Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Book Review: Blood Sport by James B. Stewart.

Blood Sport is simultaneously antiquated and timely.

It's antiquated because it hit bookstores over ten years ago. In this time, much history has been written. With the benefit of hindsight, the reader today knows chapters penned after Blood Sport's 1996 publication. Stewart even seems to confess this likelihood: "In the absence of the full report of the independent counsel, which is not expected until after the next presidential election [November, 1996], I believe this to be a comprehensive account of these events. In my view, it is this information that permits us to make sense of what is unfolding now. I hope readers will find this book makes clear what is happening, and why. And I trust they will agree that this story isn't as arcane, and confusing as those involved would have us believe." (p. 10.)

For example, Stewart discusses then-newly appointed special prosecutor Ken Starr. "Starr vowed to be fair and impartial, but thorough. While his investigation is no doubt upending life for many in Arkansas--as would any criminal investigation as wide-ranging in scope--there hasn't been any public indication of prosecutorial misconduct or partisan zeal." (p. 424; emphasis added.) Some might dispute this opinion, disguised as a declaratory sentence, today.

Also, Bernie Nussbaum, then-counsel to President Clinton, argued unsuccessfully against appointing an independent counsel for the Whitewater matter. "'But this is about Whitewater,' someone called out. 'No,' Nussbaum replied. 'This will be a roving searchlight.'...'They will chase you, your family and friends through your presidency and beyond.'" (p. 374; emphasis added.)

Nussbaum contended: "The institution of the independant counsel 'is evil,' he said. 'Not because of the people, but no matter how saintly they are, there is enormous pressure to come up with something. ... It's dangerous. It has a dynamic." (p. 374.)

Nussbaum was prescient in the sense the investigation took on a life of its own and traveled into areas far beyond the original appointment. Ultimately, the special prosecutor/independent counsel law was scrapped. Even political polar opposites concurred on this point. From Justice Antonin Scalia to Bernie Nussbaum, the consensus was to eliminate it, although they may have disagreed as to the rationale therefor.

It's timely because it provides considerable insight into Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is currently running for President. There is renewed interest in the Clintons, as evidenced by two new books on the Clintons. I predict this focus will engender interest in this "old" book. Just last week, I saw Ms. Clinton's communications director addressing questions about events contained within this text.

Blood Sport's title is a play on words from Vince Foster's note written shortly before his suicide: "I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport." (p. 283.)

The book opens with Foster's death as its "hook," but in the final analysis this event does not govern or even adequately set the stage for the 400-plus pages that follow. It's not a "murder mystery" or a "suicide mystery" for that matter.

To the contrary, Blood Sport sings as a character study. One of the most interesting figures portrayed within its pages is James McDougal. While he too has since died, he lived a fascinating, full life, including as a college professor in a Baptist college, a political "kingmaker" of sorts, a savings and loan owner, a real estate impresario, and candidate.

"McDougal[ ] didn't live lavishly. ... Jim seemed indifferent to most of the trappings of wealth, but he loved clothes and cars, especially Mercedes. He'd had one of the first diesel-powered Mercedes in Arkansas. He also had a Jeep, which he abandoned after backing hard into a gas pump, smashing both the car and the pump, spewing gasoline. The gas station attendant had been apoplectic when McDougal got out of the car and casually lit a cigarette." (p. 43.)

In another amusing McDougal anecdote, Stewart wrote: "While driving to work with one of his close friends, future Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker, he managed to beach a car on the dividing strip of North University Street in Little Rock, stopping traffic during rush hour. McDougal was unfazed, chatting with Tucker as though nothing had happened. 'Don't get out and look around, giving everyone the satisfaction of seeing what an idiot you've been,' he told his passenger. 'Don't worry. Somebody will come and take care of this.' (Someone did.)" (p. 43-44.)

The book gets bogged down when it tries to unravel "Whitewater." Originally a land-deal involving the Clintons and McDougals, this so-called scandal brings to mind the famous Gertrude Stein quote, "There is no there there." While Ms. Stein said this about Oakland, California, it applies here with equal force.

Having also reviewed DisneyWar Stewart's more recent effort (see May 2, 2007 post:, I found DisneyWar to be a more focused and entertaining read. Blood Sport meandered at times, and thus, took reader discipline to forge ahead.

Recommended for political junkies, especially those wanting special insight into the next presidential election.

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