Meacham Book on 41 Hostile to Reagan and Blames Gingrich for ‘Ugly’ Politics

Reviewing Newsweek veteran Jon Meacham’s biography of former President George H.W. Bush, Thomas J. Duesterberg observed in The Weekly Standard that Meacham portrays the 41st President‘s life through a liberal prism. For instance: “The policies of Ronald Reagan are viewed from a decidedly unsympathetic and formulaic viewpoint, which follows the consensus, left-of-center perspective.”

Duesterberg, assistant secretary of commerce for international economic policy in the George H.W. Bush administration, also noted how Meacham insisted “budget gridlock” could “only be addressed by Bush’s breaking of his ‘read-my-lips’ pledge on taxes.”

Meacham, Duesterberg found, “blames the rise of uncompromising, ‘ugly’ partisanship in American politics squarely, and exclusively, on the right, especially on Newt Gingrich,” yet, amazingly, “no mention is made of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s brutal personal attack on Judge Robert Bork when Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court.”

Meacham, Managing Editor and later the top Editor of Newsweek from 1998 through 2010, is now Executive Editor at Random House and makes frequent media appearances on such shows as Meet the Press.

An excerpt from “Bush the Elder: A partisan’s perspective on a statesman’s career,” Duesterberg’s review, in the December 21 Weekly Standard, of Meacham’s book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush:

....While we get a full account of the “inside” politics that led to Bush’s selection as Reagan’s running mate, the contours of the political battleground, and the policies of Ronald Reagan, are viewed from a decidedly unsympathetic and formulaic viewpoint, which follows the consensus, left-of-center perspective.

Nor does Meacham explore the costly military build-up of those years (supported by a broad spectrum of political actors), prompted by Soviet adventurism and Iranian terrorism, or the difficulties of reaching consensus on spending with a divided Congress. These problems certainly contributed to the budget gridlock, which, Meacham concludes, could only be addressed by Bush’s breaking of his “read-my-lips” pledge on taxes. Meacham also fails to mention Reagan’s boldest attempt at arms control, at the Reykjavik summit. George Bush’s ascent to the presidency owed much to the success of the economic and foreign policies of the Reagan years, which of course he loyally supported.

Meacham’s project to establish the historical record is evident, as well, in his treatment of Newt Gingrich and the conservative political movement that emerged in the 1970s: “By 1979-80,” he writes, “the movement conservatives were driven by God, Mammon, and an absolutist view that American strategy toward the Soviet Union should be rollback, not détente.” He blames the rise of uncompromising, “ugly” partisanship in American politics squarely, and exclusively, on the right, especially on Newt Gingrich. Meacham illustrates the transition from the collegial Congress of the 1960s (in which Bush served) with the downfall of the venal and corrupt speaker Jim Wright. No mention is made of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s brutal personal attack on Judge Robert Bork when Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court....

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center