I’m going to try to be respectful here. Back in 2006, a little more than a year after a hard fought presidential campaign in which my guy was on “the opposite side of victory,” President Bush visited Great American Ballpark to throw out the first pitch. A couple of folks I was with were surprised when I stood up and applauded. In 2004, I had spent more than a few months publicly disagreeing with the President’s policies and programs and advocating for a change. But the guy was still the President, and that deserves respect. So I stood and applauded and so I’m going to try to be respectful here.
Last week, I read President Bush’s book, “Decision Points.” I thought this would be an interesting look back at the guy who led our country during eight difficult years. I thought it would be worth hearing his reflections on the ups and downs.
Let me start with what I enjoyed. First, it was easy to read. Second, I enjoyed the conversations, letters and interactions between the President, his father and his family. I take him at his word that his father was his hero and influenced him the most. He does include some heartfelt family interactions. Unfortunately, at every point where he notes how he was influenced by his Dad, he includes a caveat saying that the press always made too much of the father-son interactions. It had the effect of cheapening what I thought was a fascinating relationship.
Third, I was riveted by his description of 9-11. I was more than willing to give him credit for what he believes is his biggest accomplishment—that there were no more attacks on the U.S. after that day. His writing helped remind me of that day and the shock that many of us felt. I remembered why he did some of what he did in the immediate days following. To truly reflect on the decisions made after those days, it’s necessary to remember how vulnerable all of us felt on 9-11.
Most of the rest of the book was a disappointment. I felt that every chapter was a too perfect defense of his policies in the same soundbites that we have heard for ten years. You could tell that every anecdote was designed to make a point—or more precisely, to refute a point that had been made by one of his political opponents.
A favorite tactic was to cite a Democrat, especially one who is nationally known and who agreed with him at one point or another, as a way of defending his own (failed) policies. He is especially immature when he leads his chapter about Katrina with a story about Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco fighting with one another at the height of the crisis. (He goes on to blame someone else for giving him the words “you’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie.”)
I’m not going to dwell on this book too much, as it was so underwhelming. I was disappointed that a guy who was President for eight years could not demonstrate anything more than a surface-level reflection on what will be among the most consequential years in our history. I thought his snarky comments about his political opponents (whether they were Democrats or French people) were beneath him. His smirk was the characteristic that shone through the pages most clearly. Petty is the word that best describes much of this book.
The silliness with Kanye is a good example about what went wrong for me in this book. I think President Bush took great delight in the outrage he could demonstrate after Kanye expressed his own facile opinion of the President. Bush’s outrage allowed him to gloss over what should have been outrage at the behavior of his own administration in the days following Katrina. This was a convenient approach for him. He did more of the same throughout the book; in fact, he and his political team did it for eight years.
I don’t have much to compare this book to. I don’t really like contemporary autobiographies, partly because of the temptation of the authors (Democrats and Republicans do this) to do what Bush did in “Decision Points.” Which is to attempt to rinse 400 pages through an aggressive spin cycle.
President Bush certainly didn’t have an easy Presidency. I just wish he had been more reflective before he wrote about it.