Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton

Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton

Book review by Tom Ryerson
February 18, 2012

The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry That Defined a Generation by Steven M. Gillon. Oxford University Press, 2008. 342 pp.

To anyone who has followed national politics in the United States of America for twenty years or more, Newt Gingrich is well known for being a force behind the Republican Party takeover of the U.S. Congress in 1994 after two years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. What is not as well known is the intensity of the ups and downs in the relationship of these two men over the years, especially from 1994 to 1998, and the stark similarities between them despite publicly being on entirely different ends of the political spectrum. In The Pact, author Steven M. Gillon, resident historian for the History Channel, examines the lives of both men, culminating in a secret meeting held between them in October 1997 to work out a plan to promote and implement Social Security reform. Unfortunately, the deal between them fell through when the Lewinsky scandal broke in January 1998.

The Pact is biographical in nature, highlighting the personal accomplishments and struggles of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton. Dr. Gillon notes at the beginning the similarities of both men having strong mothers and emotionally distant stepfathers, and shadows of that carry through the book. Both men first ran for Congress in 1974 and the author describes both as being very intelligent and intellectually curious, and both are incredibly gifted in many respects with a parallel lack of self-discipline in other respects. Both value the middle road where things can get done. But while President Clinton tended toward being more emotionally intelligent and appearing soft on the outside with a stubborn inner core, Speaker Gingrich is a man who is highly combative and bombastic on the outside with a soft inner core.

Dr. Gillon brings us many reminders of the highly complex nature of American politics, as power, ideology, personality, and what is doable versus what is desired all collide. The Pact is an excellent review American politics of the 1990s viewed through the lives of two men who embodied the public discussions of the time.

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