In this remarkable book, two of America's best-known journalists use their unparalleled access to the major players to examine The System, specifically as it operated during the ferocious battle over the Clinton effort to provide universal health insurance for Americans - and they come to some startling conclusions about America's future. From the beginning of the struggle, Johnson and Broder gained the confidence of more than one hundred of the participants, including the President and the First Lady; key congressional leaders like Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Ted Kennedy, and George Mitchell; the many competing special interests; and, outside the Beltway, ordinary citizens and workers on the battlefront of medical care. The authors have written a brilliant chronicle of the battle - of lost opportunities in the White House and of the savage determination and cunning tactics of the Gingrich forces, who plotted secretly for more than a year in advance to kill health care reform in an attempt to regain control of Congress and lead a conservative Republican Revolution that would fundamentally alter American government, privatize public function, and dismantle progressive programs and policies established over the last sixty years. Filled with stunning disclosures about the President and his supporters and adversaries, The System is an extraordinary portrait of democracy under siege, providing one of the most candid looks at American politics and government ever written. It is a book of vital importance to every American and is certain to become a classic in years to come.
A sobering and sometimes maddening play-by-play of Bill Clinton's abortive crusade to reform health care. Clinton came into office, note Washington-based journalists Johnson (Divided We Fall, 1994) and Broder (Changing of the Guard, 1980), committed to making sweeping changes so that all citizens would have access to health care. However, despite his charisma, a Democratic-controlled Congress, and opinion polls showing that most Americans favored such reforms, Clinton emerged from the battle badly scarred. Johnson and Broder show that several scarcely controllable factors collided to produce the rejection of his 1,342-page bill of reform. Among them were the Republican backlash then being orchestrated by Newt Gingrich in a successful bid to become speaker of the House; lobbyists' adoption of new techniques of buying political access and manipulating public opinion; the failure of White House staffers, led by left-leaning policy-maker Ira Magaziner, to communicate their ideas effectively; competition among leading Democrats to introduce health-care packages of their own; and a highly effective campaign, spearheaded by Rush Limbaugh, to discredit Bill and Hillary Clinton, so that teacup-size tempests like Whitewater came to overshadow the Clintons' legislative effort. Most of all, however, Clinton failed to reckon with the power of vested interests and of the so-called Gingrich revolution. The defeat was titanic - Clinton scarcely mentions health care these days - but the Republican victory may have been Pyrrhic: As the authors write, "one year after the House Republicans signed their Contract with America, Congress had failed to pass 11 of 13 appropriations bills needed to keep the federal government operating, and half of the Contract's provisions were stalled by opposition or inaction." Hundreds of actors wander on and off stage in a sweeping narrative that deftly underscores the crisis of confidence now troubling our political system. (Kirkus Reviews)