Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Washington political reporter Drew (On the Edge) believes that House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow conservative Republicans have overinterpreted-and outrun-their mandate to scale back government. Based on interviews with key players of both parties, her chronicle of the battle between the Clinton White House and a Republican Congress concludes that the president has regained the moral high ground with voters disenchanted with a congressional majority that seemingly has scored few positive accomplishments. Drew labels as farcical the Republican proposal to balance the budget in seven years, largely because tax cuts will make the deficit increase again after year seven. She accuses the Republicans of "playing suburban politics" by favoring their own constituencies, which do not include the poor, and by devolving power to the states. And she persuasively argues that the debate over Republican cuts in Medicare was fraudulent on both sides-Republicans in effect proposed to change the nature of Medicare, luring the elderly into private plans, while the Clinton administration took a pass on the hard questions of controlling costs. This is a trenchant, behind-the-scenes look at the making-and possible unmaking-of Gingrich's "Contract With America." (Apr.)
Drew continues the gritty coverage of the Clinton administration begun in her well-received On the Edge: The Clinton Presidency (LJ 10/15/94). House speaker Newt Gingrich is the focus of this story of the first session of the 104th Congress (1995). Gingrich started the year enjoying the popularity brought about by the highly touted Republican Contract with America, as President Clinton continued to endure low credibility and poor ratings. By the end of the year their positions reversed. Drew successfully contrasts their leadership styles, showing Gingrich's difficulties in controlling the large, often unruly freshman class of conservative Republican House members; his ongoing clashes with his sometimes nemesis, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole; his ideological battles with the Clinton administration; and his declining popularity due to the perceived ruthlessness of his repeal of the New Deal agenda. Clinton relied on his campaign skills, the prestige of the presidency, and a successful State of the Union Address to rebound. Political wonks will revel in Drew's detailed, complex depictions of the legislative process, but general readers may be overwhelmed. Still, Drew's recounting is timely, challenging, and rewarding; public libraries should purchase. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/95.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, Pa.
Drew's "On the Edge" (1994) applied to Clinton's first 18 months as president the kind of detailed scrutiny Teddy White first used on presidential campaigns 35 years ago. Drew blends lively descriptions of public events, insider information on internal wrangling, and thoughtful analysis of the implications of policy debates; she's also more forthright than most pundits in calling pols on their fumbles and misrepresentations. "Showdown" sets out to cover the first year of confrontation between Clinton and the new Republican congressional leaders, particularly Speaker Newt Gingrich. The heated rhetoric and government shutdowns of late 1995 will likely extend her focus (the galley reviewed ends with the August 1995 congressional recess; final chapters are due soon). In addition to vivid, textured portraits of key players in the ongoing war of slogans and sound bites, Drew supplies vital perspective on both the short-term political motives of the various sides and the long-term political, social, and economic consequences of their quite different visions of the nation's past and future. Negotiators' inability (as of late January) to produce a compromise budget agreement reflects political expediency on both sides and the genuine differences between the parties. Because Drew clearly and insightfully analyzes "both" these sources of conflict, this book should help readers understand the critical issues at stake in the 1996 elections
In the second installment of her narrative history of the troubles of the Clinton administration, Meet the Press commentator Drew (On the Edge, 1994) records the mounting tension between the Clinton White House and the leadership of the first Republican Congress in 40 years.
The midterm congressional elections of 1994 swept Republican majorities into power in both the House and Senate, at one stroke crippling the Clinton administration. Georgia representative Newt Gingrich, formerly the indecorous "bomb-thrower" of the unruly Republican minority and now newly elected speaker, was the author of the Contract with America, on which many Republicans had been elected. He was regarded as the personal leader of the Republican revolution. In Drew's account, it was Gingrich, more than Republican Senate leader Bob Dole, who defined what the new conservatives stood for, and it was he with whom the Clinton administration groped to come to terms as the new Congress convened. According to Drew, Gingrich defined the terms of public debate for much of the following year; the Contract with America, which obliged the new Congress to bring key bills to a vote within its first hundred days, dominated Washington discourse, rather than Clinton's policy initiatives. Drew shows Clinton and his staff battling the congressional leadership over issues set by the Republicans: tax reform, welfare reform, and a balanced budget. Clinton has tried to seize moral high ground on traditional Democratic issues, like affirmative action, but rather than becoming a leader on issues, Clinton is being reduced to what the author describes as a "synthesizer," selecting positions on different issues from among various available conservative or liberal choices. Ironically, he became more personally popular than either Dole or Gingrich, and as 1996 arrived, pundits gave him a real chance of reelection.
An absorbing look at President Clinton's attempt to govern at a time when a grassroots movement may be redefining the extent of federal power.