Prince Hal in decline
The Road to Resolve
A Sober View: He partied hard, then dried out and found a fierce determination. How George Bush was saved—and never looked back
By Evan Thomas, Tamara Lipper and Rebecca Sinderbrand
It is easy to mark the turning point in George Bush's life. It was the morning of July 28, 1986, when he woke up, wretchedly hung over after a night of celebrating his 40th birthday at the Broadmoor, a resort in Colorado, and decided to quit drinking. He did not seek therapy or join Alcoholics Anonymous. He just quit, and joined a regular Bible group. Before Bush gave up the bottle, his life was more feckless than accomplished. After that day, he moved from success to success. Bush has been sober for 18 years (less time than John Kerry has spent in the U.S. Senate); for 12 of those years, he has been running for office or governing. His mature life, then, has been a public one, mastering, despite his occasional inarticulateness, the art of politics. And his relatively brief adulthood may also help explain the roots of the self-confident side of his nature. If a man starts focusing only when he's 40 and finds himself president of the United States at 54, what can't he do if he sticks to the script that got him from the Broadmoor to the White House?
Bush is still a drunk,dry or wet. You don't just quit drinking. At best, he just transfered addictions from booze to Jesus.
Bush told another friend that his marriage was in trouble, and he blamed himself for risking the loss of Laura and his twin girls. Laura had been after him to quit drinking and go to church more. A lapsed Episcopalian, Bush had been attending a Methodist church with Laura, but he was deeply affected when evangelist Billy Graham asked him in 1985 if he was "right with God." After he quit drinking, Bush began attending a men's Bible-study group with Don Evans and some other Texas businessmen. Bush's religious turn—his decision to "serve the Lord"—was in a sense liberating. As Evans, a fellow born-again Christian, puts it, faith "provides comfort to make decisions because decisions are not about me."
The point here is that people cannot be guided to quit. They have to quit on their own. It seems that Bush has two sides of his personality, amazing slackness and an iron will. Which means he's goal focused, but misses the details, no matter how deeply he gets involved with them. People who call Bush stupid miss the point, Bush is smart, but incurious and lazy, and there is a difference between the two.
Bush will jump into a debate. "I'm a questioner; I know how to cut to the chase pretty quickly," he says. But he rarely explains his decisions to his own aides, much less the American people. Bush can become exasperated when his aides engage in circular wrangling. Calio recalls a tendentious debate in the Roosevelt Room over steel tariffs. Bush interrupted. "He just basically said, 'Enough. I can make this decision. Here's my decision'." (Bush raised tariffs, just in time to boost the steel industry in swing states like Pennsylvania before the 2002 election; the tariffs were later rolled back when they hurt the economies of other swing states, like Ohio. Aides say that Bush disdains polls and decides by instinct, but his instincts can be pretty political.)
Bush thinks this is leadership, and has personal disdain for Kerry's more deliberative style, which is why Kerry ois able to pick his shots. While Newsweek gussies it up, Bush is intemperate, or more bluntly, a hothead. He can be goaded and he doesn't get the kind of guidance you need to make smart decisions.
Bush's convictions can make him dogmatic and too unyielding. In Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack," the best inside account so far of the Bush administration's lead-up to the Iraq war, it is striking how little Bush talks to his top advisers about whether to go to war. He meets constantly with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top military commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, to go over war plans. But there is almost no debate over whether invading and occupying Iraq is a good idea to begin with.
Bush thinks leadership is rigid decisionmaking. The fact that he lives inside his own head so much is bad. It means that he has impressions and wants to convince you of his rightness.
Many of Bush's friends, as well as his critics, wonder why Bush failed to consult one particularly experienced and able expert in the field of foreign affairs: his father. "41" often calls "43," but usually to say, "I love you, son," President Bush told NEWSWEEK. "My dad understands that I am so better informed on many issues than he could possibly be that his advice is minimal." That is a pity, say some old advisers to 41, because 43 badly needed to be rescued from the clutches of the neocons, the Defense Department ideologues who, in the view of the moderate internationalists who served in 41's administration, have hijacked American foreign policy.
But the fact is that President Bush did not want to be rescued. To say he has a complicated relationship with his father is an understatement. Bush clearly admires, even worships, his father, says a friend who notes that Bush wept when his father lost political races. But he doesn't want his father's help. To some degree, he is following a Bush family code. According to family lore, Bush's grandfather Prescott refused an inheritance from his father, while W's dad refused Prescott's plea to put off joining the Navy in World War II before going to college. "No, sir, I'm going in," said the 19-year-old George H.W. Bush. In the Bushes' world, real men are supposed to make it on their own, without Dad's looking over their shoulders. After the 1988 presidential campaign, W was eager to shed the nickname "Junior."
While people chide Maureen Dowd for her breezy columns, this is one she has right. Bush and his daddy have this weird sort of relationship where he wants to best his father and has failed it so badly it is shameful. It must suck to be a lesser man than your father.
But George W. hasn't just been independent, he's been defiant. The degree to which Bush defines himself in opposition to his father is striking. While 41 raised taxes, 43 cut them, twice. Forty-one is a multilateralist; 43 is a unilateralist. Forty-one "didn't finish the job" in Iraq, so 43 finished it for him. Much was made of 43's religiosity when he told Bob Woodward that "when it comes to strength," he turns not to 41, but rather to "a higher father." But what was the president saying about his own father?
But then, he's not really like his father, is he.
Several of Bush's friends and advisers commented that Bush is really more like his mother than his father. Barbara Bush, they say, can be more judgmental, more black and white, and more caustic than her husband. Andy Card, who has spent considerable time around the Bushes, observed that he has never seen President Bush argue with his father. The father won't engage or argue back, says Card. Not because Bush Sr. agrees with his son's policies, says an old friend of 41's. "It's an agony for him" to watch 43 make policy on Iraq. "It's doubly frustrating to him because that's not the way he'd run it if he was still in charge."
Because he's getting it wrong. Bush, Sr. for all his faults, knows what its like to have people to try and kill you, when you can take too much risk and pay for it. His personal courage has never been questioned.
In her memoir, Barbara Bush writes frankly of the resentment she felt when she was stuck carpooling kids in the dusty town of Midland, Texas, while her husband gallivanted about the country and the world making oil deals and laying the groundwork for his political career. Young George no doubt picked up on his mother's distress.
And according to Spy, screw hookers.
Bush's temperment is not the one of a succesful man. He is too quick to act, too slow to change. Which is fine in achieveing goals, but bad in managing situations. He has had to be rescued from his own strongheaded behavior over and over, and this was after he "stopped" drinking.
John Kerry's surrogates have failed in one area: linking Bush to a record of lifelong incompetence. Bush has failed at everything that he has ever tried. Even as Governor of Texas, a job with mininmal powers, life got worse for Texans, and they are paying the bill, now. Bush didn't just turn into a failure, he's been one his entire life. Now, there are 972 dead Americans as the result of his lifelong habits and stubborness.
Nero, Caligula. Why not split the difference, because there isn't one given how Bush runs things.
posted by Steve @ 11:22:00 AM