NPR on the Bush Book: He Bungled the Budget, and Did We Mention the Drinking Binges?

Perhaps obviously, George W. Bush didn't grant an interview around his memoir Decision Points to National Public Radio, since they described his presidency daily as the Triumph of the Dark Side. But when they touched on the new book, the hostility was still there.On Tuesday's Morning Edition, Don Gonyea, who covered the White House for most of Bush's presidency offer a brief summary of Bush's interview with NBC's Matt Lauer. There was a little bit on Iraq, and then more time on the drinking problem: 

GONYEA: Part of the book is personal, with stories it's awkward to hear him talk about. There's his history as a serious drinker. Again, from NBC. [NBC clip]

BUSH: So, I'm drunk at the dinner table at mother and dad's house in Maine, and my brothers and sister are there, Laura's there. And I'm sitting next to a beautiful woman - friend of mother and dad's - and I said to her, out loud: “What is sex like after 50?”

MATT LAUER: Silence.

BUSH: Total silence -- and not only silence, but, like, serious daggers.

GONYEA: Mr. Bush quit drinking at age 40. He calls this book an honest look at key points in his life and presidency. It's hardly the final word, but it's the 43rd president's first take on things as he looks for history to be kinder to him than public opinion was when he left office. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

That was all NPR summarized about the book: Iraq and the drunken foolishness. This is not the way NPR remembered Teddy Kennedy when his posthumous memoir True Compass came out. NPR interviewed his widow Victoria in syrupy tones, and they headlined the interview as “Ted Kennedy, Family Man.” On Wednesday night's All Things Considered, NPR turned to historian H.W. Brands for a book review of the Bush memoir. Brands sounded like America just barely survived Bush: 

But he admits to no major blunders, and he avoids the larger issues his time in office raise. Chronologically, Bush's was the first presidency of the 21st century, but historians may well view it as the last presidency of the 20th century — of the era when America's economic power invited, almost compelled, an ambitious foreign policy.

That era has ended — not least because of what happened during George W. Bush's presidency. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan strained the federal budget; the Bush tax cuts, the financial crisis and the ensuing recession have nearly broken it. There will be no more elective wars like Iraq, not for a long time. Before Bush, Americans could have guns and butter both; after Bush, we'll be lucky simply to have butter.

Bush closes by saying he's comfortable with the fact that history's verdict on his presidency won't come until after he's gone. That's just as well, since history isn't likely to be as easy on him as he is on himself.

That's just a snotty editorial, not much of a book review. Is Brands a liberal? Of course, otherwise he wouldn't be in NPR's Rolodex for book reviews. Brands gladly accepted an invitation to dine with Obama with other liberal historians in June of 2009. He told a correspondent at the University of Texas he was impressed:

Brands is unaware of any other president who has hosted a group of intellectuals at an intimate, two-hour affair.

“I was trying to imagine what other presidents would have been inclined to do it and been comfortable doing it, spending a couple of hours with a bunch of intellectuals,” Brands said. “Not very many presidents would.”

...Brands described the Obama as a “very competent guy.” He seemed to have a very clear sense of what he wanted to accomplish in his administration. “And the reason we were there, I gathered fairly quickly, was not to offer him advice on what to do, but perhaps how to do it,” he said.

...A major way of restructuring the social safety net in the United States, Social Security provided pensions to elderly people at a time when most of them did not have pensions, Brands said. Health care reform was — or maybe is if it passes — going to provide health care for people who do not have health care.

“And it’s going to make America a kinder and safer society for the people who live here,” he said. “And from a political standpoint, Social Security was very controversial when it was passed, and has become the most popular federal program in American history.”

NPR All Things Considered Morning Edition H. W. Brands Don Gonyea
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