Posts Tagged President Clinton
Title: Government Girl
Author: Stacy Parker Aab
Publisher: Ecco; Original edition (January 19, 2010)
Review source: ECCO
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
Thank you, Amy, for inviting me to guest post on your site. I appreciated your questions very much. To start off, you asked about what I learned personally and professionally from working in the White House.
I think it all comes down to power. As we learned in school, so much of presidential power is the ability to persuade, to use the bully pulpit to set the national agenda and convince us that the president’s way is the best way forward. He can negotiate with individual lawmakers. Or, he can appeal directly to the public. If he makes his case well enough, the public will in turn push their representatives to support his agenda.
I majored in Political Communication at The George Washington University, with my freshman dorm literally three blocks away from the White House complex. It was heady stuff to study the history of White House institutional power, and then go to my internship and see the current practitioners at work. I watched them wrangle with Congress over health care reform, balanced budgets, NAFTA, and all kinds of other issues. As they did so, they spent their sweat and brainpower crafting messages that they hoped would sway the public. Meeting after meeting was devoted to fine-tuning ideas and crafting the language to sell them. Communication was key. My bosses attended meetings for long-term message, short-term message, and message of the day. Again, if they could just convince enough Americans that what we wanted to do was best, with the help of their phone calls and letters to their representatives, we could pass our legislation.
There was power in the collective, for sure. The president could multiply his will in the world through the work of his staff and much of his administration. But the power I enjoyed watching the most belonged to the man himself. Nothing made me happier than seeing the president at his best.
One moment stands out most in my mind, and I write about in the book. We were in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2001. The President was now “former” but he was still formidable, and he was attending an AIDS conference. A teenaged boy began to speak. He shared details of his life with the HIV virus. He spoke of how members of his community, of his own family, wouldn’t touch him for fear of his disease. He spoke of how painful his life has been, and how despite this, he persevered. He refused to give up. He remained happy and hopeful. I wiped away tears as he finished, and I know I wasn’t the only one. While the audience applauded him, the president, unplanned, walked right out on stage and hugged him, and hugged him hard. I could feel the click, click, click from the audience as picture after picture was taken. I was moved because I knew that the next day, that picture would be run in newspapers all over the country. With one action, and one image, the President would make people not just think, but feel: if one of the most powerful men in the world could touch this young man with ease, why were they so afraid? It was a mighty thing to witness the President use his personal power for good, and I treasure each time I was able to do so.
You also asked me how my White House work changed me as a woman. That’s a tough question to answer. Let’s try it this way. My first year there, I aspired to be the smartest shadow in the room. I wanted to anticipate every need and to never be a problem. While I loved my work, I lived in fear of disappointing my bosses, believing that one mistake could sour how a senior staffer saw me and ruin my career in politics. That was a lot of pressure for a young woman, but that’s how I lived. I think if I had stayed on for longer, I could have grown out of this by virtue of being given more managerial responsibility and being pushed to be a boss and not support. But I was an assistant when I left in 1998. It would take leaving the White House to learn how assert myself as a whole person at work, and in my writing. It’s taken subsequent years to grow into someone who deeply respects others’ guidance and opinions, but doesn’t need everyone’s approval in order to act. I hope that the person I am today is not as afraid as the person I was before, that I know in my heart that even in the deepest crisis “this too shall pass.” In politics, where failure can be both shameful and spectacular, it’s easy to forget that.
Thank you again, Amy, for reading GOVERNMENT GIRL and for allowing me to visit with you on your site.
For more information: visit Stacy Parker Aab’s website.
This post is part of the TLC Book Tour.