Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A review of PBS's “Bill Clinton” movie

PBS made a four-hour documentary about the life of Bill Clinton. It has the liberal bias you'd expect from PBS, but with the exception of their coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it was a fascinating film. I don't think Bill Clinton was a good president, or even a particularly good man; but he was certainly an interesting man, with intelligence, great speaking ability, and a gift for politics to rival that of ReaganKennedy, or FDR.

Bill Clinton shakes hands with then-president John F. Kennedy

One of the most fascinating parts of this film is some 1960's footage of Bill Clinton shaking hands with his idol, then-President Kennedy - footage of a sitting president shaking hands with the man who would be president twenty years later. While I don't think Clinton was anywhere near as good a president as JFK, he did manage to successfully emulate (and even top) JFK's womanizing ways, and nearly destroy his political career in the process. This documentary makes clear the truly shocking extent of Clinton's promiscuity, and while the film's extensive coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal does not show any inappropriate pictures, the level of verbal detail borders on tasteless sensationalism, and warrants a strong caution against watching this film with young children nearby.

Monica Lewinsky

Ken Starr

To its credit, the documentary both covers the Whitewater scandal, and expresses disapproval of his adultery, perjury, and obstruction of justice; but their villainization of the Republicans who brought these scandals to light (like Ken Starr) smacks of partisan resentment at the political damage done, rather than an honest evaluation of the facts. The filmmakers contend that Republicans' attacks on Clinton's personal life hurt them in the 1998 midterm elections by causing them to lose seats in Congress. This is not only debatable, but biased by the omission of the fact that Republicans lost no seats in the Senate, lost only five seats in the House (out of 435 total House seats), and maintained their majorities in both houses of Congress. The facts make clear that the 1998 midterm elections were a Republican victory, but you wouldn't know that from watching this rather biased documentary.

Hillary Clinton

Bill Clinton

The film also credits Clinton for the good economy of the nineties, when the credit should really go to the Republicans that controlled Congress (and thus the nation's purse strings) for the last six years of Clinton's eight-year presidency. The film felt more like a story about current events than a history; and in fairness, some of that is inevitable when talking about events so recent. The film is mostly interesting despite the recentness of the events and the film's liberal bias, but I would again caution viewers about the film's coverage of the Lewinsky scandal.

DVD at Amazon

Can be viewed online at PBS website

If you liked this post, you might also like:

How Clinton got impeached without being removed from office

George H. W. Bush (the elder Bush president) movie

The price of being dumb (and voting for Obama)

My favorite history documentaries

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