ChiTrib: Bush Was 'The Poster President for the Non-Literary Set'

For some in the mainstream media, fawning over Barack Obama - as pleasurable as it is - isn't quite enough.  Kicking George W. Bush around enhances the gratification.

Julia Keller, cultural critic, for the Chicago Tribune today contributes: "Of books and Obama: What does 'literary president' mean, exactly?"  At the end of the piece she happily concludes, "It's great to have a literary president of the United States."  Getting there, however, includes the obligatory Bush bashing:

But I'm being coy here. We all know what people mean when they say Obama is a "literary" president—and, sadly, it has less to do with our widely beloved new leader than it does with the apparently unloved man he replaced: George W. Bush. Bush became the poster president for the non-literary set, for people who not only don't read, but also seem to be rather proud of not reading. Reading, to certain people, is classified as a sort of prissy, fussy, sissified activity, equivalent to daydreaming or lollygagging. It's a sign of elitism. Of having too much leisure time and too little drive.

Yet shortly before Bush left office, his closest adviser—Karl Rove, now a columnist for the Wall Street Journal—made a shocking revelation: Bush, it turns out, reads. He reads a lot. Two books a week, in fact. That, anyway, is the claim.

That George W. Bush reads would be a "shocking revelation" only to someone whose bias is so pervasive that he - or in this instance, she - spent little time researching the question.

In December, 1999 Rena Pederson of the Dallas Morning News reported:

Bill Minutaglio, who has put together the most insightful profile of Gov. Bush in his book First Son, said last week that the governor had recently read biographies of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt when he interviewed him.

Indeed, many times during his five years as governor, Mr. Bush has asked me what I was reading that was interesting. Once, I remember telling him I had just finished a fascinating book about Mexico called La Capital, written by a former Wall Street Journal correspondent named Jonathan Kandell, it is billed as a biography of Mexico City, but in the process tells the history of the country.

I didn't think the governor would have time to read it the paperback version is 640 pages. But about a month later, he made a point of coming over to tell me at a meeting that he had stayed up late reading the book and that his wife Laura was now hooked on it.

A January, 2000 profile by Washington Post staff writer Kevin Merida noted:

Much has been made of Bush's reading habits as a gauge of his light bulb wattage. According to both friends and foes, who cite books he has recommended, Bush reads more than he is given credit for.  Though his tastes tilt toward history and biographies, his wife, Laura, a librarian, says she has turned him into a fan of Robert Parker mysteries.

According to a January, 2001 (Madison, WI) Capital Times piece:

So it came as something of a surprise that, when reporters for the New York Times arrived at Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch last week for the obligatory pre-inaugural interview, the president-elect volunteered that he was spending his mornings reading one of the finest pieces of nonfiction penned in recent years.

The book on Bush's bedside table - Paul C. Nagel's "John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life" - is a presidential biography of rare accomplishment.

Even Julia Keller's Chicago Tribune has taken note of Bush's reading habits.  From a February, 2005 article by Robin Abcarian:

As (historian Douglas) Brinkley hinted, there may be a gulf between Bush's consumption of culture and what is widely believed to be his consumption of culture. For instance, the president is often derided as a man whose reading runs to box scores and the Bible and whose knowledge of the world comes to him via highly condensed memos, or "memorandi" as he called them on C-SPAN. He does read the Bible every day, he said, but he is also a fan of biographies. He's recently read two books about Founding Fathers -- Joseph Ellis on George Washington and Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton (which he told C-SPAN is "a fascinating history of how hard it was to get democracy started in some ways").

Robert Draper, author of "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush." told Time magazine in September, 2007:

I remember when I asked him who he admired most as leaders he said Reagan. And when I asked him who he admired as jurists he said Thomas and Scalia. These are rather obvious choices and they indicated to me that the guy just simply wasn't deep into the history books. He is now. He's a voracious reader of them and can speak at length about the Khmer Rouge, the Algerian Revolution and certainly about people like Churchill and Truman about whom I think he knew very little back in 1998.

Earlier this month, syndicated columnist Linda Chavez wrote:

Much of the intelligentsia no doubt will be shocked to learn George W. Bush is an avid reader of serious books, but it simply confirms something I already suspected. During the first real discussion I ever had with then-Gov. Bush in 1998, he brought up a book written by a former colleague of mine at the Manhattan Institute.

She goes on to mention that the author "is not a polemicist, but a serious scholar and elegant writer. Bush's reference to the book spoke worlds to me."

Keller's article is accompanied by a huge picture of Obama carrying "The Post-American World" by Fareed Zakaria.  Perhaps if President Bush read books like that rather than ones about great American patriots and other historical figures, the mainstream media would have credited him as "a literary president."

On second thought, probably not.      

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