Welcome to the Jungle: America After Vietnam
                                       AP US History 2007

Keri Ann Oddman

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The Comeback Kid

     The Life and Career of Bill Clinton: The Comeback Kid1 by Charles F. Allen and Jonathan Portis details the life of former President Clinton and the road that led him to politics. "When I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it, and I didn't inhale,"2 this may be one of the most memorable quotes from 42nd president Bill Clinton. President Clinton played a strong role in the education reform of the 1980's and the way that Americans viewed politics in the 1990's. For the 1992 elections Clinton was a long shot yet he was able to break through the many controversies that were hampering his campaign.
     In the early years of his life Bill Clinton was introduced to views on education that would later shape his campaigns. He was dropped head first into politics as part of Boys Nation, a summer program for students that teaches them the workings of the American government, and was instantly hooked; after that Clinton participated in every school election available. Although still in high school Clinton was already considered a controversial liberal, which often caused him to lose his campaigns. An extremely bright student Clinton excelled in every class he took and actually enjoyed learning. His hard work in school paid off and he attended the prestigious Georgetown University and received the Rhodes scholarship. While attending Oxford to complete his Scholar duties, Clinton was able to avoid the Vietnam War draft by deferment; his disapproval in the war would later cause many bumps in the road for him. In 1974 Clinton ran for congress simply because when he asked his friends to run for office they declined. While Clinton did not win his first campaign he did create the closest race that the victor Hammerschmidt had seen in many years. For Bill Clinton being a politician meant connecting with the people, his platform was on bettering the education system for the people of Arkansas. Just as in high school Clinton faced harsh criticism for his liberal views but that did not stop him from becoming the youngest governor in the nation at the age of 32. "I always felt... that I should be in a hurry in life... I mean, most kids never think about when they're going to have to run out of time. I think about it all the time because my father died at twenty-nine, before I was born,"3 Clinton was in a race against himself and this is what added to his intensely competitive side.
     As governor Clinton wanted equal opportunity for all the residents of Arkansas. This view caused him to be fairly unpopular with interest groups that felt that free public services lowered their revenue. Interest groups, however, were not his only enemies at the time. Newspapers were printing stories of wasteful spending by government employees and Clinton's politics were dubbed "Slick Willie" politics it seemed that everywhere the people of Arkansas turned there was just another problem that needed to be taken care of. He lost the election of 1980 to Frank White and to make matters worse Clinton faced his first accusation of having an extra marital affair. While Clinton may have faced hardship during his term it was nothing compared to the criticism White faced for allowing religion to affect his decisions. In 1984 Clinton found himself in yet another governor race. This time an even bigger scandal rocked the election. Bill Clinton's brother Roger Clinton was arrested for trafficking cocaine and this seemed like a blow that would devastate the campaign. As it turns out the scandal may have helped Clinton win the race. During the 1980's cocaine addiction was becoming an epidemic, and the arrest of his own brother made more like the common man. During the 1986 election it was suggested that Clinton run for president. Since the governor term had been changed from two years to four Clinton declined running for the presidency, wanting to stay committed to his original. It wouldn't be until 1991 that Clinton would reveal his plans for the presidency.
     Clinton's triumph of passing his education reforms seemed bittersweet because there was still the sense that he had failed in someway due to a lack of financial resources. He felt that it was time to repair the education system on a national level. By declaring his take on the national education crisis, Clinton was watched closer than ever for a turn towards the White House. Once again Clinton felt himself under the microscope of the press, this time the critics attacked the issue of his past marijuana use in addition to accusations of having yet another extra marital affair. Clinton dismissed the press as being the moral police and felt that what he had done in the past was none of their business. On October 3rd, after many years of denying that he would be a contender for president, Clinton announced that he would be a possible democratic candidate. Clinton's platform focused on helping the common man. He felt that there needed to be rewards for hard workers and that preschool needed to be available for all students. Clinton also created a five-point plan to end the national recession, which looked promising in the eyes of the American people.
     As the fight for the New Hampshire Primary started Clinton faced stiff competition from Democratic candidate Cuomo. Cuomo attacked Clinton for saying that he was just raising taxes without any beneficial results. Clinton's tax cut plan was harshly named "Twinkie economics" as a spin on Reagan's "voodoo economics", because many of his promises appeared too good to be true. Clinton began to gain momentum in New Hampshire but was cut down by an investigation into his background that revealed sex allegation after sex allegation. As his integrity was being questioned candidate Tsongas became the front runner of the New Hampshire race. When the New Hampshire primary was over it was candidate Paul Tsongas who came out on top with Clinton trailing right behind. This surprising victory gave Clinton the nickname the Comeback Kid. Clinton was able to come out of the New Hampshire Primary with his campaign intact, and quickly attacked Paul Tsongas' economic campaign calling it was cold blooded and that it only benefited those with money. Bill Clinton wanted to restore America's faith in the government by creating programs and benefits that were for the ordinary man.
