In 1939 Raymond Moley, a onetime member of Franklin Roosevelt's "brain trust," published a memoir charging that his ex-boss had been ruinously captured by leftists. When Republicans used Moley's tract to attack FDR, the president privately muttered that Moley had "kissed a-- and told."
Ronald Reagan's former budget director David Stockman took on his old boss by writing in a 1986 memoir that Reagan, then serving his second term, had been "misled" into letting deficits explode: "What do you do when your president ignores all the palpable relevant facts and wanders in circles?" Democrats said that Stockman's book proved that they had been right all along: the emperor had no clothes.
Richard Clarke's new book, "Against All Enemies," is the latest entry in the category of hostile memoir by a presidential appointee. Over the years, these books have tended to be written out of a desire to avenge, expose or lament--or some combination of all three.
Some memoirists have been handpicked presidential aides who feel betrayed by their chiefs (like John Dean, author of "Blind Ambition"); others are cabinet members with reputations of their own to protect. Forty years ago, the aggrieved usually waited for their presidents to leave office before opening fire; in recent years, they're more likely to strike while the game's still in progress. But few have enjoyed the kind of notoriety commanded by Clarke, who's gone overnight from anonymous bureaucrat to best-selling author.
Anger is a motive as old as time. Fired Bush Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill vented his in "The Price of Loyalty," the memoir-by-proxy written by Ron Suskind. Reagan's ousted secretary of State, Alexander Haig, published "Caveat" in 1984, while Reagan was running for re-election. Haig's screed made it clear that he felt he should have been president rather than Reagan, whose White House, Haig said, was a "ghost ship" with no one at the helm. When Reagan canned his chief of staff Donald Regan during the Iran-contra affair in 1987, Regan stormed out of the White House and signed his own book contract. ("It couldn't end this way. I won't be a scapegoat.") It was too late to inflict serious political damage on the president (Reagan was about to leave office) but in his 1988 volume--imaginatively titled "For the Record"--he huffed and puffed hard to embarrass the old man. The book's chief contribution to history was to expose Mrs. Reagan's astrologer.
Other memoirists have written out of genuine sadness. Some diehard Clintonites portrayed George Stephanopoulos's "All Too Human" (1999) as an act of betrayal, but the book was actually a judicious lament that Bill Clinton had not become the president he might have been. In 1962 Emmet John Hughes's "The Ordeal of Power" offered a similar lament about ex-President Eisenhower, for whom Hughes had written speeches. In those more genteel times, Eisenhower was outraged that a staff member would dare to write such a book only a year after his presidency had ended.
Most recent presidents have worried about the danger of a book-writing defector in their entourage. At the start of his presidency, John Kennedy made his household employees sign pledges that they would not write about what they saw. Jackie Kennedy feared White House aides who "hit the White House with their Dictaphones running." As his adviser Arthur Schlesinger Jr. recalled, JFK told his staff he didn't want them "recording the daily discussions of the White House." (Kennedy later recanted when he realized that the CIA and Joint Chiefs would be keeping their own such records, which might not be flattering to him.) JFK told one friend he wondered who might turn out to be his own Emmet John Hughes. The Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke episodes may lead future presidents to be even more inhibited than they already are in asking aides for unvarnished advice.
As furious as presidents and their loyalists may be about such books when they appear, they may take comfort from one thing: years later, when historians write biographies and histories, the angry memoir will be only one voice in the mix.