Dubya’s Original Sin; or, The Decider’s First Decision
Someday soon, when the country has healed and we’ve all healed in proportion to it, I’ll find it possible to read about all those decisions, laid out systematically and chronologically here by their decider–perhaps the worst presidency in history passing in review, never more comprehensive but as incomprehensible as ever. Reading this book is not a job for pussies, and although I’m not trying to forget what happened to America in those eight years, I’m not masochistically forcing myself to remember right now either.
This is George W. Bush’s legacy as listed in Decision Points‘ table of contents, and tell me if this roll call doesn’t suck the serotonin straight out of your synapses: Quitting, Running, Personnel, Stem Cells, Day of Fire, War Footing, Afghanistan, Iraq, Leading, Katrina, Lazarus Effect, Surge, Freedom Agenda, Financial Crisis.
The one that concerns us here is the first among them. It was the Original Sin, of all the sins itemized above, without which, and as Dubya here notes, “none of the others in this book would have been possible.” I never thought I’d say this in connection with the words of Bush, no matter how ghostwritten, but here it goes: I couldn’t have said it better myself. I couldn’t have given a better rationale for someone to have never quit drinking. The country at large would be a much safer place, even if the roads of Midland, Texas, would be a whole lot more dangerous.
He says it was “one of the toughest decisions I ever made,” and you believe him, for the same reason that you believe him when he writes that making it through Andover was the hardest thing ever he did until he ran for president: because of all the privileges he was given, and because of all the intelligence he was denied.
Bush doesn’t spill much here about the circumstances of his alcoholism. He tells the stories we’re all familiar with: the DWI, the fight with Daddy, the regretful remarks and remorseful behavior, the killer hangovers and the what-the hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life. But he never plunges an inch below the surface. Part of it is because there’s no such thing as an ex-politician, but the other part, of course, is that–for all his narrowly proscribed native smarts–Bush is no more curious about himself than he is about his fellow human beings.
He’s always made it too damn easy to shoot this kind of invective and make it stick, but don’t think that here, with the page his own territory and nobody else’s, that he’s made it any less so. Even when he has the full run of his say, so much gets left wide-open and defenseless. The president whose defining image–or one of the top five, certainly–is standing in a classroom continuing to read from My Pet Goat while America gets attacked demonstrates no self-awareness in telling us proudly that when he was first getting to know her, he used to visit Laura Welch at the elementary-school library where she used to work.
And did he find God from a place of strength, because it was the true and good thing to do? No, he found God, he all but tells us here, because he had nothing better going on: “The mid-1980s were gloomy years in Midland. There was a sense of anxiety, and many were searching for purpose. Religion had always been a part of my life, but I wasn’t always a believer.”
He tells us of a foreman he knew from a cattle ranch out in Arizona, and about a saying this fella had, “Book smart, sidewalk stupid,” and then he tells us, completely unnecessarily, that “I was determined not to let that phrase apply to me.”
And although none of us should ever be held accountable, in our late middle age, for what we did in high school, I almost wish Bush hadn’t told us about the time he went to the thesaurus for “a better word than tears” (as in the kind you shed when your sister Robin dies), and used his newfound knowledge to write the sentence, “Lacerates were flowing down my cheeks.”
He says that Harvard Business School is where he learned about economics, and given what Bush did to the economics of his country, Harvard Business School should sue for slander.
When he was at Yale, the legendary chaplain William Sloane Coffin told W. that his father, recently defeated for the Senate by Ralph Yarborough, had been “beaten by a better man,” and this is one time when W. chose not to take at face value the word of a man of the cloth.
He tells us, ludicrously, that he’s modeled his memoirs on those of Ulysses S. Grant, but Grant, in addition to writing his own book, had the good sense to recognize that his presidency had been a disaster, and that he’d better stick to his career as a soldier. But Bush, of course, had no career as a soldier, just a fleeting fling with a “Champaign Unit” of National Guard aviators. Grant also had the good sense to stay drunk. He saved the Union drunk, and he wrote his memoirs high on the cocaine that Bush has banished from his sobriety chapter entirely. I guess you could say that that’s Bush’s fifteenth decision–or the sixteenth, after deciding to write the book in the first place. Let’s hope that it’s the last damn decision from this classic American asshole we ever have to hear about.
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