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Madhouse: The Private Turmoil of Working for the President

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Given access to six senior staffers responsible for putting the president's words and policies into action, Jeffrey Birnbaum describes what it's like to have the president of the United States as a boss and to endure the constant tumult of crisis, scandal, and melodrama that has turned the White House into a madhouse. In this vibrant and penetrating book, we learn why so many bad things happen to the good people who work in the White House:. Howard Paster gave up his cushy lobbyist lifestyle to fulfill a lifelong...
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Overview

Given access to six senior staffers responsible for putting the president's words and policies into action, Jeffrey Birnbaum describes what it's like to have the president of the United States as a boss and to endure the constant tumult of crisis, scandal, and melodrama that has turned the White House into a madhouse. In this vibrant and penetrating book, we learn why so many bad things happen to the good people who work in the White House:. Howard Paster gave up his cushy lobbyist lifestyle to fulfill a lifelong dream of ushering a president's legislative agenda through Congress. After too many close votes, sleepless nights, and stress-related rashes, Paster quit. Paul Begala and Jeff Eller thought they would find new and persuasive ways to communicate Clinton's message. It didn't happen. They survived two years. Dee Dee Myers thought she could make a difference among the sober white males in the West Wing, but she discovered that in the White House, women still have secondary status. Gene Sperling and Bruce Reed represented the two warring sides of Bill Clinton's political soul. But it's hard to enact any policy in a madhouse, especially one that's been undermined by a Republican revolution.

In this vibrant and penetrating portrait of six staffers in the Clinton administration--Dee Dee Myers, Howard Paster, Paul Begala, Bruce Reed, Jeff Eller, and Gene Sperling--acclaimed journalist Jeffrey Birnbaum reveals why so many bad things happen to the good people who work in the White House.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The staying power of an average White House staff member is 18 months. They begin their assignments fresh-faced, but after working 16-hour days with little time for their families or for social life, they become burnouts. Birnbaum, who covers national politics for Time magazine, here looks at six staffers of the Clinton administration and what happened to them in their first two years on the job. Howard Paster, chief congressional lobbyist for the President, was confronted with the Nanny-gate and gays-in-the-military disasters but finally won one with NAFTA. Jeff Eller, the media affairs chief, went from the success of the Clinton campaign to Travelgate, to the failure of the administration's health care program. Bruce Reed, a so-called new Democrat, and Gene Sperling, an old-fashioned liberal, were policy advisers often in conflict over issues, but they remained good friends nevertheless. Dee Dee Myers, press secretary, was one of the few women in the "White Boys' Club." Although a favorite of Clinton, she would be cut off from policy decisions by Leon Panetta and David Gergen. Paul Begala, political consultant, who with his partner, James Carville, was most responsible for getting Clinton elected, found that working in the White House was not the same as running a campaign. Birnbaum has captured the utter chaos of the early Clinton White House in a way that will make interesting reading for those who love nuts-and-bolts politics. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
Library Journal
Birnbaum's inside look at the Clinton White House focuses on the distress and, in some cases, disillusionment of six senior staffers during the administration's first two years. Birnbaum, a senior correspondent for Time, gives a balanced view of White House problems, but he criticizes administrative organization (or lack of it) and faults Chief of Staff Mack McLarty for mishandling many staff decisions. He portrays loyal staffers Gene Sperling, Howard Paster, Jeff Eller, Bruce Reed, and Paul Begala as competent, talented personnel given too little support and too many assignments. Birnbaum also believes Dee Dee Myers, who regularly had to fight for access to the president, was a victim of the "White Boys' Club." In a thoughtful conclusion, Birnbaum admits that the staff problems were really caused by the fragmented nature of U.S. government and too-high expectations of the U.S. electorate for the presidency rather than by any serious shortcomings of the White House staff. Recommended for public libraries.-Jill Ortner, SILS, SUNY at Buffalo
Kirkus Reviews
Serving the president of the United States may seem like a dream job. But as senior Time correspondent Birnbaum persuasively shows in these portraits of six anguished aides and their short careers in the Clinton White House, it's really a nightmare.

Disparate in many ways, these Clinton supporters—Howard Paster (at 48, by far the oldest), Jeff Eller, Paul Begala, Dee Dee Myers, Gene Sperling, and Bruce Reed—had one thing in common: They all arrived in Washington full of conviction that government mattered and that their work would make a difference. Within weeks after Clinton's inauguration, however, an array of mini-scandals and artificial crises conceived and driven by opposition politicians and the media had paralyzed the White House. Paster, a lobbyist responsible for building a working relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill, found that he had an impossible task; the two houses of Congress rarely spoke with a unified voice on anything. Blamed by congressmen for White House gaffes, and by the president's staff for failing to develop a harmonious relationship with Congress, worn down by the relentless stress and the endless hours away from his family, Paster quit after little more than a year. Media affairs director Eller, responsible for a key Clinton administration health care initiative, found himself bogged down in "Travelgate." Despite the administration's rhetoric about diversity, press secretary Myers found that her gender shut her out of the "white boys' club," as she termed it. Stymied by an unruly Republican-controlled Congress, policy advisers Sperling and Reed found it impossible to successfully promote any programs. Even political illusionist Begala was frustrated by scandals and Clinton's lingering image problems, overwhelmed by the workload, and ultimately blamed for the Democratic electoral disaster that resulted in the loss of both houses of Congress.

Birnbaum deftly sketches the challenges of being a presidential aide and limns the disturbing boundaries of modern presidential power.

From Barnes & Noble
The Clinton White House as seen through the eyes of six senior staffers. "...sometimes funny, often disturbing, & always insightful."-- The Wall Street Journal. By the author of The Lobbyists.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812923254
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/23/1996
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.83 (w) x 8.55 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum covers national politics for Time magazine.  A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he has served as a reporter for The Miami Herald and The Wall Street Journal.  He has been a commentator for National Public Radio's All Things Considered and a regular guest on Washington Week in Review . He lives in Maryland with his wife and two children
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