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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Bush biography paints president in subjective, generous light”

    Bush biography paints president in subjective, generous light

    The place: Texas. The time: 1999. The situation: Governor George W. Bush and his daughter Jenna are engaged in a “”yelling match.””

    Jenna wants to spend Thanksgiving weekend in Mexico with her friends, but the governor, who is mulling over a run for the presidency, fears that if his daughter gets in trouble, it might stir up some bad publicity.

    At the height of the argument, Jenna is heard to shout: “”It’s not like you’re gonna win!””

    When Bush decided to sit down for seven long interviews with Robert Draper – a writer best known for a history of Rolling Stone magazine – he undoubtedly expected the guy to go easy on him. It’s hard to imagine any other reason the embattled president would permit an outsider into one of the most secretive administrations in history.

    Draper did go easy on him – sort of. He also turned up a lot of embarrassing anecdotes like the one above.

    But even if Bush isn’t happy with “”Dead Certain””, the rest of us ought to be. Who would have thought an authorized biography of President Bush would wind up being one of the most entertaining – and even hilarious – books of the year?

    Draper is one of those journalists who litters his pages with italicized words and exclamation points. He also likes to tell us what his subjects are thinking, presumably based on what they told him they were thinking. He also really likes George W. Bush as a person.

    All of these things ought to be alarming.

    Yet Draper’s extreme subjectivity and generosity to everyone he writes about gives his book a marvelous perspective. He avoids the cheap cynicism or heroworship that seems to smother nearly everything anyone else has written about Bush.

    Draper begins with a long account of how Bush defeated Arizona Senator, John McCain for the 2000 nomination. McCain was a war hero, an experienced candidate and immensely popular; Bush had a famous name and a lot of money. Naturally, Bush won – but not without some ruthless campaigning.

    Skipping over the muchanalyzed contested election, Draper moves on to the mundane first year in office, to Sept. 11, to war in Afghanistan and grand speeches about an “”axis of evil,”” to ominous warnings about Saddam Hussein. We already know about this stuff but Draper gives us a vivid, grubby narrative that makes us feel like we’re reliving it all.

    Most haunting is Draper’s account of how it all fell apart – how Bush’s war in Iraq turned into a bloody fiasco, how the administration’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina led to a ruined New Orleans, how the Democrats finally seized on popular hatred of an “”invincible”” president and left him, by book’s end, a lame duck with a year left to govern.

    The portrait of the president that emerges from Draper’s book rings true in almost every detail – and much of it goes against received opinion. Far from being intellectually lazy, Bush turns out to be a voracious reader who avoids television and often startles visitors with his savvyness. More significantly, far from being a “”puppet”” – of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld – Bush is shown to be obsessively singleminded and determined to wield absolute power over the executive office.

    Indeed, there is something of Lyndon Johnson in Draper’s Bush – crude, mean-spirited, grandiose and doomed by a misbegotten war.

    Draper’s book isn’t close to being the definitive Bush biography; it skips over way too much and relies a little too much on inside sources. There’s no attempt to follow the way Bush’s ruthlessness as a candidate served him well as a leader. He doesn’t examine why Bush ran as an isolationist and then unveiled a plan to eradicate evil everywhere, nor ask why an anti-welfare conservative launched one of the most drastic expansions of federal power – and the power of the president in particular – in history.

    But the facts, as Draper lays them out, are telling enough. They paint a portrait of a man obsessed with power – with getting it and using it. A bully who delights in humiliating his staff members in small ways, by giving them stupid nicknames or locking them out of meetings. An idealist who won’t let anyone get in the way of his dreams – not even the truth.

    Draper thinks that that Bush became a bigger man after Sept. 11 – that he developed a “”new persona.”” There is a difference between looking like a better man and actually being one. The old Bush has been on display ever since Sept. 11, and Draper may be one of the few Americans left who can’t quite see it.

    One last revelation: When Bush leaves office, he plans to build a “”Freedom Institute.”” Boy, I can’t wait.

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