Sunday, May 25, 2008

Holiday Weekend Review: "The Bush Tragedy"

"The Bush Tragedy" is a revealing psychological portrait of the Bush presidency, that delves into 43's family drama, faith and consequential decisions. The following isn't an endorsement of journalist Jacob Weisberg's conclusions; just some of the more titillating nuggets I came across in this satisfying read:

1. Bush's faith is utilitarian -- not theological. He puts religion to work for his purposes . . . "When a Houston reporter asked Bush about the difference between the Episcopal church he was raised in and the Methodist one he began attending after he was married, he replied, 'I'm sure there is some kind of heavy doctrinal difference, which I'm not sophisticated enough to explain to you.'"

2. Bush does not conform well to the true evangelical definition . . . "Bush . . . seldom goes to church. Unlike most other evangelicals, Bush blithely uses profanity, and as governor would play poker. He doesn't tithe. He didn't try to convert others. He didn't raise his daughters in his faith . . . He isn't hiding his beliefs, he simply doesn't have many of them."

3. Secretly recorded private conversations with Bush in 1999 and 2000 by former adviser Doug Wead reveal Bush's raw feelings about personal questions and evangelical leaders . . . "On one, (Bush) acknowledges illegal drug use decades back: 'Doug,' Bush says, 'it doesn't just matter cocaine, it'd be the same with marijuana. I wouldn't answer the marijuana question. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried . . . I don't want any kid doing what I tried to do [pause] thirty years ago . . .' "Speaking of an upcoming meeting with evangelical leaders, (Bush) notes: 'As you said, there are some code words. There are some proper ways to say things and some improper ways. I am going to say that I've accepted Christ into my life. And that's a true statement.' On another tape, he he goes over what he plans to tell one evangelical minister who wanted Bush to promise not to appoint homosexuals to his administration: 'Look James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick the gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?'"

4. The Bush team mulled former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth as a possible running mate back in 2000 . . . "As the top contenders for the job disgorged their flaws, Cheney himself became more and more alluring. Unlike Danforth, he didn't patronize Bush as a novice in need of guidance."

5. Cheney's mild manner mislead some people about his politics . . . "When (Cheney) was in Congress, a Washington Post story described Cheney as a 'moderate.' The congressman asked an aide to correct the paper's error."

6. Without the anthrax attacks, Bush probably would have not invaded Iraq . . . "As horrific as September 11 was, it was a discrete crime, whose perpetrators were quickly identified and pursued. The anthrax letters, by contrast, killed only a few people, but remained unsolved . . . Inside the administration, the October bioterror attacks had a greater impact than is generally appreciated . . . The anthrax attacks in New York and Washington created a sense of vulnerability that was in many respects greater than the mass murder at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. To this day, officials disagree about whether the sender or senders were Islamic terrorists or Americans . . ."

7. Bush overruled Cheney on vaccinating the entire country against smallpox . . . "Bush eventually announced a compromise: mandatory vaccination of 500,000 military personnel . . . Those who believe the vice president operates in bad faith -- that he concocted evidence of Iraqi WMD to justify a war -- should consider his stance on universal smallpox vaccination. Even a safe vaccine would have killed a few hundred Americans . . . Cheney's readiness to sacrifice hundreds of civilian lives may sound like Dr. Strangelove. But if the idea was mad, it was sincerely mad, testifying to how seriously he took the possibility that Saddam had biological weapons . . .The smallpox episode punctures another myth too: that Bush blindly follows Cheney. Bush's sense of autonomy is far too sensitive for him to function as anyone's puppet."

8. Bush's inflexibility and stubbornness is rooted in the old family drama. . . "To accept negative judgments about his decision to invade Iraq or his handling of the occupation would threaten something more vulnerable than troop morale. It would vindicate his father's diplomacy, caution and flexibility over his own hawkish attitude . . . His father gave him a memo that (Brent) Scowcroft had asked him to pass along about Iraq. The president glanced at it before throwing it aside, telling his dad, 'I'm sick and tired of getting papers from Brent Scowcroft telling me what to do, and I never want to see another one again.' With that 43, stalked out of the room and slammed the door behind him."

9. Bush believes his successor will be like Eisenhower . . . "In a background interview with a group of television reporters in September 2007, Bush said that the president who succeeded him would be like Eisenhower, who was critical of many of his predecessor's policies, but continued them once he was in office."

***Feel free to pass along a review of your recent holiday or lakeside reading . . .

1 comment:

Brad Belote said...

David -- I read this one several months back -- I had read an excerpt from Newsweek that fleshed out the different phases of the Bush foreign policy doctrine.

My take away from the book deals with Bush and his family. *He* wasn't supposed to be the president - that was Jeb's role. The Bush complex is derived from needing/wanting the acceptance of his father as a success while also distancing himself from his father's moderate temperament and rational foreign policy handling.

I think the best stuff in the book is the chronicling of the Pierces and Bushes and how they came from much different worlds and the effect those worlds had on W.