I am not sure what to make of the prepublication report of Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H. W. Bush’s presidential “odyssey,” Destiny and Power. I am intrigued by the mythic overtones of calling the 41st president’s term an odyssey, a wandering, but I’ll have to wait to read the book to decide how that actually plays out.
The hype for the book is interesting both for what it reveals and what it implies. News reports (I saw them in the Guardian and the Washington Post)—serving as book advertisements—offer a tantalizing appetizer. I usually don’t order the appetizer at a restaurant because it ruins my appetite for the main course. In this case, the appetizer may be the meal.
It is not often that power elites allow the public a peek at their internal disputes. I am always skeptical about what is “revealed” in these moments of “candor.” They remind me of the magician’s misdirection of attention or the con artist’s switch. Perhaps that’s just being cynical. Maybe I should be more trusting.
What is it we learn from news of the impending release of Bush 41’s biography? Well, that Vice President Dick Cheney was an iron ass, whatever that means. Apparently it means either he was a hardliner or he knuckled under to hardliners, including his wife and daughter. At any rate, Cheney says he’s pleased with being called an iron ass.
Also, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was an arrogant, kick-ass fellow not interested in what the other guy thinks. No comment from Rumsfeld, except to suggest H. W. is senile. Besides, what does Rumsfeld care?
And what about President George W. Bush, whose dad battled but did not take out Saddam Hussein? We learn that 43 was badly served by Iron Ass and Kick Ass. The father advised the son to try everything to avoid war because war is tough. W, though, chose “hot rhetoric” over diplomacy. Sons just have to do things their own way.
These “revelations” are supposed to make us feel better about what? Perhaps the implied conclusion, intended or not, is that the overreaction to 9/11 was an anomaly, an irregularity, rather than a systemic function of the war state.
Not to worry. Our leaders learn from their occasional mistakes.