An earlier version of this review misspelled author Jonathan Gerth's name as Jonathan Gersh. This version of the article has been updated.
All in the Family
A WOMAN IN CHARGE
By Carl Bernstein
Knopf. 630 pp. $27.95
The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton
By Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.
Little Brown. 438 pp. $29.99
Three decades have passed since Carl Bernstein wrote his last book on U.S. politics, The Final Days, co-authored with Bob Woodward. But he has not lost his reporter's touch, and his new book, A Woman in Charge, has already refocused serious questions -- and supplied new information -- about Hillary and Bill Clinton, their past behavior and their current ambitions to regain the White House.
In Her Way, New York Times reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Jeff Gerth have painted the couple's unprecedented duality of skill and ambition even more boldly. The Clintons, they claim, sought and planned for sequential power: eight years in the White House for him, then eight years for her. Whether the authors' evidence holds up -- denials have already been reported -- remains to be seen. Taken together, however, these two volumes foreshadow what may well become a central issue of the 2008 presidential campaign: In light of the endless deceits, interest-group baggage, messianic overtones and shameless money politics of the two Bush dynasts (presidents number 41 and 43), do American voters want to empower yet another dubious dynasty (Clinton presidents number 42 and 44)?
Van Natta and Gerth, while displaying no election sympathies, note that "for decades, Hillary and Bill Clinton, along with a core group of friends and supporters, have told one story. Now it is time for another." Bernstein, on the other hand, salts his pages with anti-Republican asides, and seems to believe in much of the Clinton philosophy, if not methodology.
If a common theme exists, it is that Hillary Clinton, who has been "first partner" and then "first lady," and often the iron fist of their joint success, now aims, with her husband's collaboration, to become the ultimate "woman in charge." To Van Natta and Gerth, this long-term plan has actually been set down on paper and confirmed by a former senior Clinton administration official. If these allegations hold up, such a pursuit of family power is unlikely to further her White House prospects.
Bernstein, despite his pro-Clinton infusions, pursues a similar theme: Bill and Hillary's shared political "journey" since the 1970s. In 2000, "Hillary was seeking not just a seat in the Senate, but redemption: hers, her husband's, and the Clinton presidency's." By 2007, after the "co-presidency" of 1993-2000, "Bill Clinton had become her biggest booster as, roles now reversed, the gears of the Clinton apparat shifted and another Clinton sought the presidency. He was now a constant presence in the background as her counsel, consultant, strategist, and, finally, the elemental part of her process as a woman in charge."