries, even though "I had begun dating a classmate who was volunteering at McCarthy's national headquarters in Washington." The relationship founders. "I was really crazy about her then and hated to be on her bad side, but I wanted to win and I wanted to elect a good man who would also be a good president." Later that summer, Clinton visits Mother's soon-to-be third husband, Jeff Dwire, in Louisiana (Roger Clinton has recently died). Dwire is an "unusual man"; he's still married to someone else, for one thing. But the two men bond while watching the Chicago Democratic convention on television.

CHAPTERS 14 AND 15: At the 1968 Miss America pageant, a group of female protesters "burned their bras," Clinton remembers. On his ocean liner cruise to England with that year's other Rhodes scholars, he notices "Martha Saxton, a brilliant, lovely, aspiring writer." At first, "she was spending most of her time with another" boy. "But eventually I got my chance." After arriving in Oxford, Clinton frets about possibly being drafted for military duty in Vietnam, reassured -- as he will record in his diary -- only by the "solace I have found in human companionship." He visits Paris with a woman named Alice Chamberlin, for example.

CHAPTER 16: Clinton returns to Arkansas and prepares for induction into the army, which involves a complicated series of perfectly innocent transactions, and if anybody says different he's a liar. During this period, "I spent most evenings and a lot of days with Betsey Reader, who had been a year ahead of me in school" and was "wise, wistful, and kind." Through another complicated series of innocent transactions, Clinton escapes the draft altogether. Back in Oxford, he again takes up with Martha Saxton. Then he visits Amsterdam "with my artist friend Aimée Gautier." In Amsterdam, "the famous red-light district featured perfectly legal prostitutes sitting on display in their windows," though he doesn't have sexual relations with those women, either. On a subsequent jaunt to Moscow, Clinton meets many interesting people, like the sister of a local cabdriver who "had a bit too much to drink and decided she wanted to stay with me." The woman's brother eventually "had to drag her out of the hotel into the snow."

CHAPTER 17: Clinton enrolls at Yale Law School. His personal life is a "mess." He has "broken up with a young woman who went home to marry her old boyfriend, then had a painful parting with a law student I liked very much but couldn't commit to." For a while, Nancy Bekavac "became a special friend of mine." But, basically, he remains adrift -- until one day, "in Professor Emerson's class in Political and Civil Rights," he spots a woman who had "thick dark blond hair and wore eyeglasses and no makeup, but conveyed a sense of strength and self-possession," nevertheless. It was Hillary. Before long they are inseparable and move in together, though Hillary says no when Clinton first asks her to marry him.

CHAPTER 18: After Yale, Clinton takes a job at the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville. He finds the work congenial and makes several lasting friends among his faculty colleagues. A man named Bob Leflar, for instance: One time they were playing a game of touch football, and Clinton was quarterback, and Leflar was being guarded by a 9-year-old boy. So Clinton called a play that Leflar executed perfectly: He "knocked the boy to the ground and ran left. He was wide open." Touchdown! The moral of the story being that Bob Leflar was a Democrat, and "if we had more like him, we'd win more often." Meanwhile, Clinton is engaged in intensive long-distance negotiations with Hillary about their future together. Both of them are uncertain what to do. Once, when Hillary visits Clinton in Fayetteville, it occurs to him that "her lovely but large head seemed to be too big for her body."

CHAPTERS 19 AND 20: In 1975, Clinton and the woman with the lovely but large head become man and wife. On a trip to Haiti, the newlyweds witness a voodoo ritual in which a woman "screamed repeatedly, then grabbed a live chicken and bit its head off." Things come into focus. "By the time we got back from Haiti, I had determined to run for attorney general" of Arkansas. He does so and wins. Two years later he wins his first race for governor.

CHAPTER 21: Clinton's first term is...difficult. He provokes statewide fury by signing a bill that sharply raises vehicle registration fees. President Carter decides to bivouac thousands of Cuban boatlift refugees at Arkansas's Fort Chaffee, and twice the Cubans burst out of the enclosure and riot. Later, a Titan II missile silo 40 miles from Little Rock explodes, catapulting a nuclear warhead into a nearby cow pasture. Not all the news is bad. In the summer of 1979, the Clintons decide to visit "a fertility expert in San Francisco" after a short vacation in Bermuda. But the Bermuda trip is "so wonderful we never made it to San Francisco." Which is to say, "soon after we got home, Hillary found out she was pregnant." Chelsea is born. Clinton loses his reelection bid, just the same.

CHAPTERS 22 AND 23: Clinton ponders the meaning of his defeat. At the end of 1981, he delivers a speech explaining his conclusions to the Florida state Democratic convention. Democrats shouldn't shrink from conflict with Republicans, he tells the delegates. Instead, they should "take a meat ax and cut their hands off." Armed with this insight, Clinton returns himself to the governor's mansion in 1982 after a "long, history-making campaign."

CHAPTERS 24 AND 25: In 1987, Clinton briefly considers a campaign for president but decides against it because he's not sure he's yet "lived long enough to acquire the wisdom and judgment necessary to be a good president." Nevertheless, he remains active in national politics. "In retrospect, my speeches in the late eighties seem interesting to me," though one such speech, Clinton's endless introduction of Mike Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic convention, is widely considered a disaster. Dukakis's aides are to blame. Two years later, Clinton wins reelection as governor and, having quickly accumulated the wisdom and judgment required to be a good president, immediately begins planning a run at the White House. Also, in an unrelated development, he becomes the first Arkansas governor in more than a quarter century to authorize an execution.

CHAPTERS 26 THROUGH 28: Things are going great until January 23, 1992, when the Gennifer Flowers story breaks. Everything she and her right-wing sponsors claim is a lie, almost. Ditto for that silly business about the Vietnam-era draft. The election should have been about people like "Ronnie Machos, the little boy with a hole in his heart and no health insurance." Lesson: Republicans will stop at nothing in their attempts to keep such people miserable. Aiding the Republicans are the New York Times and Washington Post, who do the right wing's bidding with stories on Whitewater and the Arkansas poultry industry. Also, at a debate just before the New York pri-mary, Clinton answers a question about marijuana by reporting that he has "experimented with the drug," but "didn't inhale." As a matter of fact, Clinton now points out, "I couldn't inhale -- I tried but failed to inhale the marijuana smoke."

CHAPTERS 29 THROUGH 31: Following his November victory, the president-elect holds a much publicized "economic summit" in Little Rock. "The atmosphere was electric, as if it were a rock concert for policy makers." There are other meetings, too, which Clinton describes at really, really fascinating length. On January 16, 1993, he leaves Littlåe Rock for Washington, a trip that reminds him of Abraham Lincoln's departure from Springfield in 1861. Clinton's Inaugural Address is similarly Lincoln-like, with "flashes of eloquence" that "challenged the American people to do more to help those in need and to heal our division." The Reconstruction agenda proves to be fraught with drama and controversy. The president receives an important haircut in Los Angeles, for example.

CHAPTERS 32 THROUGH 35: In Russia, Boris Yeltsin is "up to his ears in alligators." In Washington, Presideånt Clinton becomes "addicted to Master Boggle and a gåame called UpWords,"a Scrabble-like contest he plays "countless" times in the White House. On a serious note, Vince Foster is hounded to death by the Wall Street Journal.

CHAPTERS 36 THROUGH 38: For a time, it appears that Clinton's first year in office will end well. By Thanksgiving, "I had a lot to be thankful for. My approval ratings were rising again, and American Airlines announced the settlement of its five-day-old strike." Alas, Whitewater reemerges as a bogus but constant political issue, and the mainstream media allow themselves to be infected by lurid Republican gossip about activities involving the president's trousers. No need to go into particulars: "If you want to know more," Clinton advises, you ought to read David Brock's "brave memoir" about the "extraordinary efforts made to discredit me by wealthy right-wingers with ties to Newt Gingrich and some adversaries of mine in Arkansas."

CHAPTERS 39 THROUGH 45: A host of dragons gathers against the president, most notably Kenneth Starr, who accepts an "unprecedented" independent counsel appointment despite having a "real and blatant conflict of interest." Starr is joined by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represents the "self-righteous, condemning, Absolute-Truth-claiming dark side of white southern conservatism" -- though "I didn't want to demonize Gingrich and his crowd as they had done to us." A woman named Susan Smith drowns her two young sons in October 1994, perhaps "because she had been sexually abused as a child by her ultra-conservative stepfather, who was on the board of his local chapter of the Christian Coalition." Men like this carry the Republican party to victories in that year's midterm congressional elections.

CHAPTERS 46 AND 47: Starr summons Hillary to the grand jury, a "cheap, sleazy publicity stunt." Because he has by this time pursued and victimized not just the Clintons but "many other innocent people," public opinion begins to turn, and finally, on April 17, 1996, "even the New York Times couldn't take it any longer." The Times calls on Starr to step down. A few months later, Clinton is reelected. At his second inauguration, "94-year-old Senator Strom Thurmond was seated next to Chelsea and told her, 'If I were seventy years younger, I'd court you.'" The president finds this charming.

CHAPTER 48: "What I had done with Monica Lewinsky was immoral and foolish. I was deeply ashamed of it and I didn't want it to come out." But, goshdarnit, Hillary "was right" about that "vast right-wing conspiracy" -- "I was in a legal and political struggle with forces who had abused the criminal and civil laws and severely damaged innocent people in their attempt to destroy my presidency and cripple my ability to serve."

CHAPTER 49: "On Saturday morning, August 15, with the grand jury testimony looming and after a miserable, sleepless night, I woke up Hillary and told her the truth about what had happened between me and Monica Lewinsky." For quite some time thereafter, Clinton "slept on the couch." Only gradually, and with benefit of intensive family counseling, does the president come to understand how the 1995 budget battle and government shutdown had practically forced him into Ms. Lewinsky's arms. "When I was exhausted, angry, or feeling isolated and alone," it turns out, "I was more vulnerable to making selfish and self-destructive personal mistakes about which I would later be ashamed."

CHAPTERS 50 THROUGH 52: Clinton is impeached by the House of Representatives and, anticlimactically, acquitted by the Senate. The impeachment battle is "my last great showdown with the forces I had opposed all of my life -- those who had defended the old order of racial discrimination and segregation in the South and played on the insecurities and fears of the white working class in which I grew up."

CHAPTERS 53 THROUGH 55: Clinton's seventh year in office is "full of achievement," yadda, yadda, yadda. The 2000 presidential contest gets underway. The Republicans nominate George W. Bush after he edges out John McCain in the pivotal South Carolina primary ("aided by a telephone campaign into conservative white households reminding them that Senator McCain had a 'black baby'"). Democratic nominee Al Gore makes history by choosing a "Jewish-American" to be his running mate. But the Supreme Court issues an "appalling decision" -- right up there with Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson -- awarding the race to Bush. What are you gonna do? "The river of time carries us all away. All we have is the moment."

The Weekly Standard


View CBS News In