By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
WHAT A PARTY!
My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and
Other Wild Animals
By Terry McAuliffe,
with Steve Kettmann
Thomas Dunne Books,
416 pp., $24.95
At the very least, there is one totally true statement in Terence R. McAuliffe's new memoir: "This is my book," he writes, "and obviously I've done my best to make myself look good."
As for the rest, even the author warns that he's an Irish storyteller given to blarney. But taken with that caveat, "What a Party!" is a rollicking ride through the world of celebrity, fundraising and politics that certainly entertains if not illuminates.
It's hard not to imagine downing beers in a bar as McAuliffe tells war stories about how a boy from Syracuse grew up to become President Bill Clinton's running buddy and the Democrats' most fabled fundraiser. To say he would do anything for a political donation would be putting it mildly. He once wrestled an alligator for a contribution and later belted out "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" from a casino stage for another.
By the time he found himself inside the Clinton orbit, he was traveling in rarefied circles -- and he makes sure to document them all. There's Terry lunching at the Palm with Jack Nicholson, vacationing with Oscar de la Renta and hunting with the king of Spain. There's Terry dining at the White House with Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. There's Terry watching a movie with the Clintons at Camp David while Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow make out on a couch.
Most of all, there's Terry bashing the Republicans over and over while saving the Democrats from certain ruin. This is, in the end, a partisan's book in a partisan age, perhaps explaining why it debuted at No. 1 on the Washington Post bestseller list. Those who think that Bill and Hillary Clinton walk on water and that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are demon seed will find it heartening. Those seeking nuance should look elsewhere.
As Hillary Clinton launches her own campaign for the White House, McAuliffe offers little insight into the most fascinating and complex political family of a generation. He recounts in loving detail endless golf outings and all-night board and card games with Bill Clinton -- he spent so many late hours in the president's hotel suite during a trip to Seoul playing a form of Scrabble that South Korean security agents suspected they were gay lovers.
But McAuliffe reveals nothing new about what makes either Clinton tick, nor does he explore any shades of gray in these Shakespearean political figures. Whitewater, the Lincoln Bedroom fundraising, the Monica Lewinsky saga, the last-minute pardons? Really all just Republican perfidy. The most inside moment he discloses is watching television with the Clintons as the first lady channel-surfs, unable to find a station not broadcasting something about her husband's misdeeds, until she finally settles on ESPN.
If unflinchingly loyal to the Clintons, though, McAuliffe vents about other Democrats, particularly the party's last two presidential nominees. No doubt he is channeling the Clintons when he grouses about Al Gore sidelining Bill Clinton in 2000 and John F. Kerry not fighting back harder against Bush in 2004. As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, McAuliffe was never invited to a Kerry strategy session and discovered only afterward that the campaign had not spent $15 million, a decision he called "gross incompetence."
He also dishes on Barbra Streisand, who once held a fundraiser for the Clinton library but hates dogs so much that she would not allow even the Secret Service bomb-sniffers onto her property.
"No dogs are coming on my property," she insisted.
"No dogs, no Bill Clinton," McAuliffe replied.
So she relented. And then screamed at him when she stepped in the inevitable byproduct.
An all-too-common experience in politics these days.
Baker is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post and author of "The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton."