Friday, November 26, 2010

A big "fuck you" to history

If it is true that distance makes the heart grow fonder; if you were beginning to soften in your feelings towards the last president; if you were thinking, how bad could he have been? Then you're in luck, because he's written a "memoir," and it only takes a paragraph or two, madelaine like, it all comes flooding back. George Packer explains, yes, he was a self-regarding asshole and he remains so.

Modern ex-Presidents tend to write memoirs for reasons less heroic than Grant’s. Richard Nixon couldn’t stop producing his, in one form or another, in a quest to revise history’s devastating verdict. Bill Clinton needed the world’s undying attention. Why did George W. Bush write “Decision Points” (Crown; $35)? He tells us on the first page. He wanted to make a contribution to the study of American history, but he also wanted to join the section of advice books featuring leadership tips from successful executives: “I write to give readers a perspective on decision making in a complex environment. Many of the decisions that reach the president’s desk are tough calls, with strong arguments on both sides. Throughout the book, I describe the options I weighed and the principles I followed. I hope this will give you a better sense of why I made the decisions I did. Perhaps it will even prove useful as you make choices in your own life.”

Here is a prediction: “Decision Points” will not endure. Its prose aims for tough-minded simplicity but keeps landing on simpleminded sententiousness. Though Bush credits no collaborator, his memoirs read as if they were written by an admiring sidekick who is familiar with every story Bush ever told but never got to know the President well enough to convey his inner life. Very few of its four hundred and ninety-three pages are not self-serving. Bush, honing his executive skills as part owner of the Texas Rangers, decides to fire his underperforming manager, Bobby Valentine: “I tried to deliver the news in a thoughtful way, and Bobby handled it like a professional. I was grateful when, years later, I heard him say, ‘I voted for George W. Bush, even though he fired me.’ ” At the dramatic height of the book, on the morning of September 11th, “I called Condi from the secure phone in the limo. She told me there had been a third plane crash, this one into the Pentagon. I sat back in my seat and absorbed her words. My thoughts clarified: The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war. My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.”

The rare moments of candor come at other people’s expense. After his mother has a miscarriage, her teen-age son drives her to the hospital: “This was a subject I never expected to be discussing with Mother. I also never expected to see the remains of the fetus, which she had saved in a jar.” (In other appearances, Barbara Bush is heard telling her son, “You can’t win,” as he weighs a race against Governor Ann Richards, of Texas, and scolding him to “get over it. Make up your mind, and move on,” as he tries to decide whether to run for President.) During the worst period of violence in Iraq, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, implores the President to withdraw some troops in order to give the Republicans a boost before the 2006 midterms. “I made it clear I would set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls,” Bush writes. That’s the characteristic anecdote of “Decision Points”: the President always gets the last, serenely self-assured word, leaving others quietly impressed or looking like fools. Scenes end with him saying, “Get to work,” “Let’s go,” or “We’re going to stay confident and patient, cool and steady.” Bush kept two war trophies in his private study off the Oval Office—a brick from the pulverized house of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and a pistol found on Saddam Hussein when he was captured. There’s plenty of moral cowardice assigned, but none of it to Bush himself.

I know I shouldn't be surprised, but the book mirrors the administration itself, built on lies, easily identified omissions, and absolutely no reflection or admission of mistakes made. Only steely resolve which we stupid liberals mistook for lack of character and intelligence.



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