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Book review: George W. Bush’s memoir

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The Bush memoir’s basic message: I wasn’t so bad.
Photo: Julio Cortez Houston Chronicle/ap

George W. Bush wrote a really good book. Deal with it.

The unstated thesis of Decision Points (like that of every post-presidential memoir) is, my presidency was better than you thought it was. Bush makes the case persuasively. Going into the book, I’d have labeled him a “mostly unsuccessful” president. Now, I’d say he was “mildly successful.” Quite a leap, no?

The Details

Decision Points
Four stars
By George W. Bush
$35

As a speaker, Bush fumbles; as a memoirist, he soars. Take this unadorned passage from the first page: “I have a habitual personality. I smoked cigarettes for about nine years, starting in college. I quit smoking by dipping snuff. I quit that by chewing long-leaf tobacco.”

The best parts of Decision Points are the stories of Bush’s upbringing. The guy is surprisingly open about his fucked-up childhood. He admits to wrecking two cars at 14 and to pouring vodka in his sister’s goldfish tank, thus killing the fish. He admits to getting drunk and awkwardly quizzing his parents’ friend about her sex life. Also, shockingly, Bush kinda admits to being an atheist at one point: “The notion of a living God was a big leap, especially for someone with a local mind like mine.”

The Bush that I mocked for eight years (Bush the opportunist, Bush the simpleton) is in the text, but he’s hard to find.

The opportunist is present when he writes about Gore calling to concede the 2000 election and then calling back to recant after news networks changed their projections. Bush writes, “I had never heard of a candidate un-conceding. I told him that in Texas, it meant something when a person gave you his word.” So Bush would have preferred that Gore’s phone call trump the will of the American voters?

And the simpleton: “At its core, the stem cell question harkened back to the philosophic clash between science and morality.” As if science itself were amoral. Bush talks about his policy passing “the ethical test” as if there were only one.

Bush satisfactorily justifies his actions and inactions in Iraq and Katrina, and he wows with the AIDS in Africa section. Ditto for the 9/11 chapter. “After the nightmare of September 11,” he writes, “America went seven and a half years without another successful terrorist attack on our soil. If I had to summarize my most meaningful accomplishment as president in one sentence, that would be it.” How can we disagree?

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