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An Egotist Details His Life at the White House

  • George Stephanopoulos, All Too Human, A Political Education, Little, Brown and Company, 1999, 456 pages (Hardcover, $27.95)

    All Too Human should be renamed Too Much Stephanopoulos. The political memoir, which traces the author's years as President Clinton's campaign manager and White House adviser, is well written but ultimately dissatisfying.

    Stephanopoulos focuses too much on himself and not enough on the Clinton presidency, allowing his ego to stomp out any sense of historical perspective.

    Another main flaw of the book is its timing. Stephanopoulos took advantage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton's impeachment to garner publicity for his tome, propelling his book to the best-seller list. This opportunistic move damages the book's credibility.

    In the introduction, Stephanopoulos admits he wrote the book twice. He began the first draft soon after he left the White House to become a media commentator. Originally he intended to tell how a flawed politician learned to be a good president. "I believed it would be a story with a happy ending," he writes. After the Lewinsky scandal broke, he rewrote the book to include his own reaction.

    Stephanopoulos is furious because he believes Clinton has tainted everything they worked for. The anger seeps into the book and wrecks its sense of perspective: There's no big-picture view here, no sense of what Clinton's first four years meant to the people of the U.S.

    Believe it or not, All Too Human begins with a dream. Stephanopoulos is back in the White House helping Clinton deal with some vague crisis. Then Stephanopoulos walks into the Oval Office and finds nude pinups of Lewinsky pasted on the walls. The dream revealed "the Clinton I loved and the Clinton I feared," Stephanopoulos writes. The Clinton he loved is a public-spirited politician capable of smoothing any situation. The Clinton he feared is a shameless man who can't control his impulses.

    Stephanopoulos dealt with his boss' dual personality daily. He considers himself an expert on Clinton's anger and catalogs the times the president blew up at him, and wagged his "finger in my face." The pressure of the job gets to Stephanopoulos, and he admits to battles with depression, fatigue and a bad case of hives.

    The Stephanopoulos revealed in the book is not a likeable character. He craves recognition: All the photos included in the book focus on him. He details each time Clinton heeded his advice and lists all the "atta boys" he received from Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. At the same time, he seems like the obnoxious A student gloating over gold stars and someone who expects the worst in all situations.

    Still, with his gift for observation, Stephanopoulos is an excellent writer. In this cutting and descriptive work, he ladles his harshest criticism on presidential adviser Dick Morris, "the dark buddha whose belly Clinton rubbed in desperate times." His professional jealousy and loathing for Morris ooze toward the end of the book. This is Stephanopoulos at his cattiest. While his sharp writing makes the book absorbing, it also makes the reader expect more depth than Stephanopoulos ultimately offers.

    In the end, Stephanopoulos decides to leave the White House because he's exhausted and wants to quit while he's ahead. (Morris has been banished and Clinton is poised to win another election.) But he can't fade quietly. His craving for the limelight is satisfied by an on-camera job at ABC News. When the Lewinsky scandal breaks, he's among the first to say the I-word (impeachment). Stephanopoulos is now persona non grata at the White House.

    While this tale is sad and ugly, Stephanopoulos notes that he refuses to call his book a tragedy because "Clinton lacks the grandeur of a tragic hero." It's a strange statement because the book is all about Stephanopoulos.

    Christi Dunn is a Houston-based financial writer. Previously, she was a high-tech business reporter for The Tribune in Phoenix, business editor of the Democrat-Gazette in Arkansas, and editor of the San Antonio Business Journal and the San Diego Business Journal. TheStreet.com has a revenue-sharing relationship with Amazon.com under which it receives a portion of the revenue from Amazon purchases by customers directed there from TheStreet.com. TheStreet.com selects books for review solely on the basis of merit for its readers.
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