Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Tragedy Of President Bush II

Excerpts from a New York Times review of what sounds like one of the more interesting books on the endless shipwreck that is the George W. Bush administration :

To the Slate editor in chief, Jacob Weisberg, the presidency of George W. Bush is a plane crash, and he says there is a black box that can help explain just what brought this White House down in flames: a black box “filled with a series of relationships — familial, personal, religious and historical,” most notably the father-son relationship, which “lies at the very core of the second Bush presidency and its spectacular, avoidable flame-out.”

...the younger Mr. Bush, according to Mr. Weisberg, “played out his family drama in a way that had devastating consequences for his family, his country and the world.”

George W. Bush, Mr. Weisberg writes in “The Bush Tragedy,” “has been driven since childhood by a need to differentiate himself from his father, to challenge, surpass and overcome him”; and “to challenge a thoughtful, moderate and pragmatic father, he trained himself to be hasty, extreme and unbending,” traits that would ill serve him in his presidency and help lead him into the morass of the Iraq war.

Although the insistent emphasis on the father-son relationship can lead to some gross oversimplifications (the president’s “unconscious motive” in going to war against Iraq, Mr. Weisberg writes, “was finishing his father’s business”), “The Bush Tragedy” does provide a provocative and plausible account of the evolution of his political beliefs while doing a far more persuasive job of marshaling evidence to make a Freudian case for the younger Mr. Bush’s missteps than other recent efforts, like, say, Craig Unger’s 2007 book, “The Fall of the House of Bush.”

In the course of this volume Mr. Weisberg argues that George W. Bush’s Oedipal relationship with his father and sibling rivalry with his brother Jeb (who, for many years, was regarded as the family’s rising political star) fueled his transformation from hard-drinking black sheep in the family to dynastic heir. George W. Bush, he writes, had a contradictory attitude toward his father: a “drive to correct Poppy’s mistakes” and a “demand for his admiration.”

By the time he was running for president, Mr. Weisberg argues, the younger Bush had developed a populist political persona distinctly different from his father’s: where his father had “considered religious enthusiasm a form of bad manners,” George W. “was open about his faith and courted the evangelical right”; where his father was mocked for being too prudent and cautious, George W. was intent on being bold and blunt; where his father had methodically immersed himself in policy details, George W. was going to be “an instantaneous ‘decider’ who didn’t revisit his choices or change his mind.”

As Mr. Weisberg tells it, both Mr. Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney recognized the president’s Oedipal fixation and used it to help maneuver the president into going along with their own agendas. Mr. Rove, who “recognized the younger Bush as fiercely loyal to his father, yet desperate to escape his shadow,” Mr. Weisberg says, presented a political plan as “a map of differentiation” that would prevent a humiliation like his father’s 1992 loss to Bill Clinton.

After securing the White House, Mr. Weisberg goes on, Mr. Rove, who harbored grandiose ambitions of creating an enduring Republican majority, “used his influence to steer Bush away from being the president he originally wanted to be — the kind of center-right consensus-builder he was as governor of Texas — and into a too-close alliance” with the party’s right wing, thereby helping “turn him into the most unpopular and polarizing president since Nixon.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Weisberg contends, Mr. Cheney “appreciated, in a way more subtle than Rove did, the way in which Bush needed to make himself his father’s antithesis.” The vice president also knew how to frame policy choices for the president “around contrasts to his father’s views” and how to appeal to the president’s own vision of himself by describing initiatives as “bold, game-changing and the right thing to do.”