Friday Book: The cult leader of Capitol Hill

No One Left To Lie To: The Triangulations Of William Jefferson Clinton By Christopher Hitchens, Verso, pounds 12

WHEN HISTORY comes to deliver its verdict on Bill Clinton, it will surely reserve harsh words for all those people, especially on the left, who rushed so many times to his defence. Like infatuated teenagers, they have tried to explain away his mendacity, his abuse of women, his broken electoral promises, his willingness to do anything - including launching missile strikes - to save his own skin. Unlike teenagers, many of them have never quite fallen out of love with the big, good-looking Democrat who promised so much but made things worse for the poor who saw him as their champion.

One of Clinton's many pieces of luck, paradoxically, is the way in which his relations with women have obscured his shortcomings as a politician. He has even been presented as the victim of the women he abused, with Gennifer Flowers laughed off as a night-club singer with big hair, Paula Jones as trailer trash, and Monica Lewinsky - well, whoever had a good word for Lewinsky? She was "a little nutty, a little slutty", according to one Clinton apologist; a sexual predator who got the hapless President in her sights, according to others.

Charles Wheeler, the BBC's veteran correspondent, magisterially informed the Radio 4 audience that she was a "minx". The novelist Gabriel Garca Mrquez announced that "the President only wanted to do what the common man has done behind his wife's back since the world began". Even more gobsmacking were the contortions of "feminists for Clinton", that group of Sixties radicals that includes Gloria Steinem and Carly Simon. The President, according to an essay by the feminist writer Erica Jong, is the "alpha male" of the tribe and entitled to his pick of the most nubile females.

All the while, Clinton was signing into law cuts in welfare benefits to poor children and bombing a pharmaceuticals factory in faraway Khartoum, turning American foreign policy into an instrument of revenge for his wounded psyche. What is wrong with these people? What is it about Clinton that makes previous political positions fly out of the window?

To his credit, the Washington-based British journalist Christopher Hitchens has never fallen for any of the myths so assiduously peddled by the Clinton administration and its apologists. The welfare cuts, in his vivid formulation, have resulted in "the creation of a large helot underclass disciplined by fear and scarcity, subject to endless surveillance, and used as a weapon against any American worker lucky enough to hold a steady or unionised job".

Hitchens rightly rejects the "lesser of two evils" argument, which holds that the left has to support Clinton because his successor would almost certainly be worse. He argues cogently in this short book that Clinton is so desperate to retain office that he has been doing the Republicans' job for them during his two administrations.

The warning signs were there from the moment Governor Clinton decided, at the height of the Flowers allegations, not to reprieve a brain-damaged prisoner who was incapable of understanding that he was about to be executed by the State of Arkansas. This was, says Hitchens, "the first of many times Clinton would deliberately opt for death as a means of distraction from sex".

It is a searing indictment, not so much a book as a philippic. This is the speech, Ciceronian in its construction and its controlled passion, which the Senate should have been made to hear during the botched impeachment hearings.

It is constructed from a kind of rhetoric rarely heard these days, as enjoyable for its hauteur as the argument it lays out. "The draft-dodger has mutated into a pliant serf of the Pentagon," Hitchens observes, "the pot smoker into the chief inquisitor of the `war on drugs', and the womaniser into a boss who uses subordinates as masturbatory dolls." There is no attempt here at "balance", no pretence that "triangulation" - supposedly finding a position between the existing parties - is anything other than a fancy name for betrayal.

As a Washington insider, Hitchens also manages to shed some light on the conundrum of why Clinton has been forgiven so many times. "I have known a number of people who work for and with, or who worked for and with, this man," he writes. "They act like cult members while under the spell, and talk like ex-cult members as soon as they have broken away."

Clearly this personal magnetism exerts its effect far beyond the President's immediate circle, allowing a womanising, Bible-toting, good ol' Southern boy to pose as a radical. What Hitchens demonstrates comprehensively, however, is that William Jefferson Clinton is not one of us.

Joan Smith

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit