Picks and Pans Review: Behind the Oval Office: Winning the Presidency in the Nineties

updated 02/03/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/03/1997 01:00AM

by Dick Morris

It seemed like the perfect case of poetic justice: Dick Morris, the slick strategist who sold his services to politicians of every stripe, from Jesse Helms to Bill Clinton, brought down last August by revelations of kinky, extramarital sex with a prostitute. The indiscretion cost Morris, 48, his job as a close adviser to the President and led his wife of 19 years, lawyer Eileen McGann, to seek a divorce. Now comes the inevitable postscript, a hefty book (which has earned him a reported $2.5 million) in which the spin doctor attempts to heal himself.

Morris explains his affair with Sherry Rowlands—and his letting her briefly listen in on phone calls to Clinton—thusly: "What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking. I was in blind denial, out of control, driven by my ego." But that's about it for the sexy stuff (Morris doesn't even name Rowlands, or another mistress with whom he has a child). The rest of the book is pure, albeit fascinating, politics—a look at Clinton's progress from the '94 midterm elections, when a Republican romp made him look like a lame duck, to his reelection last year, a political miracle, claims Morris, fashioned after he pushed Clinton to the center and persuaded him to focus on such "bite-size" accomplishments as passing the Brady Bill.

It is Morris's canny decision to cast his friend Clinton, and not himself, as the book's main character that elevates the endeavor from mere self-aggrandizement (for it is that) to something approaching serious commentary. The largely favorable portrait of Clinton that emerges—self-critical, temperamental (he often raged about his aides, dubbing them "the children who got me elected") yet deeply empathetic—should make Oval Office a crucial document for future Clinton biographers, who will have to decide for themselves how much of Morris's book is historically worthy and how much is plain old spin. (Random House, $25.95)

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