Monday, May 12, 2008

The Bush Tragedy

Jacob Weisberg must thank his lucky stars every day that George W. Bush became the forty-third president of the United States because first he was able to cash in with a series of junk books on “Bushisms” and is now playing armchair shrink with a real book in which he claims to have gotten into Bush’s mind to the extent that he can explain every major decision made in the White House during the last eight years. Even better he claims to understand the motivation of pretty near every decision Bush has made since he was a boy. That would indeed be a remarkable achievement if it were to be believed.

Amateur psychoanalysis aside, The Bush Tragedy is an interesting biography of George W. Bush primarily because of the amount of time and research spent on the Walker side of Bush’s family tree. While the Bush and Walker families had much in common, Weisberg points out that their differences are more important than their similarities, much as was the case when the Kennedy and Fitzgerald families merged. The Bush family, as headed by Prescott Bush, was a modest one that did not believe in flashing, or wasting, its wealth. Prescott Bush’s ideals demanded that he treat others as equals and that his wealth be as hidden as possible while he and his family lived its relatively frugal lifestyle. Other than money, the Walkers seem to have had little in common with the Bush family. The Walker family, as headed by George Herbert Walker, was a flamboyant one never afraid to display its wealthy lifestyle to the rest of the world, a family that thrived on the acquisition of all of the toys, estates and hired help that fit the image it had of itself; an aggressive, impatient and class-conscious family.

George H.W. Bush, by all outward appearances and temperament, is very much a Bush as he demonstrated during his four years in office, a period during which he was usually cautious, open to counsel and not afraid to change his mind. George W. Bush, on the other hand, seems to have more the personality of a Walker than that of a Bush, traits that can be observed in the way he has run his own presidency: impatience, aggressiveness, personal certainty and the preference for action over time spent on careful analysis.

Weisberg covers all of the main players in the Bush administration and ably illustrates the ways that men like Cheney, Rumsfeld and other neoconservatives have been able to influence George W. Bush to attain their own goals. Others, such as Karl Rove, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, come across as weaker characters that either worked to stay on Bush’s good side or found themselves actually conforming their own core beliefs to fit those of the President. Of all the main players, Powell seems to be the one to have been most isolated and taken into the inner circle only when he was needed for some specific task.

The Bush Tragedy has much to offer despite its overdependence on psychobabble and Shakespeare to explain the mind of George W. Bush. Weisberg’s theories may be interesting, but they are only theories, and the real meat of his book is found in its biographical details and its look at the inner-workings of the Bush White House. There is much there that will be new to casual followers of political history and that makes the book a worthwhile one.

Rated at: 3.0


  1. If only I could think of a pithy biting comment, but alas, I can't, I don't despise Pres Bush enough or endorse blindly anything that rages against him.

  2. I certainly recognize Bush's failings, Carrie...Lord knows there have been enough of them but I usually start out as somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to rants against him. This book is not at all a rant but still manages to be a little over the top, IMO, because of all the Hamlet references and armchair analysis involved.

    I learned a good bit about the Walkers and about Barbara Bush, so it was worth my time.

  3. I'll probably skip this one. I'm interested in the biographical aspect, but I think I'm the last person in the US who likes Bush and still thinks he's doing a decent job overall. This author's annoyed me enough already.

    And I hate when people abuse Shakespeare's work. ;)

  4. I think this one sounds quite interesting; especially since it looks at the family background and is not a rant. I hate rants on either side of a topic, political or otherwise, but I like researched analysis that allows you to come to your own conclusions. I can't quite imagine the Hamlet connections...

  5. The title puts me off since it leads with a judgment.

    I haven't read the book but based on your description of it, I'd disagree with the author that GWB takes after the Walker side of the family.

    GWB is not a class conscious person. If anything, much of the criticism aimed toward him all these years has it's roots in the fact that he isn't.

    If he had pandered to the Washington elite, the press, the media in general, or the powerful, his way would have been much smoother than it has been.

    If he had showboated his inner circle of friends he's had since college, the world would have seen people of many races, religions and ideologies. He just doesn't believe his personal friends are supposed to be held up as "tokens" for speculation or to prove who he is.

    If he had been class, race or gender conscious, he wouldn't have quietly and without fanfare put Condi Rice and others into one of the top positions in this country. What others Presidents did with great flourish or as a "sign", he did based on personal ability and not class, race or gender.

    I'll be the first to admit that GWB believes strongly in the War on Terrorism. It's my belief that most of his critics are critics on that issue.

    I just don't understand why I should blame the man for being the person in office when what we knew was coming since the early 1980's came into being.

    It didn't just spring into being. Our own security experts were touring college campuses nearly 30 years ago now telling the American people the next major war this country would fight would be the war on terrorism.

    Which takes me full circle to the title of the book again. Maybe there is indeed a Bush tragedy -just not the one the author believes he's promoting.

    Maybe the tragedy is that the man who wanted to be President because he believed strongly that the key to the future is equal education for all also became the President who also had to do the heavy lifting to turn the culture of terrorism back into it's own culture to defeat it.

    It was George HW Bush that ran for office and campaigned (long before his Presidential days) to keep the Jim Crow laws intact.

    Is there really any other measure of class/race inequity than campaigning to keep those intact?

  6. Jolene, the title of the book seems to have at least a couple of meanings. Weisberg, wearing his armchair shrink hat as he does, is comparing the Bush presidency to a Shakespearian well as the more obvious use of the word.

    As for the Walker family trait thing, I agree with you that George W seems not to be at all class-conscious. The Walker traits that he displays are more personality things: aggressiveness, decisiveness, not prone to changing one's mind, etc.

    BTW, good to see you around again.

  7. Jenclair, I doubt there was ever any way that Weisberg would produce a "positive" book about Bush but this one is much less a rant than most of the trash rants out there today.

    I did find the family history/background to be interesting enough that I don't at all regret having spent the time to read the book. I don't agree with a whole lot of the guessing and analyzing it contains, however.

  8. Annie, despite everything that has happened I still sincerely believe that the country would be in worse shape if Gore or Kerry had one either election.

    That said, I'm not nearly as much of a Bush fan as I was a few years ago...but who is?

  9. It's good to see you too Sam. : )

    I've been really into Kathy Mattea's new releae "Coal" and I'm beginning to realize how closely tied it is to the coming Presidential election. Not that I believe Kathy planned it that way.

    But with both Obama and McCain promising mega-funds to the ooal industry for CTL (coal to liquid) "green" technology, the whole spectrum of what Kathy is singing about will come more closely into focus.

    I wonder if in 4 or 8 years, there will be a book titled "The Obama Tragedy" or "The McCain Tragedy". Time will tell.

  10. Jolene, I pray that no president ever has to go through again the kind of media savaging that Bush has suffered. The viciousness of some of his critics is disgusting and I've just about lost respect for some people I use to think of as good people. The stupidity and dishonesty of the news media didn't surprise me at all but some of the "pundits" disappointed me greatly.

    What they have done to Bush has backfired on the entire country. They blame bush for the tarnished image of the United States but, in my opinion, they are the ones who tarnished the image of this country.

    They should be ashamed...I no longer read or subscribe to the Houston Chronicle and I am cheered by the declining circulation of the major newspapers in this country because they cannot be trusted for the most part.