     Charles F. Allen and Jonathan Portis ask one question at the beginning of the book: Is Bill Clinton suitable for the presidency? One could argue that with all of his short comings and scandals, before he had even reached the White House, would make him someone one could never consider for the job. On the other hand, Allen and Portis praise Clinton for his ability to move on when plans do not work out and to not back down when his moral fiber was examined. They never say that Clinton is the best and only man for the job but they allow one to consider why he would make a good candidate. Portis and Allen show Clinton coming out of normally career ending situations with his head held high.
     The Comeback Kid was written in 1992 the year of the Clinton election. The authors chose to write about the democratic side of the election which gives them a certain bias when it comes to talking about Clinton. The authors praise Clinton for his triumphs and also for his many flaws and turn him into almost the messiah in politics that we have been waiting for all along. Had the book been written in 1998 when Clinton was impeached the book may have had a different spin because the Monica Lewinsky scandal was a dark cloud over Clinton's two terms. While his career is not complete yet a book that was held off on until he had become president would make for a more inclusive biography. Publishers Weekly believe that the book falls short on its promises. Portis and Allen say that the focus of their book will be Clinton's education reform in Arkansas, but according to the review they barely seem to touch on the subject throughout the book. The books main spotlight is on his upbringing and doesn't introduce facts that were unknown to the general public, "The book will be of interest mainly to those who have not read a newspaper in the last eight months."4 While the book comes off biased they authors never specify if they feel that Clinton was capable of being America's President. Kirkus Reviews finds the book biased since Portis was an editor for the Arkansas Gazette and was a known Clinton supporter from the get go. The authors apparently gloss over facts that would otherwise ruin reputations and liberally put in quotes from Clinton supporters. The book is great for learning the policies and platforms of Clinton and what kind of up brining made him the man he is today to the Kirkus Review sees The Comeback Kid as, "the most informative text available on the man who would be President."5
     The book gives a play by play description of Clinton's life from who his parents were before he was born to every election that he participated in during his adulthood. The detail that the book goes into is exquisite and gives one insight into who Clinton really is. The authors take in both emotional and factual information in order to create the biography. One of the drawbacks of the book is the repetition that it has. An event will occur in the earlier years of his life and then it will continue to be repeated for the remainder of the book. This made many of the chapters difficult to read even if both events were in someway related. The authors also would go into great detail regarding certain events while only briefly mentioning others. This imbalance leaves many questions to be answered on a number of occasions, while leaving you with an information overload with others. The book feels hastily written as if the authors were trying to spin it out before the election ended had the book been waited on there could have been a conclusion that wasn't trailing. The biographers view the 1980's as a time to revolutionize America, "In order for us to change America for the better we must first change ourselves." Throughout the book they talk of Clinton trying to transform the education and healthcare system of the country as a way of bettering the nation. Clinton was able to lead a change in the way that the public looked at their politicians. Clinton was a man of the people and wanted to raise the quality of life for those Americans that worked hard but were going through rough times. Even though Clinton had controversial views in a conservative nation he was able to win over the public with his cool disposition and knack for connecting with the community. Clinton was who the country needed at the time, he let the public know that the government cared about them and were doing all that they could to make life easier on them. Though Clinton had not produced the kind of results that he had promised, he was making the assurance that there would be change. Because of Bill Clinton we have standards in education that surpass anything we could have though t of in the 1980's.
     The usually perception of politician was that they were rich, stuffy, old, white men. They aren't the kind of people who ever supposed to try pot, play the saxophone on late night talk shows, or have extra marital affairs. While many politicians have done a few of these things and more, most of them were kept under wraps and that is what set Clinton apart. Clinton was able to come in and change this view that most of the population had and make the role of president a more attainable aspiration. Growing up in the 1990's I do not remember life without Clinton as president, I know now that presidents can make a lot of mistakes because they are only human.
     The Comeback Kid is an unfinished reflection of the life of former President Bill Clinton. It takes us through the trials and tribulations the soon to be president faced in his life. Everything that Clinton faced affected the man he was to become, from his father's death before he was born to the many indecencies that have blemished his campaigns. He was consistently a bright student, participating in high school politics and excelling throughout his college career. Bill Clinton was always known, even throughout his numerous successes, for his unswerving position on the left-side of politics. Time after time, Clinton would face both exceptional good luck, such as becoming the youngest governor ever in the nation, and unprecedented bad luck, such as the arrest of his brother or the catastrophe near the end of his presidency. Clinton is resilient in his efforts to better the life of the working class and his belief that America is a country of equal opportunity.


1) Allen, Charles & Portis, J. COMEBACK KID, THE. Birch Lane Press: Carol Publishing Corporation, 1992 2) Allen & Portis 3) Allen & Portis 4) Publisher's Weekly. February 11th 1992 5) Kirkus Reviews. July 15th 1992

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