Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Highlights from President Bush's Memoirs

What follow are points of interest for me as I've read the book thus far.

--President Bush [I'll refer to him as "PB" from here on out] explains that he is a lot like his mother: the same sense of humor, the same quick temper, the same bluntness. “When I ran for governor of Texas, I told people that I had my daddy’s eyes and my mother’s mouth” (7). I have enjoyed reading the wit of President Lincoln from time to time. Reading Barbara Bush’s wit as it pops up in Decision Points is just about as fun.
  • PB ran a marathon in January 1993, 4 days after his dad left the White House. At mile 19 he ran past his parents. His dad shouted, “That’s my boy!” His mom: “Keep moving, George! There are some fat people ahead of you!” (50)
  • Shortly after he announced his candidacy for president in the summer of 1999, a large group of photographers gathered in Maine to capture on film the new candidate, his wife, and his parents. Barbara looked at the photographers and asked, “Where were you in ’92?” (referring to the year her husband lost his reelection bid) (63).
--“Yale was a place where I felt free to discover and follow my passions” PB writes. He took an eclectic collection of classes, including “Astronomy, City Planning, Prehistoric Archaeology, Masterpieces of Spanish Literature, and, still one of my favorites, Japanese Haiku.” He jokes about getting a 70 in Mass Communication, “which might explain my shaky relations with the media over the years.” But history was his passion and his major. (14)

--He starts off the book with his drinking problem, and if he doesn’t tell all, he certainly tells enough to make the reader realize that he’s not trying to justify or excuse his intemperance. He tells a few embarrassing stories, including the one about his DUI in 1976 (age 30). He gave up drinking for good at the age of 40 in 1986.

--He met Laura in July of 1977, proposed in late September, and they were married Nov 5, less than four months after they met. They grew up near each other but had never met. PB thinks he knows why: “While I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time, I believe there is a reason Laura and I never met all those years before. God brought her into my life at just the right time, when I was ready to settle down and was open to having a partner at my side. Thankfully, I had the good sense to recognize it.” In a book entitled Decision Points, the former president remarks, “It was the best decision of my life.” (27)

--He discusses his growing faith in the mid-80s, a faith which was aided by a conversation with Billy Graham, his involvement in a weekly Bible study, and his daily reading of Scripture. He confesses that religion had always been a part of his life, but he “really wasn’t a believer” (30). His understanding of the Christian faith is expressed well in such statements as the following:
  • “[S]elf-improvement is not really the point of the Bible. The center of Christianity is not the self. It is Christ” (31).
  • “Ultimately, faith is a walk—a journey toward greater understanding. It is not possible to prove God’s existence, but that cannot be the standard for belief. After all, it is equally impossible to prove that He doesn’t exist. In the end, whether you believe or don’t believe, your position is based on faith. That realization freed me to recognize signs of God’s presence…. I moved ahead more confidently on my walk. Prayer was the nourishment that sustained me. As I deepened my understanding of Christ, I came closer to my original goal of being a better person—not because I was racking up points …, but because I was moved by God’s love” (32-33).

In addition to his wife, he credits his faith with helping him to give up drinking.

--PB worked on his dad’s presidential campaigns. He himself first ran for office when he ran for Congress in 1977-1978, representing Midland’s sprawling district in Texas. He won the primary in the spring of ’78, but he lost the election to Democrat Kent Hance. It was the only race he ever lost. He ran for governor in Texas against the popular incumbent, Ann Richards. When his mother heard he was in the race, she said, “George, you can’t win” (53). But he did, and he easily won reelection in 1998, even being endorsed by the Democratic lieutenant governor (Texas lieutenant governors are elected separately from its governors).

--The chapter, “Personnel,” is fascinating. PB discusses how he chose his team from the Vice President on down: his cabinet, his Supreme Court appointees, etc. Here are some interesting tidbits:
  • “For the most part, the national security team [Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet] functioned smoothly in the early years of the administration. The economic team did not.” The latter statement refers primarily to Paul O’Neill, PB's first Treasury Secretary.
  • Vice President Cheney himself told PB in 2003 that he would have no hard feelings if he decided to make a change in the VP office for the 2004 reelection bid. Bush’s comments are telling of both men. “His offer impressed me. It was so atypical in power-hungry Washington. It confirmed the reasons I’d picked Dick in the first place. I did consider his offer…. [H]e had become a lightning rod for criticism from the media and the left…. The more I thought about it, the more strongly I felt Dick should stay. I hadn’t picked him to be a political asset; I had chosen him to help me do the job. That was exactly what he had done” (86-87).
  • Bush’s dad’s Supreme Court appointments: “I knew how proud Dad was to have appointed Clarence Thomas, a wise, principled, humane man. I also knew he was disappointed that his other nominee, David Souter, had evolved into a different kind of judge than he expected” (96).

1 comment:

Kent said...

Sounds like a book worth reading.