book review: GOVERNMENT GIRL

Title: Government Girl
Author: Stacy Parker Aab
ISBN: 978-0061672224
Pages: 304
Publisher: Ecco; Original edition (January 19, 2010)
Category: memoir
Review source: ECCO
Rating: 4/5

Girls like me loved everything about George. We had come to Washington, D.C., to study politics, so he was our role model. We admired his brains and his meteoric rise, yes. But we loved his person, too. His hair. His gold-rimmed glasses. His calmness facing down the daily press storm.

In the open and thoughtful GOVERNMENT GIRL, author Stacy Parker Aab describes her years working in the Clinton White House—first as an intern for George Stephanopoulos while studying at George Washington University– then as staff when she became Special Assistant to Paul Begala. The memoir reads exactly as one imagines Stacy’s experience to be: first a fresh, young wide-eyed 18-year-old becomes a White House intern. Powerful men [not many women unfortunately] like President Clinton. George Stephanopoulos, Rahm Emanuel, Vernon Jordan are all in her midst. She ends up asking Jordan for a recommendation and has some interaction with the others. Nine years later, by the end of her experience, she doesn’t particularly enjoy her job which is more administrative than using her skills as a writer [been there/ done that] and the sparkle and luster have fallen off the White House after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I realized then that I was just like those other dreamers at the president’s sleeves that hoped to alchemize his power into success for themselves. Yet I had only wanted to share. To enjoy his nurturing approval. Look what I’ve done since I’ve left, Mr. President.
The President was handing me a cold bottle of water.
The moments slowed and brightened like a videotape flooded with light. I still felt I could finesse the situation. If at any moment something went wrong, if this somehow turned sexual and anybody knew, this would be nuclear. And people always knew. The Starr Report had shown us that the light investigators and journalists shined on this man burned away any lies. Stories like these died in half-lives. Just ask Monica. No one wanted to go through what she had. To live with the shame of not just adultery but worldwide humiliation. To always know what others imagined when they saw you.

Parker Aab doesn’t speak of sexism, however there aren’t very many women in positions of power at all. In some of her stories on the road, she gets hit on by married Secret Service men and has an awkward encounter with the President in 2000 in Japan. She doesn’t speak of any contact with any women in particular besides some lower level staff members. This makes me sad and I hope that young women in the Obama White House aren’t experiencing the same thing but guess what? Many of the young guys [Rahm Emanuel from the Clinton White House] now work the Obama White House. It most likely is just that she worked in communications with George. She spoke of Dee Dee Meyers but Meyers did not stay very long. As an African-American, she also says that she faced no racism, which is fairly easy to believe for the Clinton White House.

Most of her challenges were due to her age and experience. How can a young woman be expected to take on these responsibilities? Stacy proved herself to the right people and had numerous unique and challenging experiences especially when she worked on the Advance Team and traveled with the President and his staff. She would go ahead to make sure the accommodations were just right: she traveled to Africa, Japan, and several other places including Steven Spielberg’s home in the Hamptons.

Those stacks were like hay that needed to be spun into gold. No firstborn child was at stake, but my reputation was, and all my possibilities in politics, because, having been handed this assignment at eighteen, I believed that my whole future in government rested on how well I performed—for what else did these people have to judge me on? Just my performance.

I wish Stacy had touched more on what she learned while in the White House instead of the day to day. After finishing the memoir, I was jealous of her experience and knew she did a lot of constituent outreach [which I’ve done on a local level]—by answering letters. She did say she was excited to be part of anything to do with the White House and its administration. And I know that many of her responsibilities allowed her to take on greater challenges later on. However, I still didn’t have enough of a grasp on her learning curve during her nine years there. But she chose GOVERNMENT GIRL to be about her experience as a woman learning to navigate the intricacies and dangers of power and privilege. She entered the White House perhaps naïve and awe-struck at 18 and left at 26 with a completely different attitude. For anyone interested in politics or the inner sanctum of the White House, GOVERNMENT GIRL is the ideal memoir.

GOVERNMENT GIRL review appears as part of The TLC Book Tour

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  1. #1 by trish on January 28, 2010 - 18:12

    Thanks for being on this tour, Amy! I think the lessons Stacy learned are valuable for women, as we tend to underestimate the power we *do* have. 🙂

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