Being George W. Bush

George Bush On Oprah

George W. Bush is bored these days.

The 43rd President of the United States is addicted to Scrabble for the iPad. He takes the dog Barney out on the morning walk. And he tried getting his hands dirty for Haiti earthquake relief. Emphasis on tried.

Dubya’s low-profile post-presidency strategery is working. His approval ratings have quietly jumped 11 percentage points — from 34% to 45% –since he left office. “Miss me yet?” t-shirts are a hot-sell at Capitol gift-shops. He takes solace telling himself and reporters that history will respect him posthumously as an audacious war-time president. That he’ll be the 21st Century’s answer to President Truman.

George Bush Miss Me Yet

Except he won’t be. Instead, Bush may well go down as the Nero of the American Empire. The inept culmination of decades of political dynasty and nepotism. The epitome of imperial excess and decadence who drained the once great power’s war chest and international goodwill. Dubya read “My Pet Goat” while the World Trade Center burned.

*******

Bill Clinton just filmed his cameo for Hangover 2. Every international restaurant the Big-Mac-chomper-turned-vegan dines at becomes the hottest ticket in town. He whisks around the globe as the Teflon-coated ambassador of the Pax Americana of yesteryear. Dubya, meanwhile, is only cheered at Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers games. He is destined to swat away news anchors’ Iraq War hypotheticals for the rest of his life. Such is retirement for the most unpopular president in modern American history.

George Bush Watches the Rangers

Dubya is 64 years old. He has a quarter century to live with his mistakes and the reality that he ruined the family name. A quarter century to watch politicians grapple with his unfinished business. Unlike his predecessor Bill Clinton, Bush will not be a kingmaker for his party. He wasn’t invited to the Republican National Convention in 2008. In 2010, Republicans wouldn’t let him release his memoir “Decision Points” until after the midterm elections because they didn’t want the association. Publishers were similarly unenthused. Dubya secured a $7 million advance for the memoir, less than half of Bill Clinton’s $15 million “My Life” commission.

Decision Points by George W. Bush

Full Disclosure: I refused to buy “Decision Points” (Crown Publishers, $35). The country has lost enough money under President Bush, so I downloaded it instead. Dubya portrays himself as The Decider who ruled with his gut and didn’t much care what people say about him. The memoir’s terse, staccato prose befits the plain-spoken Commander-In-Chief.

Historians generally write-off presidential memoirs as the warped musings of restive former presidents trying to stake their claim to their legacies. Read Seymour Hersh or Bob Woodward if you want the real scoop, they say. Memoirs are more the stuff of cocktail party conversation fodder than historical study.

“Decision Points” is no different. Did you know, for instance, Dubya couldn’t live without the morning run? Or that the antiquated phone-lines aboard Air Force 1 were so overloaded Dubya spent hours trying to patch into Washington on September 11? Or did you hear why Dubya stopped drinking?

It was 1986 and George W. Bush had had a couple. He was in Maine with the family for the holidays. His dad and then-Vice President George H. W. Bush was there. So was brother Jeb. And, of course, Laura. And there was this gorgeous 50-something family friend. The future Texas Governor and U.S. president polished off his drink, poured himself another, and asked her: “What’s it like having sex after 50?”

Dubya is less personal about his presidential years. He downplays the barbarities of Guantánamo Bay. He boasts detainees had access to an extensive library including Arabic translations of “Harry Potter”. He skirts over much of the Iraq War intel and troop level oversights and insists “removing Saddam from power was the right decision”. That the world is better off without him.

Toppled Saddam Statue

It’s true. Saddam Hussein was a villain who gassed his own people. The problem is the same argument could be made about virtually any cruel dictator. North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il is a ruthless tyrant of comparable savagery who has actually developed and attempted to distribute WMDs. Yet Dubya chose to isolate oil-poor North Korea, and the rogue state’s plutonium supply quadrupled.

And everything Iraq was supposed to be—an Islamic threat to regional stability, hell-bent on nuclear power—Iran was. The CIA learned Saddam Hussein fabricated his WMD bluster because he was so scared of Iran. But Bush was chastened. His political capital spent. He listened to Condoleezza. He fired Rummy and talked Israel down from a bombing run. And the centrifuges in Nawaz kept on spinning…

*******

The WMDs finally did go off in New York City. But they were the ones Warren Buffett warned us about. They were the ones concocted, not in bunkers outside Baghdad, but in AIG and Citi boardrooms throughout midtown Manhattan. Built not out of yellow cake but of the mortgages on yellow houses, unbridled derivatives, and money our homes weren’t worth.

Dubya confesses he was “blindsided” by the financial crisis. He focused on the meat-and-potato measures of jobs and inflation and “assumed any major credit troubles would have been flagged by the regulators or rating agencies.” But the near collapse of the global financial system wasn’t the low-point for the most unpopular president in modern American history, nor the “sickening feeling” there were no WMDs in Iraq.

No, it was when rapper Kanye West said Dubya didn’t “care about black people” when he bungled the Hurricane Katrina response. The similarly image-rehabbing celebrity has since apologized to Dubya, confiding last week “I really connect with him on a humanitarian level… I felt that too (because of Taylor Swift).” Dubya accepted Kanye West’s apology.

Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the VMAs

As much as Dubya claims to not care about what others say about him, his last two years have been consumed by introspection. Flash back to the winter of 2008. After Lehman failed, after GM became Government Motors, the White House mounted one of the most aggressive legacy-rehab campaign in recent memory. The White House invited the media gauntlet to interview Dubya and Laura about the last eight years. CBS asked Dubya what we were all thinking: knowing what you know now, would you still have gone into Iraq?

This was December 2008. More than five years after Dubya’s fateful decision to invade Iraq. Over 3000 American troops had died since then. He could have given the Winston Churchill answer: I kept us safe. Not another terrorist attack occurred under my watch. But he didn’t.

Instead, Dubya furrowed his brow. He sighed. He didn’t have a canned answer for this one. He hemmed and hawed until he finally said, “I’ve never really thought of it that way before.”

George W. Bush attended Yale University and Harvard Business School. We know he didn’t get in because of what George W. Bush knew but who George H.W. Bush knew. But surely the lesson of perspective or hindsight must have rubbed off on young Dubya in one of his classes.

You almost pity Dubya. Again and again he comes across the naïve fresh-face who let his daddy’s neocon friends get the better of him. He recounts feeling bullied by four-star generals. He worried Dick Cheney would no longer be his friend if he didn’t pardon Scooter Libby. But fear not. In his November 9 primetime interview, Dubya told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I’m pleased to report we are friends today.”

You probably didn’t watch it. No one did, really. The end of Bush’s self-imposed media exile ran against ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” and Bristol Palin. Bush spent the rest of the week squirming in Oprah’s chair. Laughing it up with Rush Limbaugh. And after a few more book signings, he’ll come home to Dallas again as a triumphant, best-selling author.

“Decision Points” will spend a couple weeks on best-seller lists, a couple years collecting dust on Midwestern coffee tables, before it is unceremoniously boxed up in dingy attics. A hard-back reminder of a presidency and decade most Americans would like to forget.

And one of these mornings, Dubya will take Barney out for the morning walk. He’ll pick up his iPad. He’ll land on a Triple Word Score with the word Legacy. He’ll rack up his 30-something points and pretend to not see the irony.

*******

           

See Also: Who Owns The Debt?, Now’s the Time to Hold President Bush Accountable for Torture, Britain To Pay Reparations To Victims Of Bush Administration Torture, George W. Bush Blames Sarah Palin for Losing the 2008 Election, Bush Admits to War Crimes, America Yawns, Review: ‘Decision Points’ by George W. Bush, Bush At Large, The George W. Bush Plagiarism Controversy, and Still lapdogs: Media figures host Bush’s rehabilitation tour.

[tags]george w. bush, being george bush, legacy of george bush, decision points, memoir, book, presidential legacy, bush presidency, iraq, new orleans, hurricane katrina, kanye west, politics, article, book review, essay, column[/tags]

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