I'm pretty much done with politics. I've been pretty much done ever since I read John Bowe's superlative book Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, in which he pointed out that the system isn't broken, the system is working exactly the way it was set up to work.
So why on earth would I check out George W. Bush's memoir Decision Points?
I read the first chapter of it last night, and I just spent a good half-hour washing the dishes and thinking about it. My questions about this title and why I would read any of it are legion. Let's consider them, shall we?
Q: Why would anyone who is done with politics, and who was no fan of W., be interested in this book?
A: Sometimes, when I am in a whimsical mood, I find autobiographies and memoirs by people I dislike amusing. In this case I was also vaguely curious to see how W. put a spin on the events of his life and presidency. I liken this, particularly in George W. Bush's case, to "getting inside the mind of a serial killer,"* which is a reason some people cite for reading True Crime. Also, this is a book a lot of people will be reading, and the librarian in me wants to look it over. Last, but not least, it always gives me an illicit thrill to check out Republican memoirs from--gasp--publicly funded libraries.
Q: Does W. himself actually believe this stuff?
A: I don't know. Sure seems like it. In the first chapter, W. gives a flash history of his life up through 1986 and his decision to quit drinking (chapter 2 starts in 1999, with his presidential bid). In a sick sort of way there was a lot to laugh about in the first chapter.** Here are the highlights:
"Nearly all the historians suggested that I read Memoirs by President Ulysses S. Grant, which I did." (p. xi.)
(I have my doubts about that. Grant's memoir is over 500 pages long. But I digress.)
"As the days at Andover wound down, it came time to apply for college. My first thought was Yale. After all, I was born there. One time-consuming part of the application was filling out the blue card that asked you to list relatives who were alumni. There was my grandfather and my dad. And all his brothers. And my first cousins. I had to write the names of the second cousins on the back of the card. Despite my family ties, I doubted that I would be accepted." (p. 13.)
"My attitude toward the [Vietnam] War was skeptical but accepting...One day in the fall of my senior year, I walked by a recruiting station with a poster of a jet pilot in the window. Flying planes would be an exciting way to serve...Dad referred me to a man named Sid Adger, a former pilot who was well connected in the aviation community. He suggested that I consider joining the Texas Air National Guard, which had pilot slots available. Unlike members of the regular Guard, pilots were required to complete a year of training..." (p. 16.)
And so on and so forth. There's more, about how his early oil businesses failed due largely to bad timing in the mid-80s (there's lots of talk about merging with other companies, not being bought out for political good will) but I just realized, typing just now, that I've hit the end of my whimsical mood. I'm rapidly passing into my disgusted mood, which for some reason often does follow the whimsical one. But more questions remain: Does this guy really think he wasn't going to get into Yale? (A corollary: can he imagine what it must be like to come from one of those backward families where not everyone does go to college, let alone Yale?***) Does he really think serving in the Texas Air National Guard counts as serving in the Vietnam War? Is he the dumbest man alive, or is he so clever he just appears dumb?
Anyway. Even with a lot of dishes to do I didn't come up to any answers for my questions. After the dishes I picked up Decision Points, read a few more pages, looked at the pictures, and checked the index for "cocaine use."**** Tomorrow I'll take it back to the library.
**Laugh about in the way Albert Brooks describes in the movie Broadcast News: "At some point, it was so off-the-chart bad it just got funny."
***Sometimes I think about Helene Hanff, she of 84, Charing Cross Road, not having the money to attend college, and it breaks my heart. Particularly in light of this guy wandering through his years at Andover, Yale, and Harvard. That's all right--Helene educated herself, and gave us a great book about it: Q's Legacy.
****I'll end your suspense. It wasn't there.