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The Bush Tragedy (2008)

de Jacob Weisberg

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Explores the whole Bush story, distilling all that has been previously written about Bush into a defining portrait and illuminating the fateful choices and key decisions that led George W., and thereby the country, into its current predicament.--From publisher description.

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The author begins his story well before Bush 43’s presidency, going back to earlier Bush and Walker generations for traits and characteristics. Actually, the author seems to go back much earlier than that, alluding to parallels between George Bush #43 and Shakespeare’s Prince Hal from Henry IV and Henry V. In those plays, Prince Hal starts as a wild, undisciplined Prince, unsuited to kingship, and as he evolves to become a mature man, declares that his riotous time will come to a close, and he will re-assume his rightful high place in affairs by showing himself worthy of his father and others through some noble exploits, ultimately embarking on an attempted conquest of France.

In the story line development, Weisberg looks at historical family characteristics, and how Bush 43 and Bush 41 developed totally different styles. Where Bush 41 was more deliberate and thoughtful, seeking advice and counsel and making deliberate decisions, Bush 41 adopted a more go-with his-gut style, making quick decisions and never looking back. Weisberg also point out how these traits fit well with Dick Cheney’s style making him, behind the scenes, the most powerful V.P. in history.

( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
I bought this on impulse based on the subject matter and the author. There was some good material on the Bush-Walker family relationships. Also an interesting chapter on Dick Cheney. The author uses as a comparison the relationship between Henry IV and Henry V of England with Bush 43 being Henry V, quotes from Shakespeare's play are used to head up each chapter. The comparison seems overused and in my opinion weakens the book. Bush's presidency is clearly a tragedy for himself and may others. This book does provide some insight into how it got that way. ( )
1 vote wildbill | Jan 3, 2013 |
This isn't straight Freudian psycho-history, but the thesis that Bush junior's life has been a constant quest to define himself as anything-but-dad does wear thin.

Weisberg corrects some common misconceptions. Bush is not an evangelical. Has never even tried to convert his children apparently. Sounds more like the relationship AA members have to a higher power. Also, Texans are used to religious references.

Weisberg, of course, is the editor of Slate and co-wrote Robt Rubin's memoir. A Democrat. But he's not a blogger/Huffington Post type. No tiresome splurge of invective and conspiracy theories. Nor is this a Woodward style pile of details with no rhyme or reason. Weisberg tries to be fair, he's studied Bush's background and that of people like Rove and Cheney. *Then* he came to his conclusions. Succinctly.

Best parts:
1) Weisberg's explication of Bush's religious faith. He's not an evangelical. Probably the relationship of AA members to a higher power is the best way to understand it. Then in the way Texans, or Texan politicians, address the citizenry.

Like Mollie Ivins, he doesn't think Bush is stupid.
And, yes, he reads. Real history books too.

2) the analysis of Cheney's motives. How could a realpolitik guy get sucked into Iraq? Or maybe like State and Powell, he was cut totally out of the loop by Wolfowitz & company? Well, maybe that's part of it but Weisberg goes back and looks at Cheney's political philosophy since his graduate student days. More the old story of restoring executive powers.

3) Bush family history, particularly the Walker side. Not so Yankee blueblood. ( )
  Periodista | Jun 26, 2009 |
There is certainly no shortage of books out there conjecturing who George W. really is, and The Bush Tragedy is no exception. While Weisberg admits that only time will tell how the Bush presidency and W. the man will be viewed historically, he does make a compelling case for how he is viewed today. In short, W. is egotistical, self-righteous, and arrogant. Two passages from the book highlight those character features, and I found them intriguingly explanatory:

"Bush rejects nuance not because he's mentally incapable of engaging with it, but because he has chosen to disavow it. Applying a crude religious lens that clarifies all decisions as moral choices rather than complicated trade-offs helps him fend off the deliberation and uncertainty he identifies with his father." (p. 106)


"If all criticism is discounted as whining and accepting it equates to personal weakness, how can you ever recognize that you're wrong?" (p. 212)

The first part of the book chronicles the Bush family saga, dating back to James Smith Bush in the late 1800s, focusing on multi-generational interplay and the issues between fathers and sons that have a recurring tendency in this family. Weisberg posits the Bush family (George H.W. and George W. in particular) as similar to Shakespeare's Henry IV - Hal, a son that has let his father down, finds religion and makes something of himself while still stifling against his father's legacy. Weisberg notes that this religious awakening, in both Hal and George W., would be used more for political ends than personal salvation.

There is also a chapter dedicated to Rove and Cheney each. In these chapters, we see that W. surrounds himself with people who will reassure him in the correctness of his decisions while they urge him to create policies that inevitably help themselves. They manipulate ways of looking at events, using intimate knowledge about W.'s psychological make-up and his need to differentiate himself from his father. They have a knack for empowering the President by making him think that the ideas originated with him.

George W. also has a tendency to attempt to model himself on great historical leaders. Apparently, he reads biography upon biography of American presidents and world leaders. However, he is never consistent. When a situation arises, he will switch from one style to another, changing his doctrines on a whim. In comparing Bush to other leaders, Weisberg states:

"Where Wilson was undermined by his arrogance and Carter by his innocence, Bush's failure grew out of his incompetence and his blatant inconsistency in applying his precepts. While claiming divine mandate for the promotion of democracy abroad, he disregarded civil liberties and asserted unconstitutional authority at home." (p. 238)

I found this book to explain much about Bush in a historical context, a familial context, and in his relationships with those around him. Weisberg's conclusions and research into the presidency and the man are astute. For anyone interested in how we came to this place in the country's history, the man who led us here, and the ways in which Bush reconciles his self-assurance amidst such vociferous criticism, I highly recommend The Bush Tragedy.
  Carlie | Dec 22, 2008 |
To say that I am not a Bush supporter would be an understatement. I have endured the last eight years with gritted teeth and the knowledge that the nightmare of this administration would end on January 20, 2009, one way or another. The question had always been just how much damage to our civil liberties would be done, how far the Constitution could be bent like a pretzel before it actually broke, and how far would America's stature in the court of world public opinion sink before that date. So for me to even read this book is somewhat bemusing. I already knew the Bush/Cheney administration was a tragedy. The fiasco treatise was read daily in the press and watched on the news channels. We had elected someone who could barely speak intelligent English and we had given him the codes to the arsenals. I did not have to read a book to tell me what we American's had been living through the past eight years was a tragedy. It was like the quintessential Greek play, only it was real life. You had to laugh at times, or eat Prozac or Lexapro or whatever your flavor.

I must have read a review of this book in Newsweek that caused me to order it from Amazon.com. I remember I was intrigued by two things, the review said the author approached his subject (Bush) not as a joke, but in a serious attempt to explain the man and the reasons of the actions taken. And the author is the editor in chief of Slate magazine, a web portal that I have been known to frequent. Then there is the “Bushisms” series that the author has been associated with. Given the fact that Jacob Weisberg is said to try and write a serious work about the court jester, I decided to give it a go.

Overall the book is a fairly good read. The author takes some leaps here and there trying to tie his take on the actions of the man and pin them to what he feels is the motive behind them. Sometimes they stick, other times not so much. Weisberg does take some of his own armchair psychoanalysis a bit to far at times, pointing backwards inside the Bush family tree one and two generations as to why something was done. Then there are other times when he is able, due to his access to back door information and background, to provide some insightful revelations about the man Dubya and those around him, specifically Karl Rove. There should be no doubt that Karl Rove was the evil puppeteer who worked the marionette and got him into the oval office in 2000.

The first chapter is meant to introduce you to the family tree and who is who in the grand scheme of things. However this is probably the weakest chapter written by Weisberg, and very hard to follow, even with the photo family tree provided. Weisberg insists of calling the same person multipule names, often on the same page. At one point he refers to George Herbert Walker Bush as George H. W., #41, Poppy, Pop, and little Pop all with a matter of sentences. Being a somewhat amateur genealogist, this is taboo. You designate a name, one name for a person, and refer back to that name at all times. This constantly changing of monikers to reference the same individual gets confusing fast, and it did. And of course everyone in the family had to have at least two names, and two different nick or pet names as well. Take it slow, refer back to the photo family tree, and you will make it through.

Jacob Weisberg is at his best however when providing details on Dick Cheney, the vice president, revealing the real authority behind the administration. A good bit of background information is given on where Cheney came from, who he had worked for and why, and how he came to be the #2 man in the administration. Let there be no doubt, Dick Cheney has done more to undo the Constitution and personal liberties of American's than any other man in the 232 years of our history. Dick Cheney is so powerful (or so he would assume) that he singlehandedly took the office of vice president out of the executive branch of government and moved it to the legislative branch!

Something that did surprise me that came out in this book was the basic revelation that George H.W. Bush was a better statesman, president and leader than he has been given credit for in the court of public opinion. Bush senior was able to take advice from different sources, reflect on them, and eventually formulate a plan or make a decision based on several different points of view, and in particular, based on facts. Dubya on the other hand, has little use of facts, or briefing points, or other bits of empirical evidence. Even Dubya's wife, Laura Bush, makes comment that her husband is not able to retain facts and information, instead bases his decision making process on some form of “I got a feeling about ...” Like the time Bush looked into the eyes of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and seeing into his soul, found goodness. Possibly the citizens of Russia are wondering just where Dubya looked, for they are still searching for the goodness.

There are many personalities that come into play in the development of Dubya and who he is today. His mother, Barbara, who does not fair well in this book; an great-uncle, George Herbert “Herbie” Walker Jr., who favored Dubya's father more than his own sons; a grandfather that insisted the grandchildren call him “Senator”; and of course Dubya's brother, Jeb, who was favored to be a president until Dubya wrestled that away.

If you want some family background and insights to THE.WORST.PRESIDENT.EVER than this book is a read for you. If you are just so glad the nightmare might be coming to an end soon (notice I said might, as it will take years, possibly decades to undo the damage done by this administration) than take a pass on this book.

Either way, I am just glad we will soon be able to talk about President Bush in a past tense form. ( )
  rabone | Nov 22, 2008 |
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Explores the whole Bush story, distilling all that has been previously written about Bush into a defining portrait and illuminating the fateful choices and key decisions that led George W., and thereby the country, into its current predicament.--From publisher description.

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