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The integrity of George Bush: ‘Decision Points’ at the Miami Book Fair.

November 15, 2010

Whatever you feel about George Bush, the man has a certain unshakable integrity. He’s always the same, regardless of trial, triumph or the passage of time. That’s why the George Bush Rehab Tour, which touched down at Miami Book Fair International yesterday, will fail.

The hour Bush spent on stage chatting about his presidential memoir, Decision Points,  with Michael Barone, senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, served less to cast his eight years as president in a new light than to remind his audience why it was a golden age, or a prolonged nightmare.

Bush was affable, quick with a joke, resolute about policies pursued, decisions made, in his tenure as the nation’s “Decider.”  He told funny stories about Vladimir Putin and the differences between presidential dogs in Moscow and Washington. He praised Tony Blair. He poked gentle fun at the Queen of England.

His audience was charmed, delivering thunderous applause when, for example, Bush insisted waterboarding is not torture but a legal and necessary way to obtain information to protect Americans. Cordoned off in a back corner, reporters took notes furiously.

For some of us, though, Bush’s renewed public profile in support of the book is a reminder of what things were really like during his presidency. I find that, like a trauma survivor, I had suppressed memories of some details.

For example, the crowd at the book fair yesterday was packed with supporters, many of whom got their tickets through the Republican Party. That reminded me of speeches Bush gave while president, likewise carefully stage-managed to fill the room with partisans.

And that, in turn, reminded me of the way the Bush White House bullied the press in the pettiest possible ways. Remember the bogus “reporters” placed in presidential press conferences to ask patty-cake questions? Bush sought to control access to information to a degree unprecedented in American history.

I had forgotten about all this, but it came rushing back to me yesterday. George Bush on stage, declaring that being called a racist by Kanye West was his worst moment as president (worse than 9/11? worse than Abu Graib? worse than the housing market crash?). He’s the same regular guy who was the leader of the free world for eight years.

If you liked him then, you’ll like him now. If you loathed him then, nothing in the book or his public appearances will change your mind. Integrity? Or an uncanny ability to remain untouched by experience? You decide.

By the way, Bush’s Miami appearance came two days after Ryan Grim, writing at the Huffington Post, documented extensive examples of plagiarism in Decision Points.

Grim cites numerous examples of Bush copying from the books of advisors, articles in newspapers and magazines, and, most surprising, from Bob Woodward’s book Bush At War, which the White House attacked as “inaccurate” when it came out in 2002.

If you want to read essentially the same story with a British accent, see The Guardian.

The book fair continues tonight with “An Evening with Nora Ephron,” which should serve as a palate cleanser. The essayist, screenwriter and novelist will take the stage at 8 p.m. to talk about her new book, I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections. Tickets are $10. See



15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2010 12:46 pm

    Hendrik Hertzberg captures the legacy of Bush in THE NEW YORKER when he says, “Frightened by joblessness, ‘The American people’ rewarded the party that not only opposed the stimulus but also blocked the extension of unemployment benefits. Alarmed by a ballooning national debt, they rewarded the party that not only transformed budget surpluses into budget deficits but also proposes to inflate the debt by hundreds of billions with a permanent tax cut for the least needy two percent.” And so it goes. Who are these “American people”? What makes them vote for people like George W. Bush? Why do they vote against their own interests? And why do they continue to reward one of the worst (if not THE worst) president in all of this country’s history? The man is still in an insulated bubble and will never understand the harm he’s done to the current generation and for the next generation and the next and – if our children and grandchildren are smarter than us they’ll hate us for voting W. into office.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 15, 2010 12:56 pm

      Don’t worry — our children and grandchildren will be no smarter than us, and if we don’t wean them off electronic devices they’ll be substantially more stupid than we are. Yes, I know that’s saying a lot. But apart from the electronic plague upon human intelligence, human beings tend to be no smarter one generation than another. That’s why we make the same mistakes over and again. It’s why every empire and civilization has had its day, then collapse for one reason or another (usually having more to do with economics or the environment than politics or morality). That tendency to vote against our own interests is a quintessential American trait, and nothing new, going back to the founding of the Republic. What is the Tea Party but the new Know-Nothings? And where is Mencken when you need him? Actually, he’s everywhere, in the New Yorker, as you say, but also in numerous other magazines, websites, etc.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    November 15, 2010 2:59 pm

    I agree with you both. Though I choose not to be quite so pessimistic, and hope we will learn from our mistakes eventually.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 15, 2010 5:21 pm

      I hope so, too, but anyone learning from past mistakes is one of the rarest occurrences in human history.

  3. Lynn Demarest permalink
    November 15, 2010 3:01 pm

    In the age of TV and Madison Avenue wizardry, fearful, ignorant voters are easily manipulated and so not to be fairly blamed.

    Here’s the recipe : Keep ’em as as desperate and stupid as possible and imbue them with a vague but undeniable sense of dread. Add hate to taste.

    If you mix it up just right, the voters will elect even a demon like Hitler.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 15, 2010 5:27 pm

      As much as I fear and loathe TV, advertising and that fresh horseman of the Apocalypse, digital media, I am compelled to point out that nothing about any this is new. Populism, abetted by economic woes and fear of immigrants, has reared its ugly head more than once in American history. It’s one of the demons in the American soul. The amazing thing is, no matter the era, much the same elements are at issue.

  4. Marla permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:48 pm

    People applauded, thunderous applause none-the-less — at water-boarding … this is very, very distressing, indeed!

    Am I sorry I missed it? I’ll have to think about it.

    Thanks for covering the event. Your coverage is nothing less than flawless!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 16, 2010 11:15 am

      Thanks, Marla. Flawless? Pshaw. Necessary? Yes.

  5. Marla permalink
    November 16, 2010 1:33 pm

    You’re welcome. It’s nice to see honest reporting written well … yes … in my opinion, flawless!

  6. Candice Simmons permalink
    November 17, 2010 12:33 pm

    What drives voters in the rural south, besides the economy–god, guns and gays.

  7. Alexis Strand permalink
    November 18, 2010 12:40 pm

    So he is decidedly NOT a flip flopper. Well, good for him.

    And he plagiarized his book?! Why isn’t he getting same backlash that most people would get? Like, say, the character in Dave Zeltserman’s book, Pariah? (I know that was fictional!)

  8. November 19, 2010 1:36 pm

    Saying that Kanye West criticizing you is the worst moment in your life is something I would expect Taylor Swift to say, not a former president.

  9. November 21, 2010 11:43 pm

    I’m so glad I missed it. Thunderous applause you say? At torture? We must have the staff burn sage between readings in Chapman auditorium. I was in there tonight and caught a whiff of right wing vibe watching a few stodgy puritains walk out on Jonathan Franzen’s brilliance.

  10. January 3, 2011 1:47 pm

    nice sharing .. thanks


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