In 1991, in the early days of his presidential run, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton would occasionally cite and paraphrase from what was clearly his favorite new book: E.J. Dionne’s Why Americans Hate Politics. The book excoriated any number of politicos, but chiefly Republicans, for posing “false choices” to the American people—as in, you’re either pro-family or pro-government (as if there weren’t a raft of government programs to help families). Clinton wove these ideas into his stump speech, now and then taking care to attribute some of them to E.J.’s book. (E.J. is a close friend, so in this blog, he gets first-name treatment).
It’s 21 years later and Clinton’s doing it again. According to The Washington Post’s Al Kamen, Clinton was answering questions at a forum put on by his Clinton Global Initiative at the London School of Economics. He was asked by Ashley Judd (who, unlike the young Mick Jagger, is not actually a student at the LSE) what he was reading, and replied that he was reading E.J.’s new book, Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent. According to Kamen, Clinton then delivered this mini-review: “This is the best thing E.J. has written in 20 years—since Why Americans Hate Politics.”
I don’t always agree with our 42nd president, but this time, he and I are in perfect accord. E.J.’s new book is indeed his best since Why Americans, which means it’s pretty damned great.