Meet the new Bush (same as the old Bush) at Miami Book Fair.
Two years ago the nation couldn’t wait for George Bush to disappear into private life at his Texas ranch. Now the former president emerges to promote his memoir, Decision Points, just as a Republican wave has swept the mid-term elections. Who knew the guy had such timing?
Bush will be the lead-off author at this year’s Miami Book Fair International on Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. Held at the downtown Miami campus of Miami Dade College, the fair runs Nov. 14-21 with more than 300 national and international writers on hand.
Doubtless there will be a lot more interest in Bush’s idiosyncratic memoir now, and a lot less mockery, than there would have been if the mid-term elections had swung in the other direction. Even The New York Times‘ Michiko Kakutani, though challenging the book with rigorous analysis, writes with a certain air of respect.
About the snarkiest thing she has to say comes in the review’s opening paragraph:
“George Bush’s memoir Decision Points could well have been titled ‘The Decider Decides’: it’s an autobiography focused around ‘the most consequential decisions’ of his presidency and his personal life from his decision to give up drinking in 1986 to his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to his decisions regarding the financial crisis of 2008. It is a book that is part spin, part mea culpa, part family scrapbook, part self-conscious effort to (re)shape his political legacy.”
But even those lines, especially the last sentence, make the book sound worth at least a look. By the way, it’s Bush’s organizing principle — writing essays about 14 key decisions in his life and presidency– that makes the book idiosyncratic. Political memoirs are almost always written in some rough chronological order. RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, for example, begins with this memorable line: “I was born in a house my father built.”
Likely no one will be quoting great lines from Bush’s book — but they won’t be making fun of them, either. Kakutani calls the prose “utilitarian, the language staccato and blunt.” But while this book “lacks the emotional precision and evocative power of his wife Laura’s book, Spoken From the Heart,” Kakutani says, it’s “more substantial” than his 1999 campaign book, A Charge to Keep.
Over at the Washington Post, Steve Levingston wonders whether the book’s revelations warranted Crown’s strict embargo (the book doesn’t go on sale until Nov. 9) or the feverish efforts of journalists and news organizations to break it.
The book’s biggest revelation: Bush pondered replacing Dick Cheney with Bill Frist on the 2004 ticket. “Interesting, sure,” writes Levingston. “But it’s not exactly like three years ago when Americans stood in long lines at midnight, fretting about who would win the last clash between a boy wizard and Lord Voldemort in another embargoed book, the final Harry Potter.”
Levingston goes on to make a strong case against the practice of embargoing books, which, as a book reviewer I heartily endorse. And yet I think I find Bush’s revelatory tidbits of more interest than he does.
For example, Bush wanted to dump Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as early as 2004, but “simply couldn’t come up with a replacement,” writes Kakutani. Wait: the President of the United States couldn’t come up with a qualified candidate for the second most powerful job in his cabinet?
Equally intriguing, Bush admits making mistakes — something he famously refused to do while president. He admits he should have moved faster in response to Hurricane Katrina. His administration didn’t respond quickly enough when things started to go bad in Iraq.
He still has “a sickening feeling every time” he thinks about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq–although he still insists “removing Saddam from power was the right decision.”
Thus begins the rehabilitation of George Bush’s presidential reputation. And it might not be as tough a sell as you think, especially as his chief assett — that aw-shuck’s-regular-guy charm — remains intact.
Writes Kakutani: “Certainly it’s the most casual of presidential memoirs: how many works in the genre start as a sort of evangelical, 12-step confession (“Could I continue to grow closer to the Almighty or was alcohol becoming my god?”), include some off-color jokes and conclude with an aside about dog poop?”
I doubt Kakutani intends any part of that sentence a compliment. But I guarantee a lot of Americans will find the kind of book it describes to be irresistible.