Book Review: Back To Work by Bill Clinton

Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong EconomyAnyone that knows me will not be surprised when I say that I’m fairly conservative. I do however, always try to look at all points of view before forming opinions on any given issue. In general, I really don’t care what side of the aisle an opinion comes from if it’s presented in an intelligent manner.

I abhor talking points and partisan hackery, regardless of whether they come from the left or the right. If you can’t support your position with common sense, logic and facts, then don’t waste your breath. If you have a position that can be supported by some kind of data, however, then I’m more than willing to discuss and consider it. It was with this in mind that I read President Bill Clinton’s new book, Back To Work.

There were a couple of things that I noticed right out of the box. The first was that there is a reason that Bill Clinton is one of the most masterful politicians of our time. As he did during his career, he is an expert at appealing to the “common man” (remember “I feel your pain”?). He has made an art out of appearing to be objective and reasoned, while subtly (and sometimes, not so subtly) attacking his opponents. This is a legacy which he continues in his book.

The second thing I noticed was that his underlying premise is false. In the first half of his book, he makes the case for “how we got here”. According to him, our current economic situation is the net result of 30 years of “antigovernment” conservative philosophy. In fact, he goes on to use the word “antigovernment” dozens, if not hundreds of times, to describe conservatives. The fact that he does this not only betrays his implied claim of objectivity, but in the process also marginalizes his credibility.

I don’t know one conservative (or independent, for that matter) that is “antigovernment”. While the former President repeatedly asserts this notion, the stark reality is that the overwhelming majority of conservatives are not “antigovernment”. Conservatives know that we need a strong Federal Government and that we need regulation, they just think that government (and regulation) should be limited, as is expressly laid out in the Constitution of the United States. The difference is a fundamental belief of the role of the Federal Government. Conservatives believe in the principles of limited government and individual freedoms that our country was founded on, while our more liberal friends believe that government is the solution to all of our problems.

Unfortunately, President Clinton not only costs himself some credibility though his use of partisan assumptions, but he also plays a little fast and loose with the facts. Throughout his book, he cites many facts and figures to support his arguments. The problem is that in the overwhelming majority of instances, he does not cite the sources of the data. For all we know, he could be just making them up (which I personally doubt, but this goes back to supporting the credibility of an argument).

Being a bit of an amateur fact-checker, I looked up a number of his claims. Without going into the boring details, I’ll say that some were correct, but many others, while technically correct, were either taken out of context or had certain details “cherry-picked” to support his position. In addition, he cites a few dubious sources. For example, in a section about Medicare on page 70, he cites Paul Krugman, an extremely liberal editorial writer for the New York Times, as the source of his information. That’s the left wing equivalent of citing Rush Limbaugh as proof of your position, which hardly adds to the credibility of the book (no disrespect to Mr. Krugman or Mr. Limbaugh, of course).

He also, as one would expect, takes credit for accomplishments during his presidency such as welfare reform, while conveniently omitting the documented fact that he vetoed it twice before finally agreeing to it. Does he still deserve credit? Of course he does, but it stains his objectivity a bit.

Now, with all that said, President Clinton makes some good arguments as well. The second half of the book is a list of ideas and solutions for fixing the economy. While most of them take the left wing position of government involvement, there are some good ideas that I would agree with. Of course, the details are always the sticky part, but many of his ideas could be implemented to help our economic situation. Many of these may need some “modification”, but there’s no doubt that a few objective people could use the ideas as a sound starting point for developing an effective plan.

Overall, it’s a decent book. Depending on your political perspective, you may love it or you may hate it. For those that can put aside partisanship and read it objectively, President Clinton provides some good information and possible solutions.


+Kevin A. Nye

Back to Work:

Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

By: Bill Clinton, Former President of the United States

Book Description:
Publication Date: November 8, 2011

President Bill Clinton gives us his views on the challenges facing the United States today and why government matters—presenting his ideas on restoring economic growth, job creation, financial responsibility, resolving the mortgage crisis, and pursuing a strategy to get us “back in the future business.” He explains how we got into the current economic crisis, and offers specific recommendations on how we can put people back to work, increase bank lending and corporate investment, double our exports, restore our manufacturing base, and create new businesses. He supports President Obama’s emphasis on green technology, saying that changing the way we produce and consume energy is the strategy most likely to spark a fast-growing economy while enhancing our national security.

Clinton also stresses that we need a strong private sector and a smart government working together to restore prosperity and progress, demonstrating that whenever we’ve given in to the temptation to blame government for all our problems, we’ve lost our ability to produce sustained economic growth and shared prosperity.

Clinton writes, “There is simply no evidence that we can succeed in the twenty-first century with an antigovernment strategy,” based on “a philosophy grounded in ‘you’re on your own’ rather than ‘we’re all in this together.’ ” He believes that conflict between government and the private sector has proved to be good politics but has produced bad policies, giving us a weak economy with not enough jobs, growing income inequality and poverty, and a decline in our competitive position. In the real world, cooperation works much better than conflict, and “Americans need victories in real life.”

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Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

Photo by The U.S. National Archives

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