On April 28, 1881, just days from being hanged for murder, 21-year-old Henry McCarty, alias Billy the Kid, outfoxed his jailors and electrified the nation with the last in a long line of daring escapes. Just a few weeks later, he was finally gunned down by an ambitious sheriff, and the felling of one of the most notorious criminals of the age made headlines across the country.
Follow General George Armstrong Custer from his memorable, wild charge at Gettysburg to his lonely, untimely death on the windswept Plains of the West. On June 26, 1876, Custer, a reputation for fearless and often reckless courage ordered his soldiers to drive back a large army of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. By day’s end, Custer and nearly a third of his army were dead.
From the political backwaters of Arkansas, Bill Clinton emerges as a political force unlike any seen on the national stage in a generation. Overcoming a troubled upbringing marred by alcoholism and violence, Clinton is determined from the start to succeed, first in Arkansas, then at Georgetown, Oxford and finally Yale. There he meets a young woman named Hillary Rodham who shares his intellect and idealism. Together they forge a marriage and political partnership that takes them to the Arkansas governor’s mansion and ultimately the White House. Hour 1 follows their bumpy road to the 1992 presidential victory, an amazing triumph over repeated scandals and setbacks. Although they have won the presidency, the Clintons have not yet won the country. In their moment of triumph, the first couple has no way of imaging the turmoil that lies ahead.
Despite all of their education and experience, the Clintons are unprepared for politics in Washington, which quickly descends into open warfare with the Republican establishment and much of the media. Hour 2 chronicles the tumultuous first two years of the Clinton presidency, years that see the beginning of the Whitewater scandal, the shocking death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster and the humiliating defeat of Hillary’s healthcare bill. Although the administration has its domestic successes, troubles brewing in the remote countries of Somalia and Rwanda and the arrival of a new and formidable rival named Newt Gingrich threaten to derail the Clinton presidency before it ever gets off the ground. When Republicans gain control of Congress in the midterm elections, the entire political landscape shifts to the right, leaving Clinton seemingly bereft of power.
Shattered by the Republican victory, Clinton begins to sideline his most trusted advisors in favor of an aggressive political consultant named Dick Morris who uses extensive polling to diagnose the administration’s weaknesses and develop strategies to correct them. The Republican “Contract with America” is riding high and by spring 1995, Gingrich and his allies select the ground on which to wage their war: a plan to eliminate the federal budget deficit by drastically cutting Medicare and Medicaid. The plan leads to a government shutdown and slowly the tide begins to turn toward the President, who reclaims the political center with a stream of new initiatives that will curb big government and appeal to middle class families. Clinton wins the 1996 election in a landslide, pulling off one of the greatest turnarounds in political history. But events have been set in motion that will soon divide the country and nearly destroy Clinton's presidency.
The final hour begins as Clinton sails buoyantly into his second term. Times are good, the economy is booming, and American prestige and power internationally are at an all-time high. Clinton’s dream of repairing the breach with Republicans seems within reach. But Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky —a White House intern — becomes public after she confides in a co-worker named Linda Tripp. The ensuing scandal gives independent counsel Kenneth Starr the ammunition he needs to re-charge his stalled investigation of the Whitewater affair. Congress initiates impeachment hearings, but the Republican leadership fails to remove Clinton from office. And when Starr’s damning report is finally released, the ire of the American public is focused more on the independent counsel than the President. Though the President survives the ordeal, confounding both his enemies and friends, he loses some of his drive and ambition during his final two years in office.
Robert A. Caro
History comes alive in excellent docuseries.
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