First, a disclaimer: I was a newly-minted adult in 2000, and the Bush-Gore foray was the first election I was able to throw myself into. I felt taller with my new-found responsibilities as a member of the voting public, and took the matter seriously. I read up on both of the candidates (and Nader, but let’s be serious), and weighed their positives and negatives. I decided on Bush. Not because I had a particular affinity for him or his principles (I think I’ve always been fairly centrist), but because I deemed him the “lesser of two evils.” Fifteen years later, I can’t honestly say Al Gore would have been the better choice, but the eight years that followed the election fundamentally changed the way I looked at the American political landscape.
Just as his administration changed the way I thought about (and engaged with) the political climate, George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points, has altered the way I thought of the man. This book humanized him in a way I didn’t think could’ve happened given the rancor and strife of his terms in office. Whether or not you agree with his views on various issues (I disagree with many), I think they are coming from an honest place. He appears to have an honest faith in his god, and his worldview certainly stems from this faith. I think, also, that he has a deep love for his family, and both the failings and achievements of his father served as a guiding force in his life (though he is adamant that he wasn’t just trying to make up for his father’s loss in 1992).
What is perhaps his greatest accomplishment (his African AIDs relief effort, PEPFAR) gets significant coverage here, and failed goals (such as immigration reform) and other efforts are discussed at length, I think it goes without saying that the greatest interest will be in his failures: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Katrina. And Bush doesn’t shy away from discussing them. We can disagree with his motivations, we can disagree with his methods, and we can even disagree with how much of the blame he should get, but I don’t think too many can disagree with his account of the events.
Say what you will about the man, but Decision Points is a great read. His prose is distinctly his voice. The language is simple and concise – but there’s an insight here and a depth of understanding that points to an intelligent and unclouded mind. He might see the world the way he wants – and his wants might be narrowly prescribed – but it’s hard to come away from this book thinking George W. Bush is a stupid man. Free from the oratorical missteps and regional variations in speech, we are able to judge his mind more clearly. And I think his standing is improved quite a bit because of it.
Ultimately, I do not think anyone will come away from this with a renewed appreciation of his policies, but I do think this memoir salvages his standing on a more personal level. He comports himself with apparent honesty and self-reflection, and you’ll come away with a sense that you know him better. If nothing else, though, I think you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of why he made the decisions that he did.
John F. Kennedy once said, “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” That is a principle I hold dear, and it is what led me to read this book and judge George W. Bush not by the divisiveness and animosity that divided this country, but by his own words. I consider my opinion not only better developed, but more helpful in understanding the world he helped create.
To answer the question I started with, you rehabilitate the devil by understanding that he doesn’t, in fact, exist.