WITH his poll ratings sliding and doubts about his character stronger than ever, President Bill Clinton's image has received another blow - publication of the first authoritative book on his White House, depicting him as indecisive, unable to delegate and saved on occasion from complete chaos only by the determined intervention of First Lady Hillary.
The Agenda; Inside the Clinton White House is the work of Bob Woodward, Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame and now the paper's assistant managing editor. It deals with policy-making and particularly economic policy- making by the new Democratic President during his first year in office. Some things may have changed, but the White House of 1993 sounds uncommonly like the White House of the summer of 1994, run by a weak man fond of talk, who puts off most decisions to the last moment.
According to the Post, the book presents 'virtually every member of Clinton's inner circle, including Hillary Clinton, as critical of the President's management style.' She comes across as resolute, demanding, 'I want to see a plan', at a top-level meeting in July 1993 on how to sell the President's deficit- cutting package, and accusing top advisers of creating a 'dysfunctional' White House.
Apart from graphic accounts of his volcanic tantrums, Woodward's book will not change the standard perception of the President. The danger is it will reinforce impressions of his style as indecisive, often dominated by his wife Hillary and prone to be all things to all men. In yesterday's first excerpt in the Post, a close aide, George Stephanopoulos, tells an associate that watching Mr Clinton is 'like a kaleidoscope. What you see is where you stand and where you're looking at him. He will put one facet towards you, but that is only one facet.'
The Hillary who emerges may not help the Clinton cause. Even before he left for the D-Day trip to Europe, the White House was bristling at a New Yorker magazine profile suggesting she was being positioned for the Presidency once her husband had left office.
In a CBS interview last night, Woodward claimed the Treasury Secretary, Lloyd Bentsen, 'has told people Hillary is tougher, more goal-oriented and more disciplined.' A political adviser is quoted in the book as saying that 'without Hillary he (Clinton) would have ended up as merely the most popular law professor at the University of Arkansas.'
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