Bush’s memoir details the decisions that shaped his life and presidency – but fails to open a window into his thinking.
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•Tax cuts. Critics saw it as welfare for the rich. But he rightly points out that the relative tax burden on the richest Americans actually increased as a result of his change.Skip to next paragraph
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In other cases, Bush’s rationales suffer from serious lapses in awareness:
•He says he was right to tackle Social Security’s looming fiscal crisis. But didn’t he create a new entitlement – the Medicare prescription drug benefit – whose multitrillion-dollar liability now nearly equals Social Security’s debt burden?
•He argues strongly that the “Bush Lied, People Died” charge is illogical. He demonstrates heartfelt commitment to US soldiers, personally writing some 5,000 letters to families of the fallen. And he expresses his “sickening feeling” over not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But could he not even briefly acknowledge the more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have died in the war so far?
•He flatly declares that spreading democracy in the Middle East will mean greater security for Americans. But wouldn’t more freedom today mean more hard-line Islamic groups that hate America would be in power?
•He admits to some organizational problems in his White House. But didn’t his management style – typified by questions at meetings such as “I just want to make sure that all of us did agree on this plan, right?” – foster groupthink and suppress dissent?
Constantly aware that he was being watched by our enemies as well as American soldiers, Bush never dared show anything but firm resolve. Such steadfastness paid crucial dividends, but it also carried a steep price when course correction was needed. A more penetrating memoir might have dared to examine this tension in-depth. Bush’s doesn’t.
On one matter, Bush is undeniably right: Memories dull as time glides on, and both professional historians and the American public will probably judge Bush’s presidency not on the 14 decision points he covers in this memoir but on one thing: his muscular response to 9/11. That may well be to his advantage.
Americans today don’t lose sleep over the fact that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. He saved the union and freed the slaves! FDR may have interned Japanese Americans and tried to pack the Supreme Court, but he heroically battled the Great Depression and won World War II!
Bush seems confident that a similar judgment awaits him. “America went seven and a half years without another successful terrorist attack on our soil. If I had to summarize my most meaningful accomplishment as president in one sentence, that would be it.”
Josh Burek is the Monitor’s opinion editor.