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616 words
SHJ Issue 2
Fall 2010

George W. Bush Misunderstimated Memoir

Chauncey Mabe

George W. Bush’s memoir about his presidency, Decision Points, is due out in November, reports the Associated Press. No word as yet on whether it will be a picture book, a pop-up book, or perhaps, if a good ghostwriter was hired, a chapter book.

You remember Bush, right? Former POTUS? Led the Free World in an invasion of Iraq that unseated Saddam Hussein, ended terrorism and brought peace and democracy to the Middle East? Oversaw an unprecedented period of domestic prosperity and full employment? Defended civil liberties, protected the environment?

No? Oh, wait, that was in Opposite Land. Here in this space-time continuum, Bush was best known for his wisdom. A few examples:

“Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning.” “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.” “I’ll be gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.” “You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.” “They misunderstimated me.”

If you need a nudge to remember much about George W. Bush, it’s not merely post-traumatic shock. Bush has been virtually invisible since he turned the White House over to some other guy in January, 2008. Unlike Bill Clinton, who cashed in with a busy slate of $100,000 speeches, or Jimmy Carter, who goes around, lips pursed, doing good works, Bush has disappeared from view.

Instead, the former president has been busy every day writing, said his publisher, Crown, in a press release. Decision Points will not be a “traditional” memoir, but an account of key decisions in his life. Crown promises “gripping, never-before-heard detail” on personal and presidential matters: his decision to stop drinking, his relationship with his father, his response to the 9-11 terror attacks.

Aw, isn’t he cute? Can’t you just picture Bush sitting at his desk down in Texas, tongue protruding, brow furrowed, as he bears down with a crayon?

Oh, sure, there’s been an effort the last few years, led mainly by Karl “Bush’s Brain” Rove to depict the former president as a literate man, an avid reader even.

At the end of 2008, Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal of his annual reading contest with his former boss, which began in 2006. That first year Rove won by a count of 110 books to Bush’s 95. In 2007, Rove won again, 76 to 51. Bush made a poorer showing in 2008, with only 40 books—although for most Americans that would be an impressive total.

“Mr. Bush loves books,” Rove writes, “learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them.”

And what were some of the books Rove says Bush read? Albert Camus’ The Stranger, David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and Jacobo Timerman’s Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.

Not that I would doubt the word of Karl Rove, who, after all, established a reputation for decency, honesty and fair play (in Opposite Land!) while guiding Bush to the White House, but his testimony does fly somewhat in the face of earlier accounts of the former president’s reading tastes.

According to a story widely reported as late as 2005, Bush declared his favorite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. Here’s one sample, a 2001 St. Petersburg Times story by Bill Duryea, that theorizes Bush is stuck at an, ahem, early stage of development.

Meanwhile, Decision Points hits bookstores Nov. 9 at a price of $35. Bush will promote the book with a nationwide tour. Do you or anyone you know plan to read this book? I, for one, cannot wait.

In Opposite Land.

—From Open Page (26 April 2010)

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury