Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gil Troy's "The Age of Clinton"

Gil Troy has been a professor at McGill University since 1990. Maclean’s Magazine has repeatedly identified him as one of McGill’s “Popular Profs” and History News Network designated him one of its first “Top Young Historians.” His many books include Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism.

Troy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, and reported the following:
From page 99:
If Abraham Lincoln was “the godfather of the Pacific railroad,” and Dwight Eisenhower the father of the Interstate Highway System, Bill Clinton is the stepfather of the Internet, with the boundless, wireless network fulfilling his mission to modernize America by uniting it virtually. Even if neither Al Gore nor Bill Clinton invented the Internet—scientists did—Gore was its Henry Clay, persistently pushing prophetic legislation that facilitated its growth, just as Clay pushed internal improvements. A tolerant political culture would have forgiven Gore’s awkward attempts at self-promotion and prized his visionary contributions.

With profound insight into America’s future, proud of what he had accomplished in just one year, Clinton resented the media carping and partisan doubts. November’s Congressional Quarterly had deemed his first year the most productive presidential rookie year legislatively since Dwight Eisenhower.
The first line on page 99 of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s reads: “Bill Clinton and Al Gore wanted government to perfect and protect the ‘data superhighway.’” That one sentence captures two of the book’s central challenges, trying to assess Bill Clinton’s presidency and tracking The Great American Hook-Up, when computers were inked to the internet – one of the most significant changes that occurred in the 1990s.

Page 99 captures Clinton and his Vice President at their best, thinking ahead, anticipating big changes, building that proverbial bridge to the twenty-first century. Clinton and Gore envisioned “a nationwide, invisible, seamless, dynamic web of transmission mechanisms, information, appliances, content, and people.” And thanks to the technological infrastructure, millions of Americans were able, within that amazing decade, to get “on line,” making their already marvelous computers, all the more powerful, going from Everything Machines to Anything, Anywhere machines.

Remember, in 1990, Amazon was just a big river, Google, was just a really big number, and “Pay Pal” was something loan sharks said. In so many ways, our current lives were being invented, or at least radically reset during that decade – and during that presidency.

The link between this dramatic transformation and the Clinton presidency justifies the book’s approach, which is to look at the Clinton presidency in the context of the 1990s. With each chapter telling the story of a given year in the decade, from 1990 through 2000, we get a broader appreciation of what the Clinton administration did – and did not – do, and a better sense of how the great inventions and prosperity boosted Clinton while the dramatic changes also stirred anxieties and undermined him.

Toward the bottom of the page, assessing 1993, Bill Clinton’s Roller Coaster first year, I write: “With profound insight into America’s future, proud of what he had accomplished in just one year, Clinton resented the media carping and partisan doubts.” This sentence reflects on what I call the Clinton Conundrum – how did a president who was so talented, and accomplished so much, leave America so badly divided and feeling so badly? That requires a greater appreciation of Bill Clinton’s talents, shortcomings, and challenges – in some ways, by anticipating the changes he tackled, he also helped unnerve many citizens by representing those changes.
Learn more about the book and author at Gil Troy's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Moynihan's Moment.

My Book, The Movie: Moynihan's Moment.

My Book, The Movie: The Age of Clinton.

--Marshal Zeringue