Dubya and Me, profile of George H. W. Bush
September 22, 2011 12:26 AM   Subscribe

Walt Harrington's profile of the 43rd POTUS, Dubya and Me.
posted by Silo004 (48 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
This makes for an interesting read.

Bush had read 186 books for pleasure in the preceding three years, consisting mostly of serious historical nonfiction

Insert My Pet Goat joke here.

One thing that sticks out to me on reading this article - if W. was so interested in history, why did he make so many mistakes? Did he not learn the lessons in those books?

Professors such as Leonhard created in Bush, even if he was a C+ student, a lasting impression: “what it was like to live under a society in which a few made the decisions for everybody.”

I think he took the wrong lesson from that.

he also believes he took care not to repeat the wartime overreactions that had led to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 under John Adams, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, or Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Patriot Act?
posted by arcticseal at 1:02 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


if W. was so interested in history, why did he make so many mistakes? Did he not learn the lessons in those books?

Otto: Apes don't read philosophy.

Wanda: Yes, they do, Otto. They just don't understand it.
posted by gompa at 1:26 AM on September 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


You know who else liked reading books?
posted by verstegan at 2:21 AM on September 22, 2011


“Do you have compassion for your enemy?”

“I have yet to forgive Osama bin Laden, and, frankly, haven’t prayed [for him] because I think he needs to be brought to justice in order to prevent him from killing other people.”

“Isn’t it possible to pray for Osama bin Laden and also want to bring him to justice?”

“I’m not sophisticated enough in prayer, evidently, to be able to pray for Osama bin Laden and at the same time go hunt him.”


Good thing he did not distract himself by actually hunting for him.

This comes off as classic GWB. The unsophisticated, easy-going, superficial, frat boy whose connections have made life easy for him - still a little bit astonished at having any place at all in history let alone one so prominent.

Say what you will about GWB, but for good or for bad (overwhelmingly bad) 43 was certainly a more influential and successful president than 44 has been.
posted by three blind mice at 2:24 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bush is a really great guy because he reads books.

Did you know he reads books.

He reads books, he is amazing he reads books and I also know him.
posted by oxala at 2:50 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


What stuck out for me was the quote from Harrington's earlier essay:

“I have told various George W. haters that they had best not underestimate the man,” I wrote, “that he’s smart, thoughtful in a brawny kind of way and, most of all, a good and decent man. … What I’ve never mentioned is that I didn’t vote for George W. I disagree with him on the Supreme Court, environment, abortion, the death penalty and affirmative action. So I voted against this good and decent man. It pained me to do it. … It baffles me that grown people must convince themselves that those with whom they disagree are stupid or malevolent.”
posted by chavenet at 3:26 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


A-and also this:

As he talked, I even thought about an old Saturday Night Live skit in which an amiable, bumbling President Ronald Reagan, played by Phil Hartman, goes behind closed doors to suddenly become a masterful operator in total charge at the White House. The transformation in Bush was that stunning to me.
posted by chavenet at 3:29 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sooo, based on his "extensive" reading list, he's been spending the last thirty-odd years repeating US History 101?
posted by Mooseli at 3:41 AM on September 22, 2011


Dubya and Me

I was really hoping this was going to be a badly-drawn children's book before I clicked the link.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:55 AM on September 22, 2011


Say what you will about GWB, but for good or for bad (overwhelmingly bad) 43 was certainly a more influential and successful president than 44 has been.

When Bush had GOP majorities in the House and the Senate, did he have any equivalent of Obama's Blue Dogs in his party? No, he didn't. The Congressmen in his party rubber-stamped everything he wanted. For good or bad, a president will always be more successful when they have the approval of those that can do shit for them.
posted by NoMich at 4:59 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


More DOFUS than POTUS yes?

The quote that stuck out for me was

At one point, the subject of inequality in America came up, and the vice president [Bush Sr] asked for my opinion. I said that some people were born with the leg up of money, education, and connections, and that those born well-to-do often ended up doing better in life. The veep listened respectfully, but an angry W. raged on about how my view was “crap” from the ’60s.

Loads of other bits stuck out by their absence. For instance, what did Bush really think about fish and men coexisiting?
posted by criticalbill at 5:09 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Too soon. Far, far too soon.
posted by DU at 5:38 AM on September 22, 2011


The Congressmen in his party rubber-stamped everything he wanted.

Well, kinda of. Social security private accounts and immigration reform were both left-style internal purges. We don't remember those because they never happened.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:04 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing that sticks out to me on reading this article - if W. was so interested in history, why did he make so many mistakes? Did he not learn the lessons in those books?

He learned plenty from those books. I would imagine that the "lessons" contained in the sort of historical non-fiction GWB would have been interested in reading would have reinforced his opinions and ideas; to be fair to Bush, that's often the reason people select their reading material, or develop an interest in reading works written by particular authors. It's also important to understand there is a whole realm of political and academic ideology that does not see the decisions made during the Bush years as mistakes, but as important progress toward establishing a world more suited to the interests of corporate capitalism and the accumulation of wealth and power by people they believe deserve it.
posted by aught at 6:29 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It baffles me that grown people must convince themselves that those with whom they disagree are stupid or malevolent.

Funny. W. started a war without provocation, responded to a provocation with war, squandered the economic might of the U.S, failed to regulate before the largest economic crisis since 1929, dismantled habeas corpus and supported torture. His legacy deserves to be paired to his accomplishments.
posted by ersatz at 6:33 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


What baffles me is that grown people will convince themselves that the only reason others consider somebody to be stupid or malevolent is because they disagree with them and not because they are actually demonstrably stupid and malevolent.
posted by canned polar bear at 6:43 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


More DOFUS than POTUS yes?

See, I think the glib and pervasive dismissal of GWB (that I too am always tempted to make) as an empty-headed fool does us all a disservice.

Bush had a disingenuous manner that had served him well as a social tool since his younger frat-boy days and which he later adapted into an effective political persona, but I also think his core ideology was well-developed and representative of the old-moneyed elite who consider it their natural right to steer world events in ways that suit their (financial and political and often personal) interests. This is the world he is a son of, the contemporary corporate-rich royalty of Western society who quietly run the world while the bulk of us go about our little lives. His pseudo-folksy manner was just a veneer thinly disguising the multi-generational dynasty of world power brokers on both sides of his family, and this made GWB the exact right man to con the working folks of middle America into supporting the agenda he represented which really had very little to do with their actual lives and interests.
posted by aught at 6:46 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The project to rehab his historical legacy continues apace. Gotta hand it to Conservatives, they're persistent about defending thier heroes against the historical record. Hell, with enough misty eyed retrospectives, codpieces, cowboy hats and brush clearing, they'll make us all love Bush just much as we now love Reagan (Blessed BE His Name). Just wait till they start naming shit after him.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:56 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did not pull the bottomless supply of peppermints out of my ass, by the way. Ponder, if you will, this passage from an account of a briefing on Iraq in “the Tank,” the secure meeting room for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, which took place on January 10th, 2001, ten days before Bush’s first inauguration:

The JCS had placed a peppermint at each place. Bush unwrapped his and popped it into his mouth. Later he eyed [outgoing Secretary of Defense William S.] Cohen’s mint and flashed a pantomime query, Do you want that? Cohen signaled no, so Bush reached over and took it. Near the end of the hour-and-a-quarter briefing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army General Henry ‘Hugh’ Shelton, noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over.

You see? You see how it is trying to be a satirist these days?

posted by The Whelk at 7:14 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Godwin's Law in 3 comments... new record?
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:16 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently Roland, you did not get the memo that Godwin's Law has been repealed.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:26 AM on September 22, 2011


It baffles me that grown people must convince themselves that those with whom they disagree are stupid or malevolent.

There is a line beyond which "stupid or malevolent" is not only the mature conclusion, but absolutely necessary. I don't just disagree with Adolf Hitler; he was fucking malevolent incarnate.

In my mind, George W. Bush crossed that line. Repeatedly. While dancing a little jig.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:32 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another Bush 43 Metafilter thread drifts into Godwinian self parody...
posted by BobbyVan at 7:36 AM on September 22, 2011


charlie: Cool link (the one in the FP post you linked). Didn't see anything about repeal beyond one Mother Jones writer. Like it or not, it's here to stay.

It's just too easy with Bush, I expect better MetaFilter, I expect better... Still though, I don't know what's more entertaining: people paralleling Bush with Hitler or claiming Obama is the antichrist.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:41 AM on September 22, 2011


Self parody - oh how it is to laugh. Gee these LIBRULS. Would they get off their high horse already.
posted by lalochezia at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Ahem* This post was deleted for the following reason: This is kind of "look at this asshole", honestly. -- cortex
posted by youthenrage at 7:59 AM on September 22, 2011


This article has changed my impression of GWB from 'functionally illiterate' to 'dysfunctionally literate'.
posted by troll at 8:08 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Gosh, based on reading this article, I sure am glad we had such a reflective, bookish fellow in the White House after 9/11! Imagine what it would have been like if an easily manipulable unreflective buffoon had been the President!
posted by mwhybark at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another Bush 43 Metafilter thread drifts into Godwinian self parody...

...now watch this drive
posted by Hoopo at 8:17 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


mwhybark, I'm not so sure it's that simple. Bush was reflective -- it's just that he may have been reflecting on the wrong things.

Him talking about having read the Lincoln biography in the article was really telling -- for the passage where he's talking about what from the book jumped out at him. He discussed how Lincoln was being vilified in the contemporary press of the 1860's for engaging in the Civil War -- and you realize that "THAT'S the takeaway he took from that," that he took that as reassurance that "okay, people of today are slagging me for war in Iraq, but people also were slagging Lincoln back then but now they think he's okay."

In other words -- the thing Bush took away from reading was "history has a chance of vindicating me, the way it did Lincoln."

That kind of thinking ain't unreflective and it ain't dumb. Seriously deluded and self-centered, perhaps, but not dumb.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I never gave Bush's books much thought, since he never seemed to absorb them.

But television... television would be a medium he could understand and absorb well. The one bit of media consumption from the Bush years that has always haunted me is Bush's brief obsession with West Wing. For a time, he was watching through entire seasons at a rapid clip. What was going through his mind, especially in seasons 3+ where Bartlett was being staged as the anti-Bush? What did he think seeing a thoughtful and humane administration when his own team was a group of bloodthirsty and greedy thugs?
posted by honestcoyote at 8:32 AM on September 22, 2011


Another Bush 43 Metafilter thread drifts into Godwinian self parody...

It's only fitting. During Bush 43's presidency America itself drifted into Godwinian self-parody.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:45 AM on September 22, 2011


That kind of thinking ain't unreflective

I disagree. Bush was the definition of unreflective. Dumb? Who knows. The fact he read books and kept a tally doesn't really change my mind, and the decisions he made speak for themselves. But 'reflective' means that you evaluate and learn from your actions and experiences and outcomes. The man never once gave any indication he learned a thing, and instead relied on faith that history would vindicate him.
posted by Hoopo at 8:56 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


But 'reflective' means that you evaluate and learn from your actions and experiences and outcomes.

I'm not so sure he didn't learn something. It's just that what he learned is better suited for someone whose life is on a narrower stage than one befitting a global leader.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:00 AM on September 22, 2011


It's only fitting. During Bush 43's presidency America itself drifted into Godwinian self-parody.

Right you are.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:04 AM on September 22, 2011


Yet another piece of evidence that what and how much you read is not nearly as important as what you do with that information.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:06 AM on September 22, 2011


Indeed, right I am
posted by entropicamericana at 9:10 AM on September 22, 2011


This article really bugged me. It's very well written, and insightful, and I'm glad I read it. But it's also the first step in constructing a redemptive hagiography of Bush. The thoughtful Bush, the nice guy, the one who really cared about being a good president and had a job.

In the meantime we still haven't really come to terms with the bad Bush. The torture. The undermining of civil rights. The torture. The damage to the US economy, the enormous deficit. Oh yes, and the torture.

It's too early to write a "Bush is really a nice guy" story. He probably is, but that's not the important part of his legacy, that's not the thing that needs to be examined.
posted by Nelson at 9:31 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure he is a smart guy, but if you want to be well liked it doesn't pay to be too smart. I think he pretty studiously plays dumb. What do they call that when a guy acts like a yokel to hoodwink a yankee? oh yeah .. Southern Dumb.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:46 AM on September 22, 2011


It's too early to write a "Bush is really a nice guy" story. He probably is, but that's not the important part of his legacy, that's not the thing that needs to be examined.

I noticed this was happening in an earlier thread about Rumsfeld, too. Because he looked old and sort of pathetic, he was getting some sympathy he did not deserve. It worries me, because I do not often see the left extend the same kind of courtesy to Colin Powell who out of the entire bunch has shown the most remorse and regret over what happened under the Bush presidency.
posted by Hoopo at 10:49 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoopo, two things:

I've never seen sympathy extended to Rumsfeld. He was hated by the left.

I've often seen my left-leaning friends describe Gen. Colin Powell, Ph.D, as a scapegoat, a hoodwinked pawn, and a "used" man.

So, my impression is just the opposite of yours, on both these men.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:39 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's possible I'm being uncharitable, but I thought I saw some sympathy offered to him in this thread, which was what I was referring to. For Powell, my impression is that the facts suggest he was not duped. He went along with it despite personally disagreeing with Bush and the neocons.
posted by Hoopo at 1:00 PM on September 22, 2011


Crap. Link should go here, not to my stupid comment.

Also on Powell
posted by Hoopo at 1:19 PM on September 22, 2011


“I’m not sophisticated enough in prayer, evidently, to be able to pray for Osama bin Laden and at the same time go hunt him.”

President Bush Reacts to Osama Bin Laden's Death
posted by homunculus at 1:29 PM on September 22, 2011


Hoopo: Eh, our perceptions/local worlds are different.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:11 PM on September 22, 2011


There was a short sidebar in Harper's magazine in about 2006 by a guy (journalist? I can't remember) who went to a fundraiser/political barbecue of some kind where Bush was the guest. He stood in line for two hours to shake Bush's hand, and when it was his turn, he said, "Mr. President, I think what we're doing in Afghanistan is wrong and will come back to haunt us.*" Bush looked him in the eye, smiled, and said, "Fuck off" and turned to the next person in line.

That's what I kept thinking about while reading this article.

* I can't remember exactly what the issue was
posted by sneebler at 3:33 PM on September 22, 2011


So Bush is a nice guy, and not a moron, and he likes to read. I am not surprised by any of these things. Also, they all reinforce my notion that, in some parallel universe where George W. Bush were not the scion of generations of American aristocrats, he would have made a perfectly fine middle manager at ExxonMobil or Home Depot or Dell Computer. And the rest of the world would be a lot better off.
posted by breakin' the law at 3:47 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Harrington seems overly impressed that Bush is likable, has impressive force of personality, and reads serious historical non-fiction. These are certainly not part of Bush's public image. But it's not for lack of these things that Bush is judged to be one of the worst presidents of the United States. It's for his multiple failures, summarized recently by Michael Ignatieff (without using Bush's name) as a cascade of sovereign failures: 9/11, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Katrina, the economic crisis.

Looking through the list of books that Harrington mentions, I'm struck by Bush's focus on American subjects (biographies of US presidents, for example). How much has he read about the Arab and Muslim world? (The only title which appears potentially relevant would be Children of Jihad.) Has he read anything at all about the modern history of Afghanistan or Iraq?

Peter Galbraith, November 2005:
In January 2003 the President invited three members of the Iraqi opposition to join him to watch the Super Bowl. In the course of the conversation the Iraqis realized that the President was not aware that there was a difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. He looked at them and said, "You mean...they're not, you know, there, there's this difference. What is it about?"

For the United States to launch a war where the president is not aware of this very fundamental difference between Sunni and Shiite Arabs is really stunning. It's a bit like the U.S. president intervening in Ireland and being unaware that there are two schools of Christianity - Catholics and Protestants.
posted by russilwvong at 2:01 PM on October 2, 2011


